'Sound of Freedom' studio looks to build on crowdfunding success with new film 'The Shift'

Neal McDonough stars as a mysterious man known as “the benefactor” in Angel Studio’s “The Shift.”

Angel Studios

“Sound of Freedom” broke the Hollywood mold this summer. Now, the studio behind the surprising smash is looking to follow-up that success with a science fiction thriller based on the Bible’s Book of Job.

Angel Studios is set to release “The Shift” this Friday. The film was crowdfunded by 6,000 investors through the company’s “Angel Guild,” which contributes money to film and television projects its members want to see made or widely distributed.

“It’s a blessing. It really is,” said Brock Heasley, who wrote and directed “The Shift.” “To know that there were 6,000 people out there praying for us, 6,000 people out there who would put, in some cases, what little money they had into this film, because they believed in it that much.”

It took five years and four crowdfunding campaigns to raise $3 million to produce the film. Additional funding was collected from private investors, bringing “The Shift’s” budget to $6.4 million, a small sum by Hollywood standards.

A relative newcomer to Hollywood, Angel Studios uses a Kickstarter-style method of generating funds. It also allows its investors to select which projects they want to fund and gives them the opportunity to purchase shares in the company and its titles. It rose to prominence in 2019, when, under the name VidAngel, it crowdfunded and released hit biblical series “The Chosen.”

“Where else in the world can you have 6,000 people put money into a film that amplifies light?” said Neal McDonough, the prolific character actor (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Justified,” “Yellowstone”) who plays the main antagonist in “The Shift.” “Only through Angel Studios. It is just remarkable that that is allowed to happen.”

This community-funding approach has enabled Angel to ensure it is making projects that audiences want to see, guaranteeing viewership on its in-house streaming platform and ticket sales for cinematic releases.

The July release of “Sound of Freedom” raised the studio’s profile even further. The Jim Caviezel-led thriller shook up norms in an industry still trying to find its footing after Covid lockdowns. It snared more than $180 million at the domestic box office during its run, outpacing big studio films such as Warner Bros.‘ “The Flash,” on a budget of just $14.5 million. It made nearly $250 million worldwide.

“Movie theaters are always looking for ways to draw additional moviegoers to their big screens and having Angel Studios in the mix is good for the bottom line,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Innovation and outside the box thinking has put Angel Studios on the map. And with ‘Sound of Freedom’ the company found massive mainstream success while shaking up the status quo, competing head-to-head with the major studios in the hardscrabble summer movie marketplace and came out a winner.”

“Sound of Freedom” isn’t the only Angel Studios title to exponentially overperform its budget. “His Only Son,” a biblical drama released in early 2023, cost $250,000 to make and generated $12.4 million at the box office. A crowdfunding campaign in partnership with Angel Studios raised more than $1.2 million for prints and advertising costs. The small budget, big returns formula is reminiscent of what Blumhouse is doing for the horror genre.

The Devil’s in the details

Kristoffer Polaha and Neal McDonough star in Angel Studios’ “The Shift.”

Angel Studios

“The Shift,” which is loosely based on the “Book of Job,” centers on Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha), a man who recently lost his job and is having marital troubles after the disappearance of his young son. He crosses paths with a mysterious man known only as “the benefactor” (McDonough), who tempts Kevin with wealth and power.

The benefactor, aka the Devil himself, has the ability to “shift” people from one reality to another and promises to reunite Kevin with another version of his wife, if he agrees to work for him. Kevin grapples with whether or not to accept this enticing, yet immoral offer.

“Years ago, faith-based films were all just kind of just one-dimensional,” McDonough said. “[Brock has] created a film that has sci-fi, action, a love story, and talks about how you can be a better human being for God. And whether you’re religious or not, it’s how you can just be a better human being, period. And there aren’t enough films out there in the landscape these days to actually talk about those things.”

“The Shift” is currently seeing “healthy” ticket sales comparable to Angel Studios’ October release “After Death,” which generated $5 million during its opening weekend on its way to a $23.4 million domestic run.

“I do think that there is an audience out there who is looking for something different,” Heasley said. “It’s something that expresses their faith and their values, but that is doing it in a different way. And I think there’s room for it.”

Step into the light

Jim Caviezel stars in Angel Studio’s “Sound of Freedom.”

Angel Studios

Although Angel Studios does not bill itself as a faith-based studio — it says that its content is meant to “amplify light” — much of its content has centered on biblical storytelling. “The Chosen,” a Christian historical drama television series available on Angel’s in-house streaming service as well as on Netflix and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, has become popular and profitable for Angel and has even made the leap to the big screen through Fathom Events.

“The Chosen” has had nearly one billion views and generated more than $100 million, according to the company. Season four is set for release in February.

Soon after, “Cabrini,” a film about the Roman Catholic missionary and future Saint Francesca Cabrini, will hit theaters in March. Then there’s “Bonhoeffer,” which tells the true story of German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood up to the Nazis during the Third Reich, later in 2024.

Angel has utilized its audience to reach more moviegoers. The studio has a model it calls “pay it forward,” which allows people buy tickets that can be claimed online for future screenings by those who may not be able to afford them. “Sound of Freedom” saw a significant number of tickets bought through this method. The tickets don’t count towards the film’s box office total until they are claimed.

“Angel Studios has pinpointed a greatly underserved market predominately in faith-based communities, curating and marketing content with them specifically in mind,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s always been a bit of a blind spot for the industry, but Angel has honed in on it.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Peacock and CNBC.

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