CS Interview: Tony Dean & Ryan W. Smith on Sci-Fi Thriller Volition

CS recently got to delve into the minds of co-writer/director Tony Dean Smith and his brother and co-writer Ryan W. Smith for their time-bending sci-fi thriller Volition , which is now available on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video and other digital platforms. Pick up your copy here!

CS: What were the biggest creative challenges in tackling the various genres on display in the film?

Tony Dean Smith : Our aim was to ground the characters in their respective worlds. Since we use clairvoyance as an affliction as opposed to a superhero ability, our protagonist needed to behave and inhabit a world that naturally extended from his behaviour. So the cross into thriller/gangsters came quite naturally. We knew James wasn’t using his ability to help others, so we thought it’d be a natural fit to have him hang out with other self-serving characters, who were also just trying to survive and make ends meet. The fun was in treating the science-fiction element as a character flavor/trait/wound, not as a genre-tell in itself.

CS: What were some of your biggest inspirations in developing and shooting the film?

TDS: There’s such a melange of inspirations for me in the development of the film, often highlighting the genre-bending nature of the movie. I love and respect what Christopher Nolan does so much. He’s literally making esoteric blockbusters, and I can’t think of anyone else but the late, great Kubrick who could do that. So Nolan’s Memento had an early influence on me, as did Tony Scott’s True Romance . In hindsight, I can see that Volition is the distant love-child of those two movies.

CS: What were some of your fondest memories in bringing this to life?

TDS: Truthfully, it’s been such a fantastic and eye-opening experience for us, that the favorite memories are still coming in! However, one highlight was travelling with the film to London, England – where it played to packed theatres for the 20th FrightFest Film Festival. I just loved experiencing the joy and passion from that audience, and all of our audiences, to be fair. We always hear that cinema is a universal language, but not until going to another county with a piece of your own work does it really dawn on you. That is an experience I’ll forever cherish.

Ryan W. Smith : We had such an incredible cast and crew, which made the production process so special. Yes, it was probably the hardest any of us had ever worked, with intense, sweaty days (that turned into nights), but the set had a real family feel. We each saw each other at our tiredest. Those moments of creative delirium will stick with me, where we each enjoyed the madness of this creative endeavour.

CS: What do you hope audiences can take away from the story, aside from just the entertainment factor?

TDS : The movie is a non-stop thrill-ride, so we hope people enjoy the high-stakes game of fate vs. free-will that James has to play. On a deeper level, I think we can all find a place in our lives where we might be stuck. Like James, I hope we all get inspired to do the hard thing; to evolve those areas in our lives that we feel trapped by. Our free-will can push through our limitations, but to do so, we have to go through the fear we see — not around it. That’s the message of the film to me. RWS : We also hope the conversation keeps going. We’d like the film to spark debate. There’s definitely a fair amount to discuss and unpack, particularly in the ending. We’re both on Twitter @volition_movie and we’re excited to connect.

Warning: The Following Questions & Answers Do Contain Some Spoilers For Volition

CS: The time travel concept is always an ambitious idea to tackle, how did the story idea come to your minds?

TDS : Yes, it’s subject matter that any sane person should steer far away from. Having said that, this was an idea that developed organically over a number of years. The kernel of a clairvoyant seeing a fixed future came to me back in film school, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when I could add in my own life experience, that the film started to take shape. At that time, I was feeling quite stuck in my life, almost resigned to the fact that maybe I could never make the movies I wanted to make. That I was a prisoner of my own perception is what allowed me to create James. He’s also a prisoner of his own design and it takes a vision of his own death to finally wake him up from his pre-determined worldview. When I realized how similar James was to me, I knew I had stumbled upon a story and character that was both grounded – and personally resonant.

RWS : Tony approached me with his first draft, which I loved and I was excited to hop on board. We took the core of that draft and then went down far too many rabbit holes, as we struggled to create the unique structure of the current film. It’s a complex puzzle that involved a ridiculous amount of drafts and mind-mapping. For all the writers out there, be warned, playing with time will take years off of your life.

CS: Given there are multiple timelines on display in the film, how did you keep them all organized in building the structure?

TDS : Ryan can speak to our endless pie charts and diagrams, but from a director’s standpoint, I used every color-coding trick and mnemonic device available to know who I was filming, where they were and when they were. It was an incredible exercise in precision and planning – and it’s something that actually came quite easy to us, as we built it from the ground up. Our cast and crew, on the other hand, had moments of confusion, not knowing when they were… but they trusted in us as filmmakers, which was both generous and brave of them! RWS : The graphs and charts were very really and very mind-numbing, but we needed them to reach the finish line. In truth, we reached the finish line many times over, as once we’d get to the end of the script, we’d come to see that the ending required re-writing the beginning, and vice versa. It was a long process of iterating and improving over time, in some ways mirroring the film itself. Our one constant was our lead, James, who was always at the front of his personal timeline, so that was helpful.

When you know your world is predetermined, it’s hard to care about your choices. This is true for James Odin. On a rain-soaked night in 1991, two cars collide, leaving all drivers dead on the scene, including the mother of the lone survivor, a child James Odin. It’s a tragedy, but what’s more tragic is that seven-year-old James foresaw the accident happening two months prior. He tried to prevent it, but who’s going to believe a kid who claims to see the future?

Twenty-plus years later, James is a product of the failed foster care system, knowing that the events of his future are predestined, he’s getting by using his ability for petty crime and cheap thrills. But when a pre-sentient vision reveals to him his own imminent murder, James must go on the run. Together with a new friend, Angela, he must change the fate he knows is fixed.

Co-written by Ryan W. and Tony Dean Smith and directed by the latter, the cast for the film includes Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Frank Cassini, Aleks Paunovic and Bill Marchant. Volition is now available on digital platforms!