February 18, 2022 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty University students and College for a Weekend (CFAW) guests heard from the creator and three cast members from the popular television show “The Chosen” how God has used them to spread His story throughout their day on Liberty’s campus on Friday. Speaking both in Friday morning’s Convocation in the Vines Center and a special filmmaking panel discussion in the afternoon, the guests from the hit Christian program offered insight into the process of making the show and how their personal faith has led them through their work.
Depicting the life of Jesus Christ with the perspectives of those who interacted with him, “The Chosen” has become a success in its two seasons and Christmas special. The show is created, directed, and co-written by filmmaker Dallas Jenkins. It is the first multi-season series about the life of Jesus, is the top crowd-funded TV series or film project of all time, and has been viewed by over 400 million people around the world since its debut in 2017.
Following a time of worship, show creator Dallas Jenkins recalled the last time he stood on the Convocation stage in 2017 during the promotion of a feature film he had directed, a day that he thought at the time was a pinnacle in his life and career. A young filmmaker with studios interested in his future work, Jenkins thought he was at the beginning of a Hollywood success story.
“I had made a movie with some of the biggest producers in Hollywood, they wanted to do more movies with me because the movie had tested so well and there was such great anticipation, and I had an opportunity to come to Liberty University and talk to 15,000 to 20,000 all in this room at once about the movie,” Jenkins said. “I was desperate for the movie to succeed, and in that moment it looked like it would. As I stood here on this stage in front of people who look just like you, I was as excited as I’ve ever been and as optimistic as I’d ever been, and three days later was one of the worst days of my entire life and certainly of my career.”
Three days after his visit to Liberty, Jenkins anxiously watched as his film opened nationwide and the box office numbers came in, but within a couple hours he saw the film’s projections and his budding career plummet.
“The numbers were lower than the lowest projections, it was a total bomb, and in just two hours I went from being a director with a very bright future to a director with no future,” he said. “All of those production companies that had been so excited and wanted to do multiple movies with me over the next 10 years pulled out. I went home that afternoon and, with my wife, Amanda, who is here today, sat there and cried.”
That same night, God spoke to Dallas through his wife and a Facebook friend, both of whom pointed him to the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Despite it being a well-known story that he had read countless times, Jenkins saw himself in the story as the boy who brought the bread and fish to Jesus. The boy didn’t perform a miracle — Jesus did — and all the boy had to do was bring the tools and allow God to do the rest.
“In that moment, my life changed, I changed, because in that moment for the first time in my life … I realized the multiplication is up to (God). I cannot put myself in God’s place. As dumb as it would have been for the boy who provided the five loaves and two fish to go home to his parents and say, ‘I fed 5,000 people today,’ that is how dumb it would be to stand in front of you today and say, ‘I made The Chosen and here’s how.’ I don’t know how; I just provided the loaves and fish.”
Two of Jenkins’ four children, Sam and Maya, are current Liberty students.
The actor who portrays Jesus in “The Chosen,” Jonathan Roumie, was not able to appear in-person at Convocation, but he filmed a brief message for those in attendance in which he shared a similar story of surrendering his career to God. Roumie explained that before he was cast in the show, he was struggling in his career, something he attributed to leaving God out of his career aspirations.
“I didn’t quite invite Him into my career choices, my career planning, into every part where He desperately wanted to be, until I finally got to this point of utter and absolute desperation,” Roumie said. “I had to look at everything that I had achieved and not achieved at this point in my life, at the tender age of 44, and realize that unless I invited God into my career, no matter what I did or how hard I tried, my career wasn’t going to move forward because He did not want that to happen without Him.”
“I’m hoping that in sharing a little bit about my own life and my own journey into surrender that you guys can learn the lesson 20 years ahead of when I learned it,” Roumie said to the college students and CFAW guests in attendance.
Three months after he made that decision, Roumie was contacted by Jenkins about “The Chosen” series.
After the video message concluded, Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell welcomed Jenkins and three cast members to the stage: Elizabeth Tabish (Mary Magdalene), Noah James (Andrew), and Lara Silva (Eden, wife of Simon Peter).
All three shared about their individual journeys to becoming a part of “The Chosen,” including the role their faith played in their career before and during the filming of the show. While specific clips from the show played in between their answers, the actors talked briefly about their personal connections to their characters and the way their work has inspired both themselves and others in following Christ.
“This (role) was this opportunity to take a breath of fresh air and see the love and goodness in life, the hope in life, and start over,” Tabish said. “I’ve experienced that in my life from this show, experiencing working with these wonderful people, and telling stories about love and hope that Hollywood doesn’t always offer.”
At the conclusion of Convocation, Jenkins and the cast moved to the concourse of the Vines Center to meet students and hand out free sweatshirts.
The guests from “The Chosen” later participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Cinematic Arts, Zaki Gordon Center in which they delved more into industry advice and details on the decisions they made that have led to the show’s success. How the show went from a story pitch to a widely available and beloved show, the importance of communication between the many on-set departments, being present with the actors, and piecing together an episode in the editing room, students from Liberty’s cinematic arts and theatre departments learned from the special guests how the show came to be.
In closing, Jenkins and the cast members answered questions directly from students.