For years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members have produced short films in Jerusalem — or more accurately, a miniature version of Jerusalem tucked away in rural Utah County.
But in 2020, a filmmaker from outside of the faith was given unprecedented access to the set for an original scripted series called "The Chosen."
Dallas Jenkins is a devout Evangelical who has become famous in Utah for creating the first multi-season TV show about Jesus Christ. The show is completely crowd-funded and has captured the attention of viewers around the globe.
"When I come to Utah, it’s one of the states that when I go, I am most known," Jenkins said.
Jenkins finished directing a movie he called a "career failure" in 2017.
That's when he decided to produce a short film about a shepherd involved with the nativity.
Angel Studios in Utah saw the short film and decided to help distribute Jenkins's next idea: The Chosen.
Jenkins filmed the first season in Texas.
Those with Angel Studios suggested Jenkins visit the set in Goshen for season two, without knowing if church leadership would let him film there.
"I would get excited to see the set, but I didn’t want to visit it because I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and I thought 'ignorance is bliss,'" said Jenkins.
When Jenkins finally visited the set, he was immediately overwhelmed.
"I thought, 'This is one of the best TV sets I’ve seen in my life,' and I really felt the presence of God," said Jenkins. "I felt like God was laying it on my heart very strongly that 'You are going to impact lives in this place. People around the world are going to be impacted by the things done on this set.'"
Yet, despite feeling good about the set, Jenkins said they were initially denied access to film there due to the pandemic.
"My wife said to me, 'I think this is God taking you to the edge of the Red Sea so that when the waters do part, you’ll know it was him and not you,'" said Jenkins.
Three days later, he met with one of the elders in the church.
"The next day it was approved by the First Presidency, and we were in," said Jenkins.
It’s one thing to look like they are walking on the streets of Jerusalem, but for Jenkins, it has always been about capturing what it would feel like to walk in the footsteps of religious history.
"What the show seems to be doing for people and what I’m passionate about the show doing for people, including myself, is taking away any walls between us and the savior of the universe," said Jenkins.
Raised by his father, a notable Christian author, Jenkins said faith was infused into his family — writing stories is just part of living his father's legacy.
"As far back as Sunday school, every time I’d hear stories of Jesus, I was always the one in the class making up side stories," he said. "What would it have been like for Jesus to sit around the campfire with his disciples?"
That faith has been the core of all Jenkins has produced on set.
Between that and his high school desire to be a director, Jenkins said everything led to creating The Chosen.
"I’ve had moments in my life where I’ve struggled and I’ve had questions and doubted, but I’ve always felt like my relationship with Christ has been the foundation of my life and it remains the foundation of my life," he said. "It had to be for me to do a show like this."
Jenkins has brought multiple religions together to tell Christ's story — from Jewish scholars and Evangelical pastors to Catholic actors and Latter-day Saint distributors.
"We may come from different faith traditions, different backgrounds, we have different theology even, but telling the stories of Jesus is why this set was built," said Jenkins.
Jenkins filmed a Christmas special for The Chosen using the Goshen set. The special went to theaters and was number one at the box office for two days in a row, raising $14 million.
Through all of this, Jenkins said he has learned for himself the meaning behind the stories of Christ.
"The number one thing I’ve learned is our God is a personal God," he said. "Sometimes when you think of Jesus and you see him in paintings or stained-glass windows, or statues, it feels impersonal. When you look at the gospels from the perspective of the TV show, it was always personal. It was always based on their individual need."
It is this personal connection, Jenkins said, that has made The Chosen more than just a project.
"The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life is making this show, and I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life is the weight of responsibility I feel to get it right — to get the stories of Jesus right, to get the stories of his followers right," he said.
Jenkins and his team are constructing their own permanent set in Texas. So far, Jenkins plans to produce seven seasons of The Chosen.
They plan to be back in Utah to film scenes that take place in Jerusalem in the summer of 2022.