I was first introduced to THE RECORD KEEPER last year when it was a selection in the UK Christian Film Festival. THE GOOD BOOK was also a selection and as I checked out the other films, I found myself intrigued by the concept and the obvious high production level of THE RECORD KEEPER. It was no shock to me when it won “Best Feature Drama”. Now it’s going to be in the International Christian Film Festival along with our newest movie PROVIDENCE and I can’t wait to check it out. Here’s my interview with writer/director Jason Satterlund.
First, introduce yourself and your role with THE RECORD KEEPER.
I am Jason Satterlund and have been directing films for over twenty years. I created the idea behind TRK and wrote it with two other people. Garrett Caldwell (who also served as executive producer) and Rajeev Sigamoney.
Tell us a little about this rather unique story.
I was hired by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to turn their cornerstone book, THE GREAT CONTROVERSY into a film for general audiences. This book is held in high regard amongst Adventists, so the pressure was high to get it right. TGC is a religious history book. It starts at 60AD and chronicles the course of Christianity up to today. The over arching idea behind the book is the epic battle of good vs evil.
I came up with a way to tell the story using angels, and since the target audience was the general public, I added lots of action, visual effects, and a Steampunk aesthetic. However, trying to create a film for the general public ultimately became its undoing.
The Seventh-day Adventist church tends to be a very conservative bunch. No drinking, no dancing, no meat, and for many years movies were considered tools of the Devil. A lot of members of the church still see movies as evil and acting as a form of lying. Once THE RECORD KEEPER trailer was released and it started winning awards at major festivals, it ruffled the feathers of many powerful church leaders.
THE RECORD KEEPER became a central debate from the highest officers to the common church goer. It literally became The Great Controversy. In the end, the film was never officially released, but that’s where the real story began. Within a week, the film was leaked online and people from around the world started showing it. Facebook fan pages were created, letters flooded into the church in support of it, and the fans carried the film forward anyway. It ended up showing in film festivals all around the world, and it continues to win awards. I have never seen anything like that happen before. It was truly something to behold.
I believe that this controversy has brought far more attention to this film than it ever would’ve had otherwise.
What was the inspiration for telling a Christian story as a sci-fi in a steampunk universe?
At the outset, I wanted to show angels in a way they had never been seen before. From a Christian perspective, I don’t think we have ever seen angels accurately portrayed. I wanted the audience to really believe that these beings were real, had true emotions and could actually exist. However, they aren’t human, so I wanted to give them an otherworldly edge without showing them in flowing robes with cheesy wings.
It took a long time to find the right aesthetic. My costume designer and production designer were constantly asking me what they were wearing and where they lived. I had no idea. I looked a long time to try and find the right look. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a turn of the century bank bank that gave me an idea. I thought that maybe their look was victorian, but their technology was futuristic. As soon as I mentioned that to my wife, she informed me that that look was already a thing. It was called “Steampunk.”
I was blown away and instantly fell in love. It was the perfect answer.
What was the greatest challenge you faced with filming?
Without question, the biggest challenge was to take Bible stories and make them interesting again. Bible stories have been told so many times that they don’t hold the same drama that they used to. Everyone already knows that Noah survives the flood, and that Jesus rose from the dead, so we really aren’t all that concerned about the heroes. It’s like reading the end of the novel before you begin the story.
So, how do you take such familiar stories and create suspense? How do you tell them in a way they have never been seen? I think we accomplished that. Actually, when I observe audiences during the Noah’s ark story, they are usually leaning forward holding their breath. They really don’t know how that story will end. One of the most common responses I hear after people watch this film is, “Wow. I have never thought about these stories like this before. It makes me want to go back and read the Bible.”
What was it like transforming a web series into a feature film?
The transformation was fairly simple, actually. It came about because of the controversy surrounding the project. Once the decision was made to not release it, I was flooded with requests to show it. The easiest way to watch it is in feature film format, so it I made the transition.
As you watch the film, you’ll see the episodic nature of it. However, since the story takes place over a few thousand years, and is told in bits around Bible stories, the format makes perfect sense.
What has been the response to the film so far?
The response to this has really blown me away. Creating religious content for general audiences is something most Christian film makers want to do, but very few are able to accomplish. Across the board I hear very positive feedback. After one screening, a person who described herself as a pagan said to me, “That is the first time I have ever seen Christianity portrayed in a positive light.” People constantly tell me they want to go back and read their Bibles, many beg for a sequel, and most tell me they want to watch it again.
That is the best response I can possibly imagine.
Tell us about your upcoming project.
After this crazy journey, and seeing the craving for stories like this, I have decided to create another story in the Steampunk angel universe. The church owns the characters and ideas in TRK, so I can’t make a sequel, but I can tell another similar story.
What I created was a tale set present day that shows the behind the scenes struggle of what it takes to save our souls. It is the story of a young, innocent angel who fears evil, who is sent on his first mission to earth to save a boy from a demon. It will have all the spiritual struggles you see in TRK, plus a lot more drama and action. It is called THE PLANET TENDER.
In my opinion, it will be far better than TRK because it is able to explore the complicated landscape that we humans have to wrestle with. It asks a lot of tough questions and really challenges us to evaluate what is most important in our lives. I cannot wait to show this to the world!
I think that the world needs stories like this. People need to be shown that there is more to life than what we see. So many out there see life as pointless, and they need to be reminded that they matter. They need to know that there is a God who loves them and who fights for them. I would encourage everyone out there to please support this effort and let me know they are out there. Give me a follow on Twitter, and sign up on my website so they can stay updated on all the latest info on films like this. I would love to hear from everyone. www.jasonsatterlund.com