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Coming soon to a (home) theater near you: crowdfunded family-friendly fare.
That’s the message from filmmakers specializing in Christian and conservative themes and stories. They say 2022 will be the “year of Hollywood alternatives” for a streaming audience that they estimate at 52 million.
“It’s an exciting time because COVID has turned the entire media industry on its head,” said Neal Harmon, co-founder and CEO of Angel Studios, which distributes crowdfunded independent productions such as the life of Christ series “The Chosen” and the animated free market children’s fantasy “Tuttle Twins.”
Based in Provo, Utah, Angel Studios reports that it will make at least $168 million in net revenue in 2022 after earning $100 million last year.
“The real success of Angel is pride of ownership. When people can own something and truly make it their own, it changes the game,” Mr. Harmon said.
Kirk Cameron, the former “Growing Pains” sitcom star who now produces and acts in Christian-themed entertainment, said the wave of crowdfunded entertainment serves a segment of the audience that mainstream Hollywood ignores.
“People understand that entertainment is not just entertainment, but one of the channels through which hearts and minds are changed,” said Mr. Cameron, whose Christian acting credits include 2008’s “Fireproof” and 2017’s “Extraordinary.”
The “family-friendly, faith-building” audience that crowdfunds projects wants “to influence the world through the value of these programs,” not simply provide entertainment, he said. “They want a ‘Frozen,’ a ‘Mulan,’ a Netflix that is building the kind of future with the values and sentiments they want for their children’s world.”
Such alternative programming almost necessitates alternative funding.
Gigafund, the venture capital firm that backed Elon Musk’s SpaceX, recently invested nearly $50 million in Angel Studios to develop new programming.
The company distributes its free content through an app that solicits pay-it-forward donations. It is growing as entertainment reports suggest that Americans have shifted away from movie theaters and toward home-streaming content that more accurately reflects their worldviews.
After topping $11 billion a year for most of the decade before the pandemic, box office receipts for U.S. movie theaters fell in 2020, to $2.2 billion.
That figure, the lowest in 40 years, bounced back to $4.4 billion in 2021 as theaters began to reopen, but many observers say the pre-COVID-19 business model is dead.
In a world where the latest resurgent variant keeps millions of customers home, Hollywood has realized it can release big-budget films on streaming platforms and in theaters simultaneously.
With more viewing options than ever, American families are more selective about the entertainment that streams into their living rooms.
The Harris Poll found in August that 40% of Americans said they would be willing to invest in entertainment projects they believe in.
The poll found that 62% of Americans wanted to see more family-friendly or inspirational and uplifting entertainment options than Hollywood provides, and 20% wanted to see more faith-based content.
Some family-friendly productions managed to perform well even in theaters last year.
Mr. Harmon said the Fathom Events theatrical release of “Christmas With the Chosen: The Messengers,” a 30-minute episode of the streaming series packaged with an 80-minute musical concert last month, made $15 million in ticket sales from 1,700 screens on a $2 million budget.
“‘Spider-Man’ and ‘The Chosen’ are probably the only two franchises that made back what they invested in theatrical releases [last] year,” Mr. Harmon said.
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television and Media Council, said COVID-19 has changed the entertainment distribution model to be friendlier to audience-funded projects.
“You now have alternatives where there used to be barriers,” Mr. Winter said. “Today, all you need is cheap digital film production hardware and a good internet connection to produce a series or movie.”
Conservative talk show host Steve Deace said crowdfunded projects have tapped into music, movies and television entertainment as the next front in the culture wars.
“Jesus used stories,” Mr. Deace said. “And now, finally, we are seeing those of us who believe in the greatest story ever told get in the storytelling business to reach a culture that is teetering on the brink.”
The writing-directing team of Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, whose credits include the 2019 abortion-themed biopic “Unplanned,” agreed.
“If conservatives and people of faith want to see their values presented and preserved, then we have to develop our own alternative system of production and distribution, or lose the culture war for good,” they wrote in an email.
• Sean Salai can be reached at [email protected]
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