September 24, 2023



Studio Responds to Criticism of ‘Sound of Freedom’ Ticket Sales, Claiming Most Tickets Bought by General Public

Studio Responds to Criticism of ‘Sound of Freedom’ Ticket Sales, Claiming Most Tickets Bought by General Public

Angel Studios has kept confidential the precise breakdown of the $164 million domestic box office revenue for “Sound of Freedom,” specifically regarding the distinction between donated tickets and directly purchased ones. The astounding success of this film at the box office led a major Hollywood studio to commission a survey that delves into the reasons behind its remarkable returns. Despite this success, Angel Studios has yet to provide detailed figures that clarify the extent to which revenue came from donations versus regular sales.

Recent weeks have seen a surge in online discussions and inquiries surrounding the unexpected blockbuster triumph of the indie movie “Sound of Freedom” this summer. This unexpected victory caught the attention of a prominent Hollywood studio, prompting them to conduct a survey analyzing social media conversations and audience reactions. The findings of the survey highlighted that the focus of online discussions has shifted away from the film itself and instead gravitated toward conspiracy theories and debates related to politics and culture.

The survey revealed that audiences with right-leaning perspectives tend to dismiss criticisms of “Sound of Freedom” originating from left-leaning sources and mainstream media. These critics are often labeled as “pedophiles, Satanists, and other malicious parties.” Conversely, left-leaning audiences view the film’s messaging techniques as aligned with concepts such as “QAnon, racism, white supremacy, Christo-fascist, anti-Semitic, and an overall deceitful narrative.”

Remarkably, “Sound of Freedom” has raked in a staggering $164 million domestically as of August 6th, after its quiet debut on July 4th, even surpassing the opening day earnings of “Indiana Jones.” The film has particularly excelled in the Midwest and South regions, but it has also garnered significant success in California and other Western states. It has even outperformed several major summer blockbusters like “The Flash,” “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1,” and “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.”

The movie stars Jim Caviezel as real-life figure Tim Ballard, a former Homeland Security agent who undertook a personal mission against child traffickers. One of the factors contributing to “Sound of Freedom’s” extraordinary box office performance is Angel Studios’ inventive “Pay It Forward” distribution model. This model encourages patrons to purchase tickets that can be donated to others for redemption. This unconventional approach appears to be a driving force behind the film’s exceptional financial success.

However, it’s worth noting that Angel Studios’ website includes a disclaimer indicating that funds from unredeemed tickets are at the company’s discretion and might not necessarily contribute to audience growth for the advertised film. The disclaimer acknowledges Angel Studios’ ownership of all received funds and their potential utilization to further their overarching mission.

The director of “Sound of Freedom,” Alejandro Monteverde, and the film’s producer and star, Eduardo Verástegui, who are long-time friends from Mexico, invested eight challenging years in bringing this indie film to fruition. This journey included piecing together the film’s $14.5 million budget. Initially, Fox International struck a distribution deal in 2018, but Disney’s acquisition of Fox in 2019 led to a shelved theatrical release. However, the filmmakers regained the rights and eventually partnered with Angel Studios, based in Utah, in late March 2022. Angel Studios specializes in crowdfunding and has a history of faith-based original productions, including the successful series “The Chosen.”

Jared Geesey, Senior VP of Global Distribution at Angel Studios, expresses confidence that “Sound of Freedom” will surpass the $200 million mark in domestic earnings. The film has yet to begin its international release, starting in Latin America next month, where a significant portion of the film was shot, and where it accounted for 37% of the US audience during its second weekend. Angel Studios has also announced release dates for the UK, Australia, and South Africa, while plans for other regions are being finalized. Except for Australia and Africa, Angel Studios is handling self-distribution globally.

As indicated on Angel’s website, over 14.5 million tickets for “Sound of Freedom” have been purchased in North America. Geesey declined to provide a specific number of donated tickets but emphasized that the “vast majority” were purchased by regular individuals rather than being donations. Angel Studios does not differentiate between purchased and donated tickets, as they consider “a ticket is a ticket,” regardless of how it was obtained.

Angel Studios only reports redeemed tickets in the box office figures shared with industry tracker Comscore. Nevertheless, some individuals within the Hollywood sphere remain skeptical about transparency due to the lack of data on redemptions, which makes it challenging to ascertain the actual size of the audience. Initial reports of near-empty showings despite claims of sellouts initially fueled doubts, although such reports have become less frequent. A major theater chain did confirm isolated instances of this phenomenon initially.

Despite reservations, both distributors and theaters find promise in the Pay It Forward model, particularly within the context of a delicate box office recovery period. Indie studio Magnolia Pictures is already adopting a similar approach for its documentary “Kokomo City,” urging patrons to purchase donated tickets. As of now, redemptions are limited to specific theaters, such as New York’s IFC Center and San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, during the film’s initial run.

The momentum generated by the Pay It Forward model has been well-received by many, although the practice of soliciting donated ticket blocks for issue-driven films has been witnessed before, albeit not on such a grand scale. Angel Studios previously utilized this model for its first theatrical release earlier in the year, the faith-based film “His Only Son,” which surprisingly garnered $12 million in domestic earnings. However, Angel Studios did not disclose the specific donation totals for this endeavor. Before the film’s theatrical release, “His Only Son” managed to raise over $1.2 million through crowdfunding to cover marketing and distribution expenses.

The Harmon brothers, the driving forces behind Angel Studios, have a complex history intertwined with Hollywood. Their previous company, VidAngel, faced a copyright infringement lawsuit in 2016 from major studios due to its movie-filtering technology tailored for faith-based audiences. Following a jury’s $62 million damages ruling against VidAngel in 2019 (later settled for $10 million over a decade in 2020), Angel Studios emerged in the aftermath of VidAngel’s bankruptcy and launched in March 2021.

After the 2016 legal ordeal, the Harmons shifted their focus towards crowdfunding original content, like the immensely successful series “The Chosen,” which managed to raise over $10.3 million by 2018, becoming the largest crowdfunded project at the time. Across various platforms, the three seasons of “The Chosen” have garnered an audience of over 110 million viewers. By September 2022, the franchise had accumulated $195.3 million in revenue for Angel Studios, encompassing licensing and theatrical earnings.

In the current year, Angel Studios’ biblical animated film “David” surpassed the crowdfunding record set by “The Chosen,” raising $50 million to date. Angel Studios projects that “David” will become the most-watched animated film ever, harnessing faith-based sentiment in its fundraising appeal, anchored by the quote “we can do all things through Christ” from Philippians 4:13. Following the VidAngel lawsuit, Angel Studios has notably achieved substantial success in pioneering faith-based crowdfunding.

Despite owing $10 million to studios, Angel Studios doesn’t hesitate to criticize Hollywood for being out of touch, a stance they have maintained in the past. Their website points out that investors poured over $10 million into producing “The Chosen,” resulting in over 100 million views and generating more than $30 million in revenue in 2020. This is contrasted with Hollywood’s choice to produce films associated with Seth Rogen, implying that such choices often lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. Angel Studios provides no specific reasoning for singling out Rogen, who has a track record of successful box office hits across both family-oriented films like “The Lion King” and adult comedies such as “Knocked Up.” Even while facing financial obligations, Angel Studios doesn’t shy away from showcasing their own successes and criticizing Hollywood’s decision-making.

Actress and producer Ashley Bratcher, a part of the faith-based film community, encountered challenges with Angel Studios during the crowdfunding campaign for her film “Pharma.” Bratcher’s team withdrew from Angel Studios due to unanswered inquiries and tensions surrounding financial matters.

In June, the entity responsible for producing “Pharma” issued a termination notice to Angel Studios, alleging fraudulent inducement as the basis for their distribution agreement. Redacted documents reveal that Angel executives purportedly linked their support for the crowdfunding launch to revised terms that would benefit Angel’s affiliated Acceleration Fund.

An Angel spokesperson noted that “Pharma” fell short of the Acceleration Fund’s investment criteria, raising only $400,000 out of a $5 million goal, and as a result, they have offered to release “Pharma” from the agreement to explore other avenues. Angel Studios conveyed their best wishes for the success of “Pharma.”

Bratcher’s experience highlights that even creators within the faith-based realm have encountered hurdles with Angel Studios, despite their shared mission. The “Pharma” team contends that questionable practices were observed regarding the financing and distribution of their crowdfunded film.

Angel Studios employed a distinct crowdfunding approach, akin to the one used for “His Only Son,” to gather funds for the marketing and distribution of “Sound of Freedom.” This strategy drew negative attention when a backer, who had invested $500 or more and received a credit, was arrested on charges of child kidnapping. Although the charges surfaced in July, the connection between the backer and the film’s subject only became evident on August 3rd.

On August 4th, Angel Studios released a statement indirectly addressing the backer’s arrest. CEO Neal Harmon mentioned that anyone meeting legal criteria was permitted to invest for credits, revealing that 6,678 individuals contributed an average of $501, amounting to a total of $6 million.

Both Angel Studios and the filmmakers repudiate the characterization of “Sound of Freedom” as a QAnon film, despite its mention in QAnon forums. Actor Jim Caviezel, who leads the film, did invoke a QAnon slogan at a 2021 convention. However, Angel Studios emphasizes that the film’s content stands apart from conspiracy theories. Co-star Mira Sorvino also distanced the film from QAnon in a tweet while advocating for awareness about human trafficking.

Even weeks after its initial release, “Sound of Freedom” continues to expand its audience through innovative marketing approaches. During a recent screening at AMC Century City in Los Angeles, most attendees remained seated during the credits as a 3-minute video featuring lead actor Jim Caviezel played. In the video, Caviezel explained the Pay It Forward model and urged viewers to donate tickets, ensuring that financial constraints wouldn’t prevent anyone from watching the film. He acknowledged the absence of significant studio marketing funds and appealed to the audience for assistance.

During this moment, numerous patrons pulled out their phones to capture the QR code on-screen, facilitating the process of donating tickets.

Several weeks later, “Sound of Freedom” persists in leveraging post-screening messages to sustain its unique promotional strategy, with the goal of maximizing its reach to audiences.

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Ralph Calaway