With Angel Studios’ successful crowd-funded streaming series The Chosen garnering international success on its app and with that series’ latest episode debuting in theatres across the country, I did a little research to learn more about this independent studio’s process.
The first question I had was how did they bypass the ordinary path to theatrical distribution? Theatrical distribution is tightly controlled. The answer, in a nutshell, is through partnership with a company called Fathom Events. Their basic strategy is to go to the theater chains and host their events and films by four-walling. That is, they presell tickets and sell out the seats of individual locations. I’m not sure, but believe they can do this only in conjunction with another media element. In this case, The Chosen Christmas is bookended by a concert.
Four-walling appeals to theater owners because of guaranteed sales, which they never get otherwise. It also allows filmmakers and other media producers outside the studio system to get their product in front of the public in a theatrical setting. Fathom Events buys out blocks of weekday theatre seats to get the coveted weekends. At least that’s my understanding of it.
One of the shortcomings of this model is that Fathom can’t book more than 2 weeks at a time, at least in December when many tentpole features and Oscar contenders are scheduled to release. There are limitations due to contractual agreements with the studios and sales agents (who partially finance film production through projected ticket sales in a given market. That pre-supposes that the seats are available when the film is released).
So yeah, it’s complicated. Distribution dates for theatrical films are set in the pre-production phase (years prior to release) and often sooner after a project in development gets green lighted. Nailing down a desired run (number theatres for a number of weeks in specific markets) is highly competitive.
In a December 7 live stream (now available in playback on Angel Studios’ Facebook page), Angel Studios co-founders Neal and Jeff Harmon talked about how streaming the Chosen series for the last two years was instrumental in the box office of the theatrical episode. Basically, The Chosen finances its episodes through crowd-funding. At first they gave away an episode or three and then asked for money to watch the rest of the season.
Then they launched their own app (which is a free download on the Apple Store or in Google Play, depending on your device). Then they started something called paying it forward. That means becoming an investor in the property by contributing enough to pay for your friends.
People can then email their friends a free ticket or bundle. This strategy grew Angel’s resources much more rapidly. The Chosen’s Christmas episode, begins season three and it will be available on the app December 12 after 8 pm. As of this weekend, the theatrical debut has far surpassed 10 million in gross receipts. I’ll update this report when the release window ends and the tally for ticket sales is complete.
The theatrical episode began its limited run December 1 in 1,200 theaters in the U.S. and will close on December 13. Locations vary. Some theaters will carry the movie through Christmas.
As of this afternoon, The Chosen episodes on the app have garnered 320,057,400 views and counting across the globe. Wow! What a story. I’ll have more to share in part 2 of this report.