Studio behind ‘The Chosen’ picks a Latter-day Saint to write, direct its first feature film

Based on the biblical Book of Job, “The Shift” dares to venture into sci-fi darkness.

(Angel Studios) A concept painting for the feature film "The Shift."

Brock Heasley had few expectations when he submitted his 20-minute film, a gritty science fiction story about one man’s encounter with Satan, to the faith-based Angel Studios known for “The Chosen.”

Maybe, the Fresno, Calif.-based art director thought, someone would like it enough to put it on the streaming service, and he would make back the $500 he had spent on the passion project.

Instead, Angel Studios called him up. The Provo media company had liked the film, called “The Shift,” so much, it wanted to turn the piece into a feature-length movie, the studio’s first. They wanted Heasley to write and direct it.

At the time, Heasley had been struggling to find work for more than a year after being laid off.

“It was a really confusing and difficult time,” said the father of three and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hearing that Angel Studios not only had liked the story but also wanted to develop it into something bigger brought him to tears.

Letting in the darkness

As a person of faith who loves science fiction, Heasley said he “never saw myself represented in the stories I loved the most.”

As a rule, sci-fi and faith are “discouraged from mixing,” he explained. “And that was a frustrating thing for me.”

At the same time, he said, he rarely connected with faith-based media, which he described as often too intent on “trying to give comfort and easy answers.” The result is, in his view, an often “alienating” representation of life that “I don’t believe is real or reflective of people’s experiences.”

Heasley is not shy about his own struggles, including the fact that when he was 12 his father was shot 13 times in an armed robbery. Incredibly, his dad lived — only to be shot and killed less than a decade later while Heasley was serving a Latter-day Saint mission in Arizona.

These and other experiences are why Heasley said his film, which draws inspiration from the biblical Book of Job, is “not afraid to show darkness.” The way he sees it, it’s “often in the darkest times of our lives that we can see light and reach for God.”

Ken Carpenter, producer of the full-length film, agreed the crowdfunded project stands out among faith-related films, many of which he said were “derivative,” resembling one another.

“Brock,” he said, “is taking us down an entirely new road in this space.”

Reaching new audiences

(Courtesy of Angel Studios) A screenshot from the short film "The Shift."

The response from Angel Studios and from audiences to his 2017 short film has confirmed to Heasley that he is hardly alone in craving a new kind of faith-based movie. To date, the project has amassed more than $3.2 million from nearly 6,400 investors.

Equally rewarding have been the conversations with viewers from a variety of Christian backgrounds.

As Heasley has hit the circuit, showing the short film at churches to drum up support, he has received the same response “over and over again.” Typical viewers, he explained, are energized at the idea of a different kind of story they believe could reach friends and family who usually skip anything touting a message about belief in God.

“They tell me they’re excited for the kind of movie they can take their dad to or their son,” he said. “And that is all the reason in the world this film is needed.”

Latter-day Saint world builders

(Prime Video) Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) stands guard in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

Heasley’s decision to tell an openly faith-promoting sci-fi film may be rare, but as a Latter-day Saint he is far from alone when it comes to a fascination with fictional world building.

From giants like Orson Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson and Stephenie Meyer, to relative newcomers like “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” showrunner J.D. Payne, Latter-day Saints have often seemed as overrepresented in the realms of fantasy and science fiction as on televised dance and singing competitions.

Heasley has a theory for this — one rooted in the way he believes faith fosters an ability to imagine a reality beyond the day to day.

“Faith is really about accepting mystery,” he said. “It’s about accepting ambiguity and … things we don’t have answers to.”

Embracing this way of moving through the world, he said, “naturally” leads a person to “speculate” not just about it, “but how the whole universe works.”

Starting production

(The Chosen) Elizabeth Tabish, who plays Mary Magdalene in Season Three of "The Chosen."

Carpenter and Heasley are currently finalizing their casting list. Viewers of Dallas Jenkins’ “The Chosen” will recognize a few familiar faces among those already confirmed, including Elizabeth Tabish, who plays Mary Magdalene in the series depicting Jesus’ ministry, Paras Patel, who plays Matthew, and Jordan Walker Ross, who plays Little James.

(The Chosen) Paras Patel, who plays Matthew in Season Three of "The Chosen."

Jenkins, in fact, has added his voice to the funding pitch. “I really, really strongly believe in this project,” he wrote on the Angel Studios website. “If you are a fan of ‘The Chosen,’ it’s going to make sense spiritually, and also artistically. ... The Shift is a project in which truth is dominant and God is present, and we desperately need that.”

(The Chosen) "The Chosen" director Dallas Jenkins, left, works on the set during filming of Season Three.

Filming is slated to begin in January in Atlanta, which Carpenter described as a current “hotbed” of the film industry.

According to Carpenter, Angel Studios plans to show the film in theaters in fall 2023 before releasing it on streaming and queuing up international distribution.

CorrectionOct. 25, 2022, 1:35 p.m. • This story has been updated to describe the fundraising structure for the feature film “The Shift.”

(The Chosen) Jordan Walker Ross, who plays Little James in Season Three of "The Chosen."