Interview: Jordan Graham, Writer/Director Of Horror Film ‘Sator’
By Dr. Zaius
Friday, February 26th, 2021 at 10:19 am
I can honestly say you have never seen a film like Sator before. More than that, you’ve never heard a story behind a film crazier than that of Sator as well. Sator represents a 7-year journey for Jordan Graham, who did literally everything on this film. He is credited as the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer, and even did the music for the film. The long journey was mainly a result of the titular entity who has haunted Graham’s family since the 1960s. His real-life grandmother, the late June Peterson, randomly discussed her “automatic writing” in which the being Sator speaks through her, and this caused Graham to rewrite his film into a darker and more atmospheric horror. Available on VOD now on Prime, VUDU, and Apple TV, Sator is one of the most unique film-viewing experiences you will have and a damn effective horror film even without knowing any of the crazy backstory. I had a chance to speak with Graham about the film, his family’s history with Sator, and more.
Geeks of Doom: Your movie is one of those that I’ve watched twice and…
Jordan Graham: You still don’t know what’s going on right?
Geeks of Doom: I really enjoyed it. It’s very creepy and unsettling and as a horror fan I hope to feel those things after watching a film.
Jordan Graham: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Geeks of Doom: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the story behind this film is crazier than the film itself. Your name appears on IMDb in almost every “crew” slot. You wrote, directed, shot it, edited it, produced it and even did music for the film and it took you seven years to finish. I’ve listened to a few interviews you’ve given and I know this is your actual grandmother in the film and thus this is a deeply personal story for you with issues that have been going on with your family for generations. My first question is, what was your original film supposed to be before it got, dare I say, co-opted by Sator.
Jordan Graham: Someone actually said that to me recently too, which I never made the connection, the film has to do a lot with automatic writing which is allowing something, an entity to speak through you and you kind of just write down as you go along. That’s kind of what this film was like, it just started coming up as we went along. The initial story, I can only give you bits and pieces because I wrote it seven years ago and so many things have changed that I haven’t even read that script in years. My memory is definitely very foggy on the whole story. I know it had to do with aliens and you still see that a bit in the film, there’s the star that goes across the screen and you can see the spaceship. But it does play out similar, there was a guy alone in a cabin. But yeah, that’s a hard one because I haven’t read that in so long. After Sator I spent a few years writing a new script. I finished that a year ago and now I’m writing a new and I’m already getting fuzzy on the one I just finished. So imagine seven years ago.
Geeks of Doom: You know, now that you’re working on a new script, you probably shouldn’t introduce any of the new cast to your family. It might change the whole script again.
Jordan Graham: Haha, seriously. But it won’t. I was in a very lucky circumstance where I was able to have all the time in the world with Sator. I financed it myself, I wasn’t on anybody’s schedule and so whenever I ran into a problem like with my grandmother, I would take a lot of time to write and rewrite and then continue from there. I won’t have that luxury when I’m working on a new film with people in the future. I’m trying to get the script solid because I don’t want to go through that again either. I was lucky because it was my family. And that was such a wonderful thing that just kind of fell into my lap.
Geeks of Doom: So Sator, or the idea of Sator, has been in your family since the ’60s right?
Jordan Graham: 51 years.
Geeks of Doom: I’m not a superstitious person, but is there any part of you that is? Once your grandmother starts talking about automatic writing and you get the idea to change the script and make a film called Sator, that this was some type of otherworldly force trying to come out into the world? I feel like explaining the making of this film could be its own horror film.
Jordan Graham: Well maybe. To answer your question, no I am not superstitious about it. Not at all. I’m not very religious, not a religious person at all actually. I think Sator is a product of mental health. I can’t say that to my family because my family completely believes in Sator. But they debate where he came from and who he represents: My mom thinks he’s a good person, my aunt thinks he is actual Satan, my grandmother thought he was a guardian who she fell in love with. Since my grandmother wrote a 1,000-page journal documenting every day with him until she ended up in a psychiatric hospital, I want to adapt that into a film one day, but that won’t be a horror film, that will be a drama. I will continue this way down the line in my career because I want to continue in the horror genre for a while.
Geeks of Doom: Well, you have a knack for it. The first thing that came to my mind watching the film was the original Blair Witch Project. In that, this feels real.
Jordan Graham:Blair Witch was a huge inspiration on the film. The music for one thing, the song at the end of the credits of Blair Witch was hugely influential in how I did the sound for my film. All their sounds sounded like they were coming from the forest, they didn’t sound artificial or recorded in a studio and so with Sator I wanted that similar effect. With some of the sounds I actually went out into the woods as far as I could to get the creepy cracks and the sticks breaking and that death whistle.
Geeks of Doom: I also got a lot of Robert Eggers vibes, especially when you used the 4:3 aspect ratio, it felt very much like The Lighthouse.
Jordan Graham: Interesting, I shot most of this before The VVitch came out. I think I was done shooting before it came out. When the blu-ray for The VVitch came out I was coloring this in post production, and I actually took stills from The VVitch and put them next to my shots and used them as a reference so it would look similar.
Geeks of Doom: Since you said you want to continue with horror, what was your horror origin story? Who were your inspirations when you were younger?
Jordan Graham: It’s different because I didn’t really like horror growing up. When I was a kid I enjoyed and then horror got too scary for me. It wasn’t until around 2011, I made a found footage film that I don’t like at all. But then I started watching a whole bunch of found footage films and a bunch of horror movies. I can tell you the one that clicked for me was Rec or Rec 2. The thing that got me thinking I wanted to make horror films and that you can make smart horror films without jump scares and things popping out was season 1 of True Detective. That was the show that clicked for and made me want to pursue Sator. Then I got into the type of horror film that I really love like Eraserhead and Under the Skin and Killing of the Sacred Deer, Neon Demon, movies like that.
Geeks of Doom: I love Refn’s films. They’re so visually striking.
Jordan Graham: Oh me too and I think you can probably see that a bit in Sator, he has a huge influence on me. I like the arthouse style. Eggers, Ari Aster, Gaspar Noe, Lars Von Trier, that is the horror that appeals to me the most.
Geeks of Doom: Your movie felt so different to other films. How weird was it for your cast to have to act with your family. I mean that scene where Michael Daniel is with your grandmother, that’s all ad-libbed right?
Jordan Graham: Yeah, that was. And the scene with Aurora [Lowe] at the end, I gave her an entire monologue to get through, but my grandmother completely ad-libbed that and stole the show. What you see in the film there is really me and my grandmother talking and not so much Aurora. But yeah they were really uncomfortable. When we got to the house, Michael snuck off to the back room and I told him we’re going to do this improvisational scene with my grandmother on camera and he had to pretend to be the grandson. That freaked him out the most I think. And just go along with it. He had never done anything like that before so that was very strange for him. He got into that, but Aurora at the end was uncomfortable for a different reason because she was getting into family history and the death of my grandfather. My grandmother would get emotional talking about. Aurora definitely felt uneasy about that. That was only while we were shooting. When we weren’t shooting, we all hung out with my grandmother and she loved the attention. When I wasn’t shooting with her, she’d call me and ask when my friends and I were coming to hang out with her. So it was definitely initially awkward for them.
Geeks of Doom: I don’t want to give away spoilers since the film is now out on VOD, it’s available on Prime and Vudu and Apple TV. But I want to ask about the creatures in the film. What were the inspirations for those, because I loved the design you went with.
Jordan Graham: I had a few inspirations. I loved in The VVitch how you didn’t see anything really, even at the end and I would’ve done something similar here, but since the movie has a slower pace I felt like I’d be cheating the audience. So I thought of interesting ways of showing something without really showing something. You don’t know what’s underneath, that is the mystery. I came up with the concept that since you don’t see any or hear any animals in the woods except the crows at my grandmother’s house. So I decided that whatever this entity is, has killed all the animals in the forest and decided to wear them. That was my inspiration, they are wearing the forest.
Geeks of Doom: You said you have scripts finished. Do you plan on making more films the way you made Sator?
Jordan Graham: No, I don’t really want to. I want to make films that are more accessible to audiences. With Sator I wanted to make the most unique film in the most unique way so I could stand out with the right people and get my career started. I am writing films that are more accessible. They’ll still have atmosphere and be artsy, still going to be beautiful but I want to reach wider audiences and I will never make a film by myself again. I want to be able to work with a team, seven years is way too long. Doors are starting to open for me which is great. I am cautiously optimistic. It looks like it’s heading in the right direction.
Geeks of Doom: That’s great. I write down, I hope whatever next is easier.
Jordan Graham: Haha well it’s going to be larger than Sator, but easier in that there will be a crew and I’ll have a team working with me. I have a few projects that I’ve written. One is inspired by the child abductions that went on in Belgium in the early ’90s. Another I’m writing is about an impossibly long shipping container with a cosmic horror twist to it.
Geeks of Doom: Well, you successfully made a deeply disturbing and creepy film. You said it’s slow moving, but I think horror audiences are starting to come around to horror that isn’t all jump scares and that’s thanks to those directors you mentioned earlier.
Jordan Graham: It is a certain niche, I see where many won’t enjoy this film, but that’s all right. I made it for a certain niche of people. You have to go into it knowing you’re not going to get the plot right away. I want you to watch it and feel the mood. It’s really a mood piece, just lay back and allow yourself to get creeped out, and enjoy the atmosphere.
Geeks of Doom: I feel like this is the type of film especially once people hear the backstory of it, can really get a cult following.
Jordan Graham: I agree with you. I feel like if I didn’t do the film myself and have my grandmother’s real story in there, then we probably wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It would’ve been a totally different film and I’d be a totally different filmmaker. But because of my grandmother and how she made this into a different film, I can see this getting a cult following. But who knows, that’s years down the line.
Sator is streaming on VOD now, available on Prime, VUDU, and Apple TV and is well worth the price. It’s easily one of my favorite films so far in 2021 and a real treat for horror fans.
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