Specialty cocktails greeted attendees at the 21-and-over launch party for the General Conference's trailer for its new web series "The Record Keeper" in San Diego’s Gaijin Noodle and Sake House July 19.
Adventists might wonder how a good-and-bad-angel costume party, serving alcohol Friday night, had anything to do with the church.
The General Conference has spent nearly one million dollars to hire almost all non-Adventist actors, actresses and staff to create and produce a mini series, which is a dramatization of the chapters in "The Great Hope," which is a booklet of passages pulled from "The Great Controversy" by Ellen G. White.
This celebration of the trailer, which advertised “The Record Keeper” as a "Sci-Fi, Steampunk, angel series,” was hosted by one of the actresses Jelynn Sophia.
“She just loved the project so much, she wanted to host the party,” series director Jason Satterland said. “The launch party was an attempt to get the series in front of people who wouldn’t normally see it.”
According to Satterland, the ad for the launch party had been posted on “The Record Keeper’s” Facebook page, but was pulled because people were getting confused about whether the church was sponsoring the event.
“The church has been very supportive of the project, which I didn’t expect, but I think the reason is the church is not the target. We’re trying to create something the world likes,” Satterland said, “Adventists should understand this series is an outreach.”
Executive Producer and General Conference PR Director Garrett Caldwell added his thoughts: “While I am happy to see the series promoted in the wider community, I didn't want [the launch party] to be mistaken for a church-sponsored activity, so I removed [the ad] from the official Facebook page .... We want wide exposure, because the target audience is external to the church.”
When Caldwell was asked to respond to what happened at the launch party and its relationship to the church, he said, “Although most of the cast and crew are not members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they have enthusiastically supported ‘The Record Keeper’ project. Some have even begun to read books written by Ellen White as a result. I have been encouraged by this enthusiasm. There have been media interviews and appearances initiated by the actors.”
When asked if they had experienced any resistance to the web series because it used drama as an evangelistic tool, Satterland and Caldwell said no.
“The most I’ve seen is people posting Ellen White quotes that have been taken out of context under videos that have been posted online, but the vast majority of people have been very supportive,” Satterland said, adding later, “If you’re conservative and don’t watch movies, then this isn’t for you.”
Caldwell and Satterland said there was constant collaboration with the Ellen White Estate and Biblical Research Institute to ensure the theology was reflected accurately. However, they also said there was never any discussion regarding Ellen White’s statements on theatrics and drama. This lack of discussion has raised red flags with leaders of other Adventist ministries.
“If [the church] were to be fair with this project, it seems they should have said, ‘Let’s study this out before we start a project like this, just like our early pioneers did,'” a founder of Little Light Studios Scott Mayer said. “Choices are being made without due diligence.”
Little Light Studios uses media as a tool in its ministry, and has produced documentary-style films, such as “Battlefield Hollywood,” “The Replacement gODS” and “Pseudology: The Art of Lying,” which are exposés of the entertainment industry.
Mayer described coming into the Adventist Church after watching a Walter Veith DVD, so in his opinion, the church should spend money bolstering media in the church. However, the way media is used and who should be involved in the projects is equally important, according to Mayer.
"You need everyone on that team sold out to Christ," Mayer said. "When God uses people, they are on the same page, so as soon as you start stepping on the other side of the fence, the message gets very painted .... The great controversy is an important truth, and now you have all these people heralding it with drinking, partying and saying it's just another fantasy story.”
Mayer continued by describing how he believes “drama” should be used.
“To give someone a visual is not what I'm fearful of,” Mayer said. “You can use an illustration or visual, a moving picture, to describe something, but once you add drama, it changes your focus, and you get caught up emotionally .... Acting is emptying yourself and being something you're not, and then tricking people into believing you're something you're not, so I feel like that format is using a lie to show people the truth.”
Pastor Doug Bachelor of Amazing Facts tends to agree with Mayer that drama should be used as illustrative only.
“Amazing Facts has talked about the use of drama at length,” Bachelor said. “You’ll notice that any acting we use is only for illustrative purposes and without dialogue. You’ll see a short clip with narration.”
Bachelor said he is hesitant to offer a critique of the situation, as he has not seen the series in its entirety, but said, “Based on the trailer, they’ve taken dramatic production to a level we wouldn’t feel comfortable with at Amazing Facts.”
“The Record Keeper” is in the final stages of postproduction and scheduled to be released Feb. 13, 2014. They are planning to post the first two episodes at the same time online, and then one per week after that.
The director of the Ministerial Department for the North American Division Ivan Williams, Sr., will test pilot the web series in an evangelistic series Oct. 4 in Maryland. The evangelistic series will run four weeks with the web series shown every night for the first two weeks. Each episode is 12 to 14 minutes.
The web series will be made available to church members in a ministry kit in January 2014 at the 14th North American Division Adventist Ministries Convention in Monterey, Calif.
“The more and more I see this attitude of ‘let's use what the world is doing to reach souls,’ personally I think it's the wrong direction and message,” Mayer said. “If you speak the truth, you win souls. Drama dates back to Christ's day, and if it's such an effective means to win a soul, why didn't Jesus use it?”