In April this year, I travelled from Singapore to the United States to participate in the filming of The Chosen, a multi-season historical drama based on characters from the Gospels.

20 hours of flying and 1.5 hours of driving later, I was in a rural farmland area in Utah. On a filmset that is a replica of ancient Jerusalem, I was going to be an extra in a TV show.

The Chosen: What is it about?

For most of my life, I’ve been skeptical of any TV show or movie that says it uses the Bible as its reference material. Many of these shows have either been extra cringe-worthy or highly controversial in their storytelling… then along came The Chosen.

Back in 2020, at the peak of COVID, a friend recommended that I watch The Chosen. I refused at first, but relented because I had nothing else to watch. By the end of the first episode I was in tears. I was floored by the thoughtful storytelling, relatable characters and the fresh perspective the show presented.

The Chosen is a unique TV series for several reasons.

Firstly, the show’s source of income has always been from donations. Every season has been crowdfunded from fans and supporters. It is widely regarded as the highest crowdfunded TV project to date. Instead of doing one movie or focusing on a single storyline, the creators have planned seven seasons in order to flesh out character story arcs and go deeper with their storytelling.

The show is on a limited number of streaming platforms. It has its own free app for people to watch all the past and current seasons of the show. The reason for this is to keep all episodes of the show perpetually free to access and watch, with a long-term goal to translate the show into 600 languages in order to reach 1 billion people.

The storytelling focuses a lot on the sociopolitical environment of the first century – and different peoples’ reactions and conflicts when a man called Jesus of Nazareth claims to be the long-awaited messiah to people oppressed by the Roman empire and by their religious leaders. 

The show creators also stress that this is not a faith show that is only for Christians. Surveys done by the show report that half of the audiences who watch it are not religious.

The show has a wide appeal and dares to approach difficult topics – such as how to forgive enemies, marital conflict, where is God in the midst of suffering, and why some people get healed and others do not – without giving easy answers.

Screenshot from The Chosen.

With some creative license, the writers have fleshed out characters to give them relatable personalities.

Matthew is the socially awkward tax collector with money and no friends. Nicodemus is the respected religious leader who goes through a crisis and begins questioning everything he believes. Jesus has sad eyes but a refreshing dry sense of humour.

Roman soldiers and Pharisees are not one-dimensional bad guys, but people who struggle to reconcile personal beliefs with the directives of the leadership they are under.

Since discovering the show, I’ve recommended it to many friends.

I’ve also been contributing towards crowdfunding efforts for this production to continue because I saw quality and excellence in the cinematography, and believed so much in how the stories were being told.

I knew that some day, if the opportunity came up, I would want to volunteer to be an extra on the show. After all, they’re crowdfunded right? I could help them save on some of their casting budget. 

The filming experience

Fast forward to 2024, when The Chosen put out word on their social media that they needed hundreds of volunteer extras who would be willing to travel to Utah to film crowd scenes for season 5.

In addition to paying our own costs for transport and accommodation, we also had to come up with our own costumes according to guidelines they provided.

While I can’t talk about what exactly we filmed, I can say that we were filming significant scenes from what we now refer to as Holy Week.

Good filmmaking is hard work. We were on set for five days, 12 hours a day.

Most of the time, we were instructed to walk around and make up the background for scenes such as a crowded market. We had to look busy, or stand in large groups listening in to conversations between actors.

One long scene in particular was shot over three days, with takes from multiple camera angles.

The actors in each scene brought such intensity of emotion and conviction as they delivered their lines, especially Jonathan Roumie who plays Jesus.

Stories I had read so many times in the Gospels, stories I had become so over-familiar with came to life in vivid colour. Those moments gave me goosebumps.

Other background extras were mostly from around the United States, with a handful from Europe. I was probably the only Singaporean and the staff were amazed that the show had inspired someone to travel so far to participate in the filming.

Many extras said they wanted to come as an act of service to the show that had brought so much encouragement to them and in some cases, reignited their faith. It was uplifting to hear that a TV show could have such an impact on so many people.

I was probably the only Singaporean and the staff were amazed that the show had inspired someone to travel so far to participate in the filming.

Among many of us there was a strong belief that we were part of something bigger than ourselves and bigger than a TV series.

We were filming iconic scenes in a medium that will be watched by audiences worldwide.

Screenshot from The Chosen.

I wanted to contribute to this show with my time because such an unusual experience is a great conversation starter.

Introducing The Chosen through this personal involvement gives me a unique starting point for discussions on intellectual topics and faith-related subjects in a fresh and accessible way.

Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen, has often encouraged viewers to tell others about the show by saying, “It’s not your job to feed the 5,000. Just bring your loaves and fish.”

My part in this show, even if it was walking around in the background in a shot, is my contribution towards helping the greatest story ever told reach a billion people.

Why watch The Chosen?

If you’re checking out the show for the first time, I understand the hesitancy towards a show that tackles faith-related questions and depicts venerated faith figures.

If you keep in mind that the intent of the show is not to replace Scripture, but to tell good stories from lesser explored perspectives, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the production. By the way, The Chosen consistently scores 95% on show review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Even to people who do not have a faith affiliation, the show is refreshingly “un-preachy” – bringing across relatable experiences of our shared humanity. Just like life, problems and conflicts are not neatly solved at the end of each episode, and yet you can come away from the show feeling strangely encouraged and seen. 

You can watch all past and current seasons of The Chosen for free online or by using The Chosen app on the App Store or Google Play.