‘Greatest King Of Israel’: Angel Studios Teams With South African Filmmaker To Bring Animated ‘David’ To Big Screen

Faith-based audiences can rally in staggering numbers.
We saw that via 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which shocked Hollywood by earning $370 million stateside.
Subsequent spiritual films earned far less, but “War Room,” “Heaven Is for Real,” “I Can Only Imagine” and the “God’s Not Dead” franchise still out-earned some mainstream fare.
The creators behind the upcoming “David,” an animated musical about King David, think their story can lure in far more than just the faithful.
“David was the second and greatest King of Israel and is one of the most central figures of the Jewish faith and Israeli culture,” says Michael Jenkins, the film’s executive producer. 
“The Christian New Testament records David in the lineage of Jesus, who was at times even called ‘Son of David,’ and David is later described in the New Testament as a ‘man after God’s own heart,’” Jenkins continues. “Outside of the faith community, David’s story is well-known and has captured the imagination across many generations and cultures.”
The trick, Jenkins says, is to tell faithful stories with narratives that can attract a wider swath of the movie-going public.
“That’s a challenge and opportunity that artists and storytellers, who are also people of faith, need to step up to and embrace,” he says.
Hollywood isn’t itching to tell a faith-based story of this magnitude, so the “David” team turned to Angel Studios to light the way. The company, which previously crowdfunded cultural smashes like Dry Bar Comedy and “The Chosen,” is helping to raise the $30 million needed to complete the feature.
That’s on top of the more than $24 million Team “David” already raised.
Patience won’t be a problem. Jenkins says the upcoming film is more than 20 years in the making. Co-director Phil Cunningham, founder of Sunrise Animation Studios in South Africa, wrote the 20021 book “The VIII Son,” what Jenkins calls a first draft, of sorts, of the “David” script.
Since then, Sunrise Animation Studios has been beefing up its staff, craftsmanship and storytelling processes “to do justice to a story as important as David,” he says.
In 2017, Jenkins’ team created a five-minute demo reel to lure curious investors, both large and small. That clips, featuring animation on par with most major studios, shows a young David risking it all to save a little lamb’s life.
One funding partner, Jenkins says, couldn’t get that 5-minute teaser out of his mind.
“It’s one thing to tell people that this movie will be major-studio quality, but I think the ‘David’ demo has done an amazing job of providing a small taste of the look of David, and the mix of adventure, humor and poignancy in our approach,” Jenkins says.
The team later raised roughly $17 million, which included trips to Israel and assembling a creative team to complete the project.
That team, including animators from “Moana,” “Finding Nemo” and other beloved films, responded to the project’s big picture, Jenkins says.
“These artists could feel that this film was not born in a boardroom but from a deep creative place. It is not a film built to tick [off] boxes, but a film built to inspire a generation,” he says.
In a way, we’ve seen glimpses of King David’s legacy across pop culture for decades.
“David’s life has inspired artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers from Michelangelo to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Leonard Cohen,” Jenkins says. “Some of these have depicted David very differently from the Biblical account, in ways that Christians and Jews may find offensive, but this just goes to show how far beyond the faith community David’s story has reached.”
The David vs. Goliath template alone, he says, remains a key underdog inspiration, but some may not know the breadth of King David’s talents.
“David was an elite musician and songwriter, recruited from across a nation to play music for King Saul, and the author of nearly half the Psalms,” he says.
The project’s $55 million price tag may seem imposing, but it’s a fraction of what similar Hollywood fare costs. The 2016 smash “Moana,” for example, is reported to cost between $150-175 million for Disney.
“We’ve always had to be lean, innovative, agile and efficient, because we’ve built our studio far away from the massive budgets and expenses of Hollywood,” he says. “We have nimble decision-making processes. We work hard at putting the full value of every dollar onto the screen rather than carrying bloated overheads.”
Angel Studios has a sturdy track record when it comes to crowdfunding-style campaigns, but Jenkins says money isn’t the only concern for the project.
“When you set out to tell a story that so many people know so well and love so deeply, it’s really important to deliver a movie that lives up to expectations, and the sense of ownership that so many people have of this story,” he says. 
Toward that end, Team “David” approaches the material with an eye on both spirituality and authenticity.
Hollywood didn’t always look beyond its own ecosystem to create faith-based epics. Classics like “The Ten Commandments” (1956), “Ben Hur” (1959) and “The Robe” (1953) proved populist tales could flow from Hollywood to Everytown, USA.
Recent Hollywood films like “Noah” (2014) and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) either played down Biblical miracles or focused on more contemporary themes like Climate Change.
“’The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Chosen’ have shown that there is a really significant audience for faith content with excellent production and entertainment quality,” he says. “The same can be said for ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and ‘The Blind Side,’ which both had faith themes, albeit less directly biblical.”
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The Daily Wire
November 28, 2022