A small, independent studio has surprised Hollywood in the last few months with two films opening in the top three at the box office — and staying there for weeks.
And here’s the company’s secret formula. Angel Studios is putting its audience in the driver’s seat. It’s allowing viewers to decide what film and TV projects it green-lights and works to fund.
One of those successful films is “Sound of Freedom“. It opened on the Fourth of July as a summer surprise to critics, and so far it has already pulled in more than $100 million at the box office. It finished number one on opening weekend and finished at number two this past weekend, behind the latest installment of the blockbuster series “Mission: Impossible.”
In April, “His Only Son” scored headlines opening at No. 3 with nearly $6 million in ticket sales. And that film’s director completed the project with only $250,000.
And without much Hollywood support, the record-making, crowd-funded series “The Chosen” had three successful seasons before being picked up by Lionsgate for worldwide distribution in May.
The engine behind these stunners isn’t in New York or Los Angeles. It’s in Provo, Utah. The city has a population of about 120,000. It’s a land of towering mountains and waterfalls.
Angel Studios was started by brothers Jeffrey and Neal Harmon. They are disrupting the entertainment world, but it’s been an uphill climb. A little more than 5 years ago, they ran a streaming platform that faced a major lawsuit from Disney.
Neal recalled that time in an interview with CBN News’ Studio 5 at Angel Studios’ comedy club, The Dry Bar.
“I was terrified when I first saw the lawsuit and shocked that it was Disney. But, I remember standing up and saying to people, ‘I am not exactly sure how this is going to turn out, but I believe that the audience, we, and Hollywood will be better off for it’,” he told CBN News.
Disney sued the Harmons’ VidAngel platform for copyright infringement because the platform gave home audiences the ability to filter out any material that they didn’t want to see or hear in its films.
“When we were in trial, the No. 2 guy at Disney was there the entire week. There (was) half of the room filled with suits of sophisticated lawyers and people watching. And on our half of the room was a measly crowd. The families would come and sit down and cheer for us and then they would have to leave. So, it’s like this sea of high billing hours against the margins of Hollywood society,” Neal told CBN News.
Jeffrey Harmon recalled small orthodox families would come and sit down in the court quietly cheering, “You can do it.” And they won the case thanks to those helping to fight the battle.
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“We should have lost. We really should have, but we didn’t. We can’t take credit for that. It was a mix of families like those stepping up and putting up $10 million for us to fight the battle,” Neal said.
“As far as I am aware, we are the only company that’s ever survived… a big lawsuit like this from Disney,” Jeffrey added.
Today, Angel Studios is rapidly growing. It has multiple projects in the pipeline — all with a familiar formula at work. A team of 100,000 Angel viewers have screened hundreds of submissions. They then voted to decide what Angel Studios produces and raises the money to fund. One of those upcoming projects is called “The Shift” and stars Hollywood veteran Neal McDonough.
The Harmon brothers have long known that giving the power to the audience would work and it all started when they were children.
“It was intuitive. We grew up on farms in Idaho, and it was just intuitive. It was also intuitive just because when we were growing up, our parents would share with us films, but they were a very select few that we could watch. We have young children ourselves. We just said, what we see being created isn’t what we want to experience with our families. And so, if I was to ask the families what they want made, that would mirror more of what we want to see made,” Neal told CBN News.
“In 2016, it wasn’t intuitive to anybody else. We believed that if you give people ownership – Neal gives the example of owning versus renting a home, you know. We had this idea, we can raise money through the crowd and because they own part of the network, they are way more conscious and want the network to work and they are helping to market us and defend us. So, we have 12,000 investors who invested in Angel Studios,” Jeffrey told CBN News.
It’s not the Hollywood model for movie making. It’s the Harmon model, and it’s working.
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