The child trafficking thriller Sound of Freedom was a definitive sleeper hit, an independently produced film made for less than $15 million that rode word of mouth, a successful 'pay it forward' campaign, political mobilization and a healthy dose of controversy to a staggering $182 million and counting at the box office.
In Hollywood, that kind of profit margin typically leads in one direction: a quickly greenlit sequel.
But that’s where it gets complicated for the Angel Studios release, which stars Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, a real-life former special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who journeys to Colombia to rescue children being sex trafficked.
Who owns the rights?
It’s complicated. According to Variety, there’s uncertainty among Team Sound of Freedom over who exactly owns the rights to Ballard’s life story.
Co-Writer and director Alejandro Monteverde initially told the outlet that he secured Ballard’s life rights while researching the film in 2015, and discussed the possibility of making a follow-up film with the action moving to Haiti. “There’s definitely a lot of interest to exploring [the subject] a little deeper, because this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Monteverde said. “There’s a lot of interest to kind of explore Haiti, what’s happening in Haiti. There’s [sequel] talks focusing on Haiti. Haiti was a big part of Tim’s work. I was very tempted to do Haiti on this film. But I wanted to do an origin story, and it was too much material.”
Yet, subsequently, a representative for the filmmaker clarified that his client’s rights only covered one movie.
Separately, a rep for one of the film’s producers, Mike Ilitch Jr., told the outlet that her client signed a deal with Ballard for “exclusive life rights,” and planned on turning Freedom into a multimedia franchise (movie sequel, scripted series, docuseries, the works). Yet, subsequently, the rep “reversed course,” according to the trade, and “said the information was ‘not accurate,’ without providing clarification.”
Clearly, there are some back-room discussions happening right now between Ballard, Monteverde, Ilitch Jr. and a lot of lawyers.
Could a sequel to be made without Ballard’s involvement?
Absolutely. After building an impressive crowdfunding equity model through releases like The Chosen, The Wingfeather Saga and David, the Utah-based studio scored their first blockbuster with Sound of Freedom, and there’s little doubt the company wouldn’t want to run it back again. They highly likely own the rights to the title.
Without Ballard involved, though, they’d have to lose Caviezel’s protagonist and presumably introduce a new hero. That could certainly alienate some viewers.
It’s still possible, though. The film’s vocal fanbase has rallied behind the cause of child sex trafficking, which any follow-up would still focus on. Certainly there are others in Ballard’s field they could recruit, or invent a fictionalized amalgamation.
But replacing your action hero for a sequel is not typically a formula that works in movies. Just ask Speed 2: Cruise Control star Jason Patric or whoever replaced Will Smith in Independence Day: Resurgence.
And it’d also cost Angel Studios the film’s mastermind. After telling Newsweek that a sequel is in the “very early stages,” Monteverde added that he’d only make it under one condition: “I would only do it with him [Ballard],” he said. “If he's not involved, I'm not doing it. It's his life.” (Monteverde’s next film, the Italian immigrant drama Cabrini, will release in March, 2024.)
What are the chances a sequel eventually happens?
Still very high. Angel Studios may operate in its own bubble outside of Hollywood, and Ballard could possibly be playing hardball with his rights, but when there’s this much money on the table — and yes, a cause with this much passion behind it — it’s hard to imagine the parties involved won’t work something out.
“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Monteverde cautioned to Newsweek.
It may not coming very quickly, either. And remember, the first Sound of Freedom film took five years to finally hit theaters.