The studio behind box office hits Sound of Freedom and His Only Son is transforming the industry with a movie-making model that flips the script on how films traditionally have been made, an executive at the studio says.
Brandon Purdie, vice president and head of theatrical distribution at Angel Studios, told Christian Headlines that Angel’s unique model is one of the secrets behind the company’s stunning success.
Sound of Freedom opened as the No. 1 movie in America and will pass $100 million gross in the coming days despite few in Hollywood giving it a chance to succeed. The studio’s first release this year, His Only Son, surprised movie observers by opening at No. 3 the weekend before Easter.
“The theater chains are incredibly excited” about Angel’s success, Purdie said.
Angel is dramatically different from Hollywood studios in two aspects, he said. First, Angel lets its supporters determine which movies get made through its one-of-a-kind “Angel Guild.” Second, Angel gives fans the ability to support a film – buying tickets for strangers, essentially – through its “Pay it Forward” model.
Instead of studio executives driving the movie bus, it’s the audience that determines what they watch, Purdie said. This means that a movie already has a core audience before a film is released.
“I've been doing this for 20 years,” Purdie told Christian Headlines. “And I think this is the first time I would say, ‘This is a game-changer.’ This is something that innovates the industry forever.”
Sound of Freedom and His Only Son each were greenlit by the Angel Guild, a pool of some 100,000 supporters who watch concept footage or fully completed films and vote on whether the studio should back it.
“This is what the industry doesn't have,” Purdie said. “I think there's far too much aspirational product development [in Hollywood], too many people saying, ‘This is what an audience should want.’”
The current Hollywood model, he said, is one reason the industry is oversaturated with superhero titles. A superhero movie succeeded and then “3,000 other superhero movies came out,” Purdie said. With the Angel Guild, the audience tells the studio, “This is a concept and an idea that we want,” Purdie said.
“And then they put their money behind,” Purdie said. “So, it goes into crowdfunding. So, by the time we come to opening weekend, we're not going to the theater to find out whether we have an audience. We're going with the audience that already voted for the project to go to Angel, already helped get it to be crowdfunded. We're going to the theater to celebrate with a built community that's passionate about the project. And that's why we're having these successes. ... That's what's so unique about Angel.”
The Pay it Forward model also has been important to Angel’s box office success, Purdie said. Before the movie even released, Angel had a goal of selling 2 million total tickets to represent the 2 million children trafficked each year. It has now sold more than 9 million tickets.
“It's just good people wanting to spread the message” of the film, he said. “I think we can all think about a film that we saw in theaters and in a communal experience [and] when it was over, we thought, ‘I want to share this movie with more than just my friends. I want to be able to make it possible for everybody to see this movie – so that other people that can't afford to [go], or people who are on the fence about the movie, or people in other countries … can be able to see this movie in theaters.”
Angel Studios is scheduled to release two more films in theaters this year. The documentary After Death is scheduled for an October release. Then, The Shift – a drama starring Neal McDonough and Kristoffer Polaha – releases in December.
“The real blessing that Angel has is to be able to march into these films knowing that audiences are supportive,” Purdie said.
Photo courtesy: ©Emily Card, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.