by Debbonnaire Kovacs
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
Submitted January 30, 2014
Note: This piece is half feature, half news, half opinion, (yes, really!) and different from the general style of pieces you find here in the Features section.
Many Adventist Today readers probably already know more than I do about The Record Keeper, an ambitious web series project which seeks to retell the themes of what Adventists call the great controversy between Christ and Satan, from the point of view of angels, both fallen and unfallen. I save union magazines to look through for feature ideas, and I just read through a stack of last year’s and came to the September, 2013 version of the North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner. It featured an exclusive interview with Garrett Caldwell, General Conference associate communication director, and Jason Satterlund, Walla Walla University graduate and filmmaker. The article can be read in its entirety here: https://gleanernow.com/feature/record-keeper-new-window-great-controversy.
The filmmakers at that time were very excited about a project that would “attempt to portray the celestial battle of obedience versus apostasy, good versus evil, in a viral video series for those who live and breathe through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” They had originally considered trying a full-length movie, but were overwhelmed by the scope of it. Satterlund is quoted as saying, “How do you cram a narrative covering thousands of years into a video and do any of it justice?”
So they decided to try a web-based series of short pieces. The intended audience was people who had never heard of Adventism or Ellen White. The tests around the world were overwhelmingly positive. One showing in Brazil garnered 9,000 Likes in less than 24 hours.
The interview talked about things like “steampunk”—things that this old Adventist doesn’t even understand! But they definitely caught my interest. I was fascinated by the concept and went immediately to YouTube to look it up. I’ll admit to being anxious that the quality of execution might not reach the height of the intention.
Well, it did. I found the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqATTCrzOv4, but at first I skipped that. The pilot episode was up, and I’d already been intrigued. So I watched that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBZ7tTErQQM. I was blown away. I was so taken into the story that I wanted to jump in and argue with the “fallen” angel who insisted all he wanted was freedom. It seemed like the “unfallen” angel was just talking too much about unquestioning obedience. I looked eagerly for more, having gotten the impression from the Gleaner interview that the whole first series was made. I even watched the trailer.
I went to the Facebook page, and that’s where I learned that controversy had arisen. (Go figure…) Again, I was after the fair, as the old expression has it. They had already posted a letter from the GC reassuring people that they weren’t stepping back from the project, but there was a lot of complaint that if there were “more delays” the project was going to lose the buzz it had garnered, and that allowing too much editing from “higher up” in the organization, could destroy some of its power.
I decided I wanted to find out more, with the possible intention of sending ideas to the News Team here at AToday. I actually had an email half written when I decided to do this cobbled-together story instead.
Turns out that late that same September, Spectrum ran an interview with the same two people. https://spectrummagazine.org/article/alita-byrd/2013/09/26/jason-satterlund-and-garrett-caldwell-behind-scenes-record-keeper.
Here, Satterlund gave a more complete explanation of steampunk. “Steampunk was inspired by Jules Verne. We wanted our characters in a setting that was both ancient and advanced at the same time. The story spans thousands of years so we needed a look that would not feel out of place referencing a variety of time periods.”
There was also a wealth of information on the production and development, and how the series would be made available. “Right now the plan is to place it on YouTube unless we get picked up by a distributor. Even if that happens, it will still be viewable to everyone. It will also be available on disc and as part of a ministry kit.” They recommended people keep up with progress on the Facebook page.
In just the past couple of weeks, the controversy has heated up. A Spectrum article from January 21, updated on the 22nd, explains in greater detail what has been happening. Satterlund noted that Caldwell “shepherded the scripts (‘that were both compelling and spiritually sound’) through ‘dozens, if not hundreds’ of committees, ensuring that the project – which had initially been commissioned by the General Conference – had approval. He asserts that everyone was on board.
“But after the episodes were viewed and interest in the project exploded, ‘the higher ranking officials of the church began to take notice,’ Satterlund said.”
He adds, “It is very important to note that it is a small group that opposes this. Most of the people at the church are behind it. What is sad is that the few who oppose it happen to be in positions of great power.” https://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2014/01/21/save-record-keeper
Now there are “Save the Record Keeper” and (predictably) “Cancel the Record Keeper” pages on Facebook. The series creators and supporters are asking people to email and tweet, but begging them to remain courteous about it.
As Features editor and Poetry & the Arts editor for Adventist Today, my plan is to post links to the episodes in Poetry & the Arts as they become available and to encourage our readers to educate themselves and to let their opinions be known, and we would reiterate here at AT, in a courteous, Christian manner, please.
I second heartily this quote from Jason Satterlund, taken from the Spectrum article: It is important to note that this series was created for the outside world. Our congregation is not the target audience. Everything in the series from the action, to the steampunk, to the non-threatening political language, to the parkour, to the multi-cultural approach was specifically designed to that end. These are the kinds of things that the world likes to watch, and they are already being drawn to the series. Even as we were filming, people were asking questions. The doors were already starting to open. Many deep discussions were happening on set!
My own opinion is that we can’t let an opportunity like this to touch a much wider spectrum of the world—the very generations we are always bewailing our inability to interest—get away. I would add that I personally don’t believe every detail of the whole series has to agree in every particular with what I personally believe in order to be valuable. I’m pretty sure that the Holy Spirit is capable of leading people into ALL truth, just as Jesus promised. We, like the man who buried his talent, will not get in trouble for investing and then not doing it perfectly. We will definitely get into trouble for refusing to invest at all.
End of opinion! Let the fervent prayers continue.