Amid the pandemic, most film and television productions have avoided gathering large numbers of extras for scenes, as shooting them safely is likely to be a logistical nightmare and an exceedingly high-risk endeavor.
But crowdfunded TV series The Chosen, a religious drama that follows the life of Jesus, plans to gather more than 2,000 extras on Wednesday to film a reenactment of the Sermon on the Mount. The extras, many of whom are flying to the show’s production facility in Midlothian, Texas, from across the globe, are fans of the show who’ve donated money to the series to appear in it.
The drama’s creator and showrunner Dallas Jenkins, who previously directed the comedy The Resurrection of Gavin Stone for Blumhouse and Walden Media, initially planned to shoot the scene before the novel coronavirus began to spread. “But then when the pandemic hit, we thought, ‘Is it possible for us to do this and do it safely by following all the COVID guidelines?’” says Jenkins, the son of Left Behind author Jerry B. Jenkins. “We thought, ‘You know, maybe if we literally test everybody we can make this work.’”
In order to participate, the production is requiring each extra to get a PCR test before they travel to the North Texas set and then provide a copy of their negative test result as proof that they don’t have COVID-19. Once they make it to set, they’ll then get a rapid antigen test done the morning of the shoot and will remain in their cars until they’re confirmed to be virus-free. Jenkins says he’ll send anyone who tests positive packing.
“That’s the sad reality,” he said, noting that he has encouraged the fans to be extra cautious from the time they get their first test to when they arrive on set. “We told everyone to please, please, please, for your sake, be as careful as humanly possible because if you test positive, not only are you not able to be allowed in, but no one in your car will be allowed in. But we’re sure it’s going to happen to a few people.”
Texas COVID-19 filming guidelines do not place a limit on the number of extras allowed on set. They require health screenings before coming onto a production, face coverings and social distancing when possible, and note that productions “should stay informed and take actions based on common sense and wise judgment that will protect health and support economic revitalization.”
To date, Jenkins has racked up more than $20 million for the making of the series. The first season of the show, which can be viewed on its own app, cost about half of that amount. And while Jenkins planned to cover the second season with the other $10 million, it soon became clear that filming amid the pandemic would be more costly than that. So he raised another $750,000 specifically for COVID-19 protocols.
The first half of the second season was shot in the fall with safety protocols in place. Jenkins notes that there were less than five positive cases during the shoot, and that each was isolated and did not represent any on-set spread. But what the production is attempting with its upcoming Sermon on the Mount scene is new territory — and Jenkins acknowledges there’s an inherent risk involved.
“Just the act of being involved in this, it means you’re carrying with it a little bit of exposure,” he says. “We have a track record of now four months of filming and being incredibly safe — but nothing’s ever 100 percent.”