A man afflicted with clairvoyance attempts to change his fate after experiencing a pre-sentient vision of his own imminent murder. That’s the premise of the award-winning indie sci-fi feature film VOLITION. Starring Adrian Glynn McMorran (Supernatural, Smallville, Arrow), Magda Apanowicz (Caprica, KyleXY, You), Aleks Paunovic (Van Helsing, Continuum) and others, the film is winning awards at festivals and making a splash. The makers of VOLITION, brothers Tony Dean Smith (director, co-writer) and Ryan W. Smith (co-writer), are enjoying the results of their hard work.
Both brothers loved science fiction at an early age. “I was always fascinated by TWILIGHT ZONE and ET,” says Tony.
“As the younger brother, I was definitely guided by Tony’s tastes early on,” says Ryan. He cites classics like Spielberg, Amblin, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS — “popcorny sci-fi,” he calls it. He, in turn, introduced his older brother to books like Childhood’s Endby Arthur C. Clarke.
Their love of filmmaking started at a young age too. The brothers made short films during vacations with their family, using their father’s video camera. “I knew I loved cameras and telling stories, loved making ghost stories, that were all esoteric,” Tony says.
“As we grew, we started making more films,” adds Ryan. “We both got involved in theater and acting, which is the most accessible form of storytelling at a certain age. Later, we both built careers in the film industry. VOLITION is the combination of so many years of us collaborating.”
The subject of VOLITION is strongly influenced by the brothers’ interest in “the existential debate of fate versus free-will,” as they put it. “We’re really driven by sci-fi that asks questions about society, societal issues and structures,” says Tony. “While we love all sci-fi, we really love movies that are grounded and ask questions about why we are here.”
Ryan agrees, citing EX MACHINA as an example: “We’re both loving Alex Garland’s work (SUNSHINE, EX MACHINA, ANNIHILATION, among other films), grounded works that say something about the human condition.” In addition, he and Tony point to the works of Philip K. Dick and Terry Gilliam as other sources of influences in their storytelling and filmmaking approach.
Beyond their love for sci-fi, the Smiths simply decided it was time to commit to their dream to make something feature-length, which is no small undertaking.
“We would have this ongoing conversation: ‘When are we going to make a feature?’ It was almost like, is this ever going to happen?” they say. “Eventually, we said, ‘We’re not going to wait for someone else to give us permission. We’re going to do it ourselves.’ It’s amazing the traction that comes off that decision.”
Of course, creating an indie sci-fi feature involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears. “We’ve done TV shows and editing,” says Tony. “But I don’t think anything could really prepare us for the making of VOLITION.” To help the process, the brothers made it a true family undertaking, involving one sister as assistant director, another as caterer.
In terms of funding, which is a challenge for most indie films, the Smiths were fortunate. “We ended up securing private financing by shopping it around,” says Ryan. “They gave us free reign and gave us creative vision.” Like many indie filmmakers, the Smith brothers called on friends in the industry and people who were passionate about the script and the project to help.
Then, of course, there were the challenges involved in planning the logistics, which can be especially challenging with indie films. Working with everyone’s schedules wasn’t easy, and at least one of the actors almost couldn’t do it because of other commitments.
“We knew going in that the movie was going to be incredibly tricky to coordinate,” Tony says. “We had 18 days to shoot, and we needed at least 25. I got so exhausted by the prep, even before we started filming. Then there were the logistics of the shoot — some scenes, you’re seeing from multiple perspectives, and we had to film them at the same time. Amazingly, we had good weather for 18 days, which was key because we needed everything to look the same. It was so gratifying to see the whole thing come together.”
Some of that gratification has come from the audience reaction to the film, which has been positive. VOLITION has already garnered festival wins — Best Featureat the Philip K. Dick Film Festival, and both Best Sci-Fi Film and Best Screenplay at the Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival.
“We had a vision for something, but for it to resonate with people, it’s very gratifying,” the brothers say. “We got a review from Wolf of Geek Street— it’s the greatest praise we could ever hope for. He likened VOLITION to the film INCEPTION, but with a Robert Rodriguez gritty feel. That is what we were going for. Responses like that have given us encouragement to continue to take risks.”
In terms of the future, the Smiths are looking forward to showing VOLITION at other festivals. And they also have other projects in the work, including a movie inspired by their grandfather, who was a magician. “It’s a touching movie about letting go, magic, being present, and all sorts of things we love.”