VidAngel CEO talks filtering content for faith-based streaming and creating "The Chosen" (2023)

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Joseph Holmes:

Ladies and gentlemen of Religion Unplugged, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce Mr. Neal Harmon. He is the co-founder and CEO of the streaming and movie filtering service, VidAngel and producer of the hit faith-based TV show about the life of Jesus. Mr. Harmon, welcome.

Neal Harmon:

Thank you, Joseph. Appreciate you having me on.

Joseph Holmes:

Absolutely. Mr. Neal Harmon, a lot of people might not know who you are or what VidAngel is. What is VidAngel and what makes it distinct from other streaming services?

Neal Harmon:

That's a great question. VidAngel helps you, the viewer, make entertainment good for your home, which every home is unique, and we do this in two ways. One is we allow you to skip. It's like a pre-programmed remote. You know when you're watching a show and you decide, "Oh, this is uncomfortable," and you try to jump for the remote and then you try to change the channel or skip past the video? This is, you can just set that in advance and then it does the skip for you. So you can do this with your Netflix account or your Amazon Prime account or with HBO. You can watch your favorite shows and you can skip over that one scene that you just don't want to experience with your grandparents or with your kids. The second thing we do is we take the skip choices of the families and we share them with creators who partner with us and we make better content, content that the audience finds better for their home. So Dry Bar Comedy and The Chosen are a couple of examples of our very first original content.

The reason that I started VidAngel is because it was a specific movie. I love the movie Cinderella Man. At the time I wanted to share it with my family and I had very young children. I said, "I love this movie." But the the New Yorker language of the boxing coach is just, I don't want my little two-year-old and four-year-old and six-year-old repeating that to each other. So let's watch this really great story, but without them having to repeat those words.

Joseph Holmes:

So just going off of that, VidAngel has run into its fair share of controversy because of the filtering service. A court even struck down the way that you were doing the filtering before. But there's also been some artistic concerns that people have had where it's like, "Look, if you can start editing works of art like this, maybe it it might violate artistic integrity." But then also even from a religious standpoint, for me, it's like, "What if I made a religious film and somebody decided to have a streaming service that edited all the religion out of it." What is your response to people who are concerned that artistic integrity can be compromised in a variety of ways with this kind of filtering technology?

(Video) I was wrong about VidAngel. Should Christians watch content that needs to be filtered?

Neal Harmon:

Yeah. What a great question, and very well put. First off to your point on the court ruling, that was a district court ruling. It is currently on appeal. So we'll see how that fairs, but we didn't do so well in Los Angeles.

The second thing is on the artistic integrity. I have a lot of respect for people who want to experience art exactly as the person who created the art intended it to be experienced. I think that is commendable and it's a very honorable way to experience the world. Our philosophy here is we would never change an artist's right to publish what they create in the public sphere as they choose or as they intend the message to be presented. Now, as soon as you cross my threshold in my home, I feel like there's a different set of rights.

The right of the family also needs to be considered and how they want to experience speech. I feel like that the VidAngel solution is a really great solution because we have all kinds of conflict happening right now in the world because of people trying to censor one another through the power of the state, whether that be efforts of the Islamic community to implement Sharia law, whether that be the efforts of the Christian community to get forward their views on protection of life, whether that be for the LGBTQ community to be able to communicate that they are who they are and they experience life as they experience it. All of these different groups are battling for the public microphone. There's many, many, many more, and it is a beautiful thing, but there are rights of the family and there are rights of the directors and within the privacy of the home, we feel like that's a very good place to put the solution rather than with the power of China or the power of the United Arab Emirates, where a country decides, "Hey, this is what's allowed and this is what's not allowed.”

Some people are okay with that level of censorship. Obviously Hollywood's okay to participate with that level of censorship. They sell movies there. They change their movies. They bow to the power of China. It gets more complicated now that VidAngel's asking them to bow to the power of the home and they don't want to give up that power. So that power has to be somewhere. We feel like we found a solution that respects the creators and respects the home. I don't want to derail your interview, but I would love to give an example if there's time.

Joseph Holmes:

Yeah, go ahead.

Neal Harmon:

So Dry Bar Comedy is our very first original content series.

Joseph Holmes:

Love it and enjoy it very much.

Neal Harmon:

It has over 2 billion views. It's probably the fastest growing standup comedy brand in the world. The reason it's so successful is because we said, "Let's get funny comedians to come in, share with them what families are skipping, and then let them choose how they want to present their routine." They all came in from all over North America. They perform here at our headquarters. The audience rates them. The ones that get rated high enough get published, and then they get bonuses if they're not skipped. And as a result, it's a market. So now the comedians, they come in. They perform. We had one comedian come from LA, performed. Afterwards he saw his final cut and he said, "Ah, I worked so hard not to take the Lord's name in vain in that set, but I didn't. Can you please cut this out before it gets published?" So it's the total inverse because when the rules are set, everybody's like, "How far can I push this against the rules?" But when there's a marketplace and they know what the rules are and they make a choice, the directors, they have their entire freedom and then the audience has their entire freedom. Guess what? The market size ended up being bigger because both sides have their say.

(Video) Filter your Favorite Shows and Movies

Joseph Holmes:

So let's shift gears a little bit and talk about one of your most high profile shows, The Chosen [a show about the life of Jesus]. They just announced they're filming the second season, which is very exciting for many of us who very much enjoy it. One of the unique things about The Chosen is that it is a multi-faith project in many ways. Dallas Jenkins [the show’s director] is an Evangelical Protestant. There's Catholics and Messianic Jews working on it. You and the other founders of VidAngel are Mormons. What have been the challenges or benefits that you've actually seen come from that? Because that's such a very unusual thing in the faith-based space.

Neal Harmon:

Yeah. I mean, it's always, honestly, it's been a dream of mine to work on a project with people of many faiths, where we put all of our differences aside and we come together to work on something that's good for the world. That's really what's happening. Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, is a very religious Catholic. We had Messianic Jews who helped us understand Jewish culture and take us to Israel. The view of redemption and of grace that the evangelical community brings, and also the entrepreneurialism of the evangelical community, a willingness to try new things has been just beautiful to understand and get to know better. Now, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a set in Goshen, Utah, of all places, that is the biggest, the most well-researched, the most meticulously crafted re-creation of Jerusalem and the sites that are relevant to Jesus's life that exist in the world. All these faiths are making their own contribution to this project in their own way. Then of course, VidAngel's owned by 8,000 Americans of all different faiths. But the two founders, we are faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We love Jesus and we love our faith in Christ.

We are super happy to figure out ways and marketing methods and everything to distribute this as far and wide with us having zero control over the content. We wouldn't have it any other way. This is an evangelical product, and we celebrate the biblical, evangelical and fresh perspective that the scripts bring to this story. It's a beautiful project to work on and I'm so grateful to be part of it.

Joseph Holmes:

No, that's the thing. A lot of people worry that when you have a lot of different perspectives and cooks in the kitchen, that what the result is going to be something that's watered down as to not offend any particular group. But the result has really been, for the show, it's that you've been able to increase the richness of it and nobody has felt like that they've had to water anything down or felt like anything has been watered down.

Neal Harmon:

Well, that's because we've been very specific. It's the same philosophy we have with VidAngel with the Dry Bar people. We don't tell those creators what to do. We give them information. They make their own choices and we want it to be that way. The content reflects Dallas's view of the world, his own biblical studies, his own understanding of the gospel, his view of the gospel from an evangelical perspective. But Dallas often says, and I think this is very wise, is he says, "Most of the disagreements we have between faith happened after Jesus lived here. We don't disagree on what he actually did, who he was, what he lived, what he showed us through his example. If all we do is represent those stories, that can be unifying for all faiths.”

Joseph Holmes:

One interesting thing has been the fact that you seem to be taking the model that you used with Chosen: you have a short film, and then you use that short film as a pitch to fundraise for a larger project. We recently seen VidAngel's released online, the short film The Shift, which is a sci-fi film that's also a short film that at the very end, it's like, "Hey, we want this to be a feature film." So I want to talk a little bit more about The Shift after this. But first I wanted to ask, is this the start of a model that you want to use going forward, with you have the short film and then the larger project that gets fundraised from it?

Neal Harmon:

Yes, absolutely. It is a model and it started right after VidAngel was sued by Disney. Our customers invested $10 million in less than five days, which allowed us to survive. That was 8,000 families and we're forever grateful for those people and that they took a stand against the establishment, the media, and said, "We want something different." The day after we raised that money, I remember my brother Daniel called me and he said, "Hey, Neal, look at the passion that has gone into raising this money." He's like, "Imagine if this model was applied to media projects." Oh, man, that clicked instantly for me as well and that's when we started thinking.

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We tested Dry Bar on our own funds, but we were thinking all along, "This crowdfunding model builds an audience. Your audience also supports the project. If they don't want to fund the project, then maybe it shouldn't be made." We learned that when it comes to the crowd, the wisdom of the crowd, if you take a bottle of jelly beans and you fill it up and you ask people to guess how many jelly beans there are in it, you ask a thousand people and you get the median number of all their guesses, it's almost always within a few jellybeans of being on. So we say, "You know what? The crowd is going to, over time, outperform the elites in Hollywood. So we want this to be a model." So you're very astute in noticing that, and yes, it is a model and we intend to continue with it.

Joseph Holmes:

Very exciting. So then let’s talk a little bit about The Shift now. What is The Shift about and what attracted you guys to the project?

Neal Harmon:

The Shift is 20 minute short film. It's available on VidAngel right now. You can watch it. It's meant to be a full length feature film. It tells a story of a man who gets into a car accident and when he wakes up, the person who wakes him is Satan. They have these conversations with each other as though they were new acquaintances on the street. Satan comes across as very friendly, as just a regular Joe type of guy, but then he increasingly becomes more and more controlling throughout the thing and you can see. Then Satan proceeds to tell how he sowed seeds of discord throughout humanity, and it's all based off of sci-fi. It's not based off of scripture, but I think the concepts of prayer are there. It's the fact that you're dealing with Satan, good versus evil, God versus Satan, those kinds of things are in the story, but it's a very sci-fi concept.

The Shift was another one of those experiences where we had hundreds of submissions of people who were interested in getting their content out there, but we watched this project and we said, "Oh, this is unique. It's different. It is a totally different take on faith." It's not really faith. It's sci-fi, but it's retelling the story of Job. So, I mean, it's so interesting, Brock Heasley's take on this. We were fascinated by the take on it and also with the emotion that he had created. He clearly has talent. We were excited about that project. So we thought we'd give it a shot and see what the crowd thinks of it.

Joseph Holmes:

Yeah. So getting close to wrapping up the interview here, but I wanted to ask a couple more things. One is a practical thing and the other is a hard thing, so I'll go with the hard thing first. You've been working at VidAngel, you talked a little bit about this, you've worked a little bit at VidAngel for many years now. I wanted to give you a chance to talk you more in-depth about what is it about VidAngel and projects you're working on that makes you want to get up every day and do this again?

Neal Harmon:

Oh, it's the 8,000 people who invested in us and the 19,000 people who invested in The Chosen, by far. That's what it is. It's those people. We've been through some tough, tough times, and I'm not sure we would have made it through it without those people's support. I think the other thing that keeps me going and gets me up every day is because I feel like that we and the movement that has become VidAngel, and it's not me, it's a growing group of people, we felt helpless to affect our culture for so long. We see this vision of we're making a difference. We can have an impact and we're building a better world for our children and our grandchildren. That makes me excited because I really think, I mean, the people who tell the stories of the world guide its future, and the world needs to have more hope and faith and redemption, and we're going to do something about it.

Joseph Holmes:

That's very exciting. So if people want to support what you're doing, whether it’s support you in general or support a specific project, how can they do that?

Neal Harmon:

(Video) VidAngel Filters Offensive Material Out Of Your Favorite Movies

Just go download the VidAngel app and start watching. These creators get paid based off of how much you watch their stuff. You can also go to and check out The Shift and back that project. There'll be many more coming soon so we'd love for you to get involved, for you to be part of the story.

Joseph Holmes:

Awesome. Lastly, can you tease any other projects that you have waiting in the wings that haven't been announced yet? That last question may be a short, "No," and that's fine.

Neal Harmon:

No, I'll give you something. I'll give you something. You've been a good interviewer. As far as just a little hint for the future, so there's nothing better than telling the story of the King of Kings or helping to distribute that. But he's also the author of liberty, right? We know from the scriptures. If you can imagine a combination between the educational components of the Magic School Bus and the humor of The Simpsons as a series. I know that a lot of Christians have a love/hate relationship with The Simpsons, but The Simpsons are funny. They're funny. There's good writing. We've got a group of creators who have excellent comedic writing, who love the principles of freedom, and we got a really, really fun show coming about.

Joseph Holmes:

That's exciting. Can you tell me when we might expect an announcement might come?

Neal Harmon:

Around that? No, I can't because our philosophy is that the relationship is between the creators and their audiences and so this is their relationship, not ours. So the creator will put that forward when they're ready.

Joseph Holmes:

Well, thank you very much for this interview. You've been a wonderful interviewee and I'm very much excited to see what comes next for you guys.

Neal Harmon:

Yeah. So are we.

(Video) 173: Navigating Media Choices with Neal Harmon of VidAngel

Joseph Holmes is an award-nominated filmmaker and culture critic living in New York City. He is co-host of the podcastThe Overthinkersand its companion websitetheoverthinkersjournal.comwhere he discusses art, culture, faith and art with his fellow overthinkers.


Is VidAngel a Mormon company? ›

Then of course, VidAngel's owned by 8,000 Americans of all different faiths. But the two founders, we are faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

What religion is behind The Chosen? ›

“As I've said, many, many times, the content of the show has zero influence or input from any formal faith tradition or church. None.” However, Latter-day Saints are involved with the show. “The Chosen” is distributed by Angel Studios, which was co-founded by Latter-day Saint brothers Neal and Jeffrey Harmon.

What denomination is the creator of The Chosen? ›

“The Chosen” is distributed by partner Angel Studios, a streaming video company that was co-founded by brothers Neal and Jeffrey Harmon, who are Latter-day Saints.

Is The Chosen connected to the Mormon Church? ›

“The Chosen” is not endorsed by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but many members of the Church are embracing its messages.

Is The Chosen true to the Bible? ›

Although The Chosen draws directly from the New Testament, it's become a global phenomenon largely because it doesn't treat the Gospels as, uh, gospel. Its creator, Dallas Jenkins, a recent Texas transplant, developed the series in 2018 with the hope of turning Bible stories into something truly binge-worthy.

What does Catholic Church say about The Chosen? ›

Created outside of the Hollywood system, The Chosen allows us to see Him through the eyes of those who knew him. The Chosen stays faithful to the Gospels and at the same time tells us a story that is in between the lines of scripture.

What do Jews think of The Chosen? ›

Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the concept of chosenness. Its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, said that the idea that God chose the Jewish people leads to racist beliefs among Jews, and thus must be excised from Jewish theology. This rejection of chosenness is made explicit in the movement's siddurim (prayer books).

Do the Mormons believe Jesus is God? ›

Like most Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Creator of the World.

Is The Chosen app Catholic? ›

The series was conceived within an explicitly Christian framework with an approach that is intended to be ecumenical. Writer and director Dallas Jenkins is an Evangelical, but the actor who plays Jesus, Jonathan Roumie, is a Catholic.

Is The Chosen based on Christianity? ›

The Chosen is based on the true stories of the gospels of Jesus Christ.

Is The Chosen made by BYU? ›

"We want 'The Chosen' to get into as many homes as possible, and BYUtv does that as well as anyone," said Dallas Jenkins, creator of "The Chosen." "When I first made a short Nativity film at my friend's farm in Illinois, I had no idea it would lead to 'The Chosen' and its global response.

Is The Chosen cast Christians? ›

What are the religions of The Chosen cast? Individuals working on the show come from various faith backgrounds, Eves said. There are Catholics, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Baptists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and even non-believers involved in the show.

Why did The Chosen leave Utah? ›

“We had pretty much decided on Malta, Bulgaria, or Utah, and we found out Utah was a no, and that was because of COVID,” Eves said. At that point, Dallas Jenkins, the writer and director, went back to the farm where he'd filmed the short that inspired The Chosen and prayed they'd be able to keep going.

What does Mormons think of Jesus? ›

We believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh (John 3:16). We accept the prophetic declarations in the Old Testament that refer directly and powerfully to the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of all humankind. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the fulfillment of those prophecies.

Do Mormons claim to be Christians? ›

Mormon Beliefs

Mormons consider themselves Christians, but many Christians don't recognize Mormonism as an official denomination. Mormons believe in the crucifixion, resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. Followers claim that God sent more prophets after Jesus's death.

Where is Lilith in the Bible? ›

The Bible mentions the Lilith only once, as a dweller in waste places (Isaiah 34:14), but the characterization of the Lilith or the lili (in the singular or plural) as a seducer or slayer of children has a long pre-history in ancient Babylonian religion.

Will The Chosen show the crucifixion? ›

Roumie says the scene is crucial in setting the tone for "The Chosen," which will screen its season 3 finale in 2,000 theaters Feb. 2 and 3. Season 6 will feature Jesus' crucifixion after Pontius Pilate washes his hands of capital punishment to appease the crowds, despite his wife's pleas.

What gospel is The Chosen based on? ›

The Chosen - Based on Luke 5.

What DNA company does the Mormon Church own? ›

In 2001, Mormon billionaire James Sorenson started one of the earliest genetic test kit companies, Relative Genetics, in part due to his religious interests. It was later bought by, another Mormon company. While today, Ancestry is a publicly traded company, it uses LDS church records and the IGI.

What companies does the Mormon Church own? ›

Deseret Management Corporation
DivisionsDeseret Digital Media Deseret Media Companies KSL Broadcast Division
SubsidiariesBeneficial Financial Group Bonneville International Corp. Deseret News Deseret Book Hawaii Reserves Temple Square Hospitality
WebsiteDeseret Management Corporation
6 more rows

What companies does the Mormon Church invest in? ›

The portfolio owns thousands of stocks, and its top holdings show little difference from the S&P 500, with Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon among its largest positions. But the fund is active, with stocks in the tobacco and alcohol sectors excluded from the portfolio.


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