It was a summer afternoon when my father told me that he was going to introduce me to a brand-new TV series. I was young and my family had always exposed us to “classics”, while other kids were watching Sponge Bob, we were watching Gilligan’s Island, Colombo, Twilight Zone, Little House on the Prairie, you get the idea… So it was on this particular day that I was intrigued to see what he was going to introduce me to next. I sat down on the couch ready to watch something new and little did I know how much it would influence my imagination in the years to come. My father popped in the disc in the then “state of the art” DVD player and then what came next was a spaceship flying in space and a voice that said “To boldly go where no man has gone before” The show was Star Trek and I was instantly hooked. More than a decade has passed since my father introduced me to Star Trek but the opening crawl has forever been etched in my mind; “To boldly go where no man has gone before” became a silent mantra throughout my formative years.
Growing up in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, I realized that this mantra wasn’t exactly being practiced by my generation. We weren’t going where no one had gone before, we were simply circling where we had been told was safe to go. I truly believe that as a people who serve the most creative being that we, in turn, should be the most creative people; we should be pushing boundaries as opposed to building them. We serve a God that lives outside of a box and our approach should one that mirrors the grandeur of who he is.
I took the liberty to send out a bunch of emails to different directors in hope that they would offer me the opportunity to interview them and to my surprise, many of them agreed to be interviewed for this series. This series entitled “INSIGHT” will be focused on interviewing creators of different backgrounds but in the first installment of this series we will be interviewing directors in order to inspire creators to do more with their talents and “Boldly go where no man/woman has gone before” The hope of this series is that by reading from creators who have gone out and made their dreams a reality, you may do the same with yours.
Part 1: will be focusing on Jason Satterlund. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Satterlund need look no further than his work with “The Record Keeper” a series based upon angels and their perspective of the great controversy. The following transcript is the interview and answers personally typed out by Mr. Satterlund.
Intro: Please introduce yourself to the readers.
Who you are?
I am Jason Satterlund. I have been a film director for over twenty years.
What you are and have been involved with?
I have directed feature films, commercials, music videos, television shows, and documentaries all around the US, and in over thirty countries around the world. Some of my clients include Microsoft, Amazon, The Newsboys, Bon Jovi, Jack White, Hallmark Channel, CNN and the country of Jordan.
What do you feel is the hardest part of staying inspired in your craft?
Staying positive when work becomes a grind. Especially if you are working for a client who either doesn’t care about the quality or doesn’t recognize what a good product looks like. In those cases, staying inspired to strive higher, try harder, and be better can be extremely challenging. Phoning it in is a big temptation.
No one ever told us we would encounter that in the professional world, but it happens every day.
When you first started exploring your talent what was your biggest obstacle?
Lack of support and mentorship. I grew up in a very conservative Christian home, far away from the film industry. The city I lived in had very little film work, and I didn’t know anyone who was in that field. I had no one to ask advice or get direction. Add on top of that the conservative Christian message that movies were tools of the Devil, and Hollywood was the lion’s den. I was discouraged from pursuing any kind of career in the arts.
This left me feeling very alone and directionless. The only way to make forward progress was to do it on my own.
How did you get over that obstacle?
Extreme commitment to the goal and unshakable tenacity is what it takes to survive in this field. I ultimately had to leave the nest and comfort of my city. I moved across the country and started over in a new community. It was extremely difficult, but it was the only way forward. I had no leads for internships or mentors, so after exhausting all my film contacts asking for work and mentorships, I resorted to just asking if I could watch people work. They didn’t need to give me a job, I just wanted to be in the room where the film was happening.
After months of groveling, one small music video director agreed to let me sit in the corner and watch. I waited tables at night and watched him work during the day. Finally, after creeping in the corner he asked if I wanted to be a PA on a music video shoot. That week I worked 20 hours a day, for five straight days, and made $50 per day. I was over the moon. I had finally found my way in.
That was how it started for me. Once I got a toe hold, I was able to move up.
In relation to Christian Media; what do you say to people who believe that it’s becoming redundant?
I don’t feel it is becoming redundant, I feel like it has always been that way. From the earliest days of Christian media, you had three approaches. 1) A preacher looking into the camera. 2) A testimonial. 3) Some sort of simple drama.
And all Faith-based dramas fall into a couple of categories. A) A Bible story (set in Bible times or retold in present day) B) Some lost person who gets saved or learns to trust God; C) a story about the end of the world.
This is still the case. Christian media is so redundant and has such an established look that you know what it is the millisecond you see it. When you are flipping through the channels, the moment your finger hits that button and you pop onto a Christian channel, you know exactly what it is. That’s because it all looks exactly the same.
And what do you do when you land on Christian programming?
You change the channel.
The Bible is one of the most comprehensive and controversial books of all time. How does one make stories from the Bible that are true to its source material without disrespecting it?
This is where things get complicated because “disrespecting” a story can mean a lot of different things depending on your background. There are somewhere between 30,000 to 40,000 separate Christian denominations, many who believe slightly different things about the Bible. So, what standard are we using to say what is disrespectful? Is it by your specific denomination’s interpretation? What if you go to a non-denominational church? Is it by the letter? In every Bible story, you have to have scenes added for dramatic effect, so who decides what that is? There are also big gaps in the Bible like in Jesus’ life between ages 12 and 30. Can we fill those in, or are we required to leave them blank?
The church I grew up in believes that drama is evil and that acting is a form of lying, so just the idea of telling a story in cinema is wrong. So, if I reenact a Bible story with actors, is that disrespectful?
Many Christians were upset by Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the story Noah, because it had many things that weren’t included in the Bible. However, much of what was in the film was part of Jewish mysticism. This is part of Aronofsky’s belief system, so does that mean it is disrespecting the story? Is everyone who attempts this held to the Christian interpretation?
Also, many Bible stories (like Noah) are found in other sources. The story of Jonah, for example, is a story that predates the Bible. What if you used some of that original source material in the retelling of the story? Is that disrespectful?
Personally, things that I find disrespectful is when all characters are white and use British accents. We all know that’s not what it was like, but that has become the accepted way to tell these stories.
I think the best you can do is capture the spirit of the story, and do your best based on your own understanding. The most important aspect is to paint a true interpretation of God.
Do you ever watch a mainstream movie made about Bible Characters and say to yourself “Man, I could make it better if I was properly funded!”?
Oh, absolutely. All the time.
Do you feel like certain denominations or conferences within the Christian world put the proper focus on funding and developing media content for this generation? Why?
If I am understanding the question, I feel the answer is no. However, it is a little more complicated that it seems.
When I hear Christians say things like “developing media content for this generation” I am never sure what they actually mean. Is this content created for Christians to watch? Or content for the general public? Ultimately what I believe they are saying is that they need content to watch with their families, and more positive content for Christians. It is important to define this, and I think creating content for Christians is important.
There are things out there that exist, and it is getting better, but it is still a far cry from where it should be. Entertainment is a hungry beast, and you have to constantly feed it. It isn’t enough to fund a movie. You need multiple television shows with season after season to enjoy. Multiple movies with spin offs and sequels. You need enough content for an active Netflix style platform. When you go to Netflix you are overwhelmed with choices. You can watch for weeks on end and never reach the end of their library. This is where Christian media should be, but so little is being created, it cannot compete with what the industry is pumping out.
What is your advice for young aspiring directors, writers, content creators who want to make relevant Christian content but don’t feel supported?
This is a very complicated answer and I could wax philosophical on the subject. I’ll do my best to keep it succinct.
I think it is important to understand what people mean when they say “relative Christian content.” What they think they mean is Christian content that exists in the general marketplace. Most Christian filmmakers I know have this desire but getting there is a whole other story.
If they try to use Christian resources to reach this goal, they will be in for a fight. This conflict arises from an identity crisis within the faith-based community. Donors have a desire to create content that reaches the “world.” So, they send money to film makers or Christian stations to make it. However, if these film makers created content that looks like what the world likes watching, it would be content that the donors don’t like or want to watch. That is not something that will make them happy and is a guaranteed way to cut off your funding source. So, compromises must be made. It is their money, after all.
What usually results is a painful process of castrating all creative projects to the point where everyone in the Christian community (i.e. donor base) will be happy. But, the projects become so vanilla that the very people creating the content don’t want to watch what they are making.
This is the only genre that suffers from this identity crisis. Every other network is made up of people who love the kind of content they are creating. Everyone who works at the SyFy Network loves Sci-Fi. They are telling the kind of stories that they love to tell. Everyone who works in sitcoms, loves sitcoms. They grew up on it, dreamed of working in it, and now have reached their goals. But when a Christian decides to make content for a group of people that isn’t them, it automatically creates friction. You are pretending to be something you’re not.
So, the best advice is this. You have two options: Either decide to make content for you, that is, make content for Christian audiences. There is nothing wrong with this. They need content too, and someone should be out there working to create great entertainment.
Or, create Christian content that lives in the global marketplace, but here’s the rub. If you want to work in the global marketplace, then you need to live in it. (Sorry mom.) In other words, you need to live in Hollywood, New York, or some other entertainment hub, AND, you have to be good enough to get hired
and accomplished enough to get the green light on whatever you’re making.
You have to be better at your craft than you thought you could be.
What’s the most underrated part of God’s character that to you as a creator is important to you?
I’m not sure if this would be considered part of His character, but I would say it is the joy of discovery. I think God is an explorer and loves to create and learn new things. Life was made to be explored. There is a big joy in learning new facts, or when a doctor learns something new about the human body, or when a new planet is found. Think about how great it feels when you learn a new language, or master a martial arts move, or learn to play a new complicated song.
I say this because I feel that many Christians have lost this sense of exploration when it comes to the Bible and to spiritual things. Our biggest flaw is that we think we know it all.
This belief carries over into the films we make. We try to present all the answers, even when we don’t know them. We over simplify life by reducing it to “pray and God will show the way,” and everyone lives happily ever after. Christians don’t like leaving stories open ended, even though they often are in the Bible. (Ever wondered what happened to Jonah at the end of the story?)
They want to show all the answers in a tidy bow. But life is a question; terrifying and wonderful.
God is so big and so large, that we do not have the thought process to comprehend Him, yet most of us think that we know everything there is to know about spiritual things. We close down our minds to greater ideas and possibilities and therefore cut ourselves off of a lot of potential joy.
What the biggest obstacle for Christian Creators in this generation & What needs to be done to overcome that obstacle?
Laziness. Plain and simple.
The biggest problem I see in Christian media is that is just isn’t very good. The most common excuse I hear as to why it isn’t good is because the budgets are small. This is a lazy man’s excuse. It is blaming money for poor craftsmanship. The reason the quality is low is because the filmmakers have not spent the necessary time honing their craft. Money does not guarantee a great film. If you don’t believe me, watch “Transformers 5,” “Jupiter Ascending,” or “The Lone Ranger.” They had all the money in the world and still turned out a terrible product.
I recently saw a faith-based film that was about a group of Christians who were setting up a new church and, you guessed it… their view on the end of the world. The craftsmanship of this film was subpar, and you could see it in every frame. The costumes, the cinematography, the acting, story and direction all looked amateur. However, the budget on the film was quite healthy. In fact, the budget was bigger than “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” combined. Both of those were academy award winning films in 2017.
Attend any screenwriting workshop and what you will be told is that your work should be seen by professionals. This is how you grow. If the only people who read your script or see your film are your parents, spouse, and church family, then you aren’t taking your craft seriously. You need to have it properly critiqued by those who do this for a living. That’s how you get better. If you really want to tell stories that change the world, then your stories should be crafted better than what the world creates.
Is it hard? Yes. But this is what the pros do.
Points to Highlight:
- Obstacles: Mr. Satterlund highlights something important in one of his answers in reference to his biggest obstacle. “Lack of support & mentorship” I know a lot of creators who because of the lack of support they receive simply give up on their goals but DO NOT give up; simply continue to work harder. “After months of groveling” is a phrase that he uses to give a picture as to how hard he needed to work just to get an opportunity to sit in and watch. Psalm 128:2 says “You will eat the fruit of your labor, blessings, and prosperity will be yours” Notice it says labor. You will reap the benefits of how hard you work for what you want to accomplish in life. As a creator, you need to remember to work hard in spite of the circumstances.
- Laziness is a state of defeat: When asked what was the biggest obstacle facing Christian creators, Mr. Satterlund flat out says “Laziness” don’t use time, money, or resources as an excuse. As a creator, use whatever is at your disposal to be able to create. The excuse that your conference has “no vision”, your church is boring, or you don’t have resources is just a cover-up for laziness and lack of drive. Stop criticizing culture and start creating it!
- Inspiration by Immersion: “Either decide to make content for you, that is, make content for Christian audiences. There is nothing wrong with this. They need content too, and someone should be out there working to create great entertainment. Or, create Christian content that lives in the global market place, but here’s the rub. If you want to work in the global marketplace, then you need to live in it. (Sorry mom.) In other words, you need to live in Hollywood, New York, or some other entertainment hub, AND, you have to be good enough to get hired and accomplished enough to get the green light on whatever you’re making” In other words, if you truly want to create on a large-scale level. You need to immerse yourself in the culture you are trying to both create & change. This may not necessarily look like moving to Hollywood, or New York but it does involve immersing yourself into the process that you wish to be a part of. If you are a designer, immerse yourself in the world of design. If you are a photographer, immerse yourself in the world of photography. If you are a writer, immerse yourself in the world of writing. A lot of creators only put half their toe into the pool of what they want to accomplish. You need to dive deep, to reach the goals you want to accomplish. Treasure is rarely found at the surface, it’s always found in the deep.
We hope this interview helps inspire you in some way, shape, or form as a creator to do more and be more! Special Thanks to Jason Satterlund for his time. If you want to know more about his work, you can visit: http://www.jasonsatterlund.com/If you have any questions you would like to see asked in the future or people who you would like to be interviewed for the series email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Instagram @blacksheeppm where we will be continuing the conversation.