Volition is the science-fiction thriller that follows a clairvoyant who sees a vision of his death and endeavors to change his fate. Tony Dean Smith marks his directorial debut with "Volition', which he co-wrote with his brother and producing partner, Ryan W. Smith. In a recent Q&A with Borrowing Tape, Tony Dean Smith described his experience working on the time-bending film. Volition is now available to watch on Apple TV, Prime Video, and other Digital Platforms.
Photos courtesy of Giant Pictures
What inspired you to co-write the story for Volition, and how did you find the process of collaborating on the screenplay with co-writer Ryan W. Smith? Did you both have similar ideas going into the writing process regarding fate vs. free will?
The roots of Volition is something I stumbled upon back in film school. Back then, it was about a scientist who creates a drug that gives him 15-second visual bursts of his own future. So I started to play with the ideas of fate vs free-will back then, but it’s not until years later that I found a way to ground the character through James and the world of Volition. Ryan and I love the debate process, so we’re still going back and forth on whether to hang out hats of fate or free-will. I half-jokingly say we’ve been fated to have free-will.
How did you manage the impressive task of collating all of the different James' into a cohesive storyline, especially with James traveling across space/time with varying levels of knowledge?
Thanks! It was difficult to collate and plan, but I found it very satisfying to juggle those various elements. I storyboarded and shotlisted the film, along with some cool color-coding hacks, so I always knew where James was and how much the character had “earned” through experience.
Volition introduces us to the main character, James (Adrian Glynn McMorran), a troubled but sympathetic guy who desperately attempts to change what appears to be futile. What was the casting process like for Volition?
Adrian Glynn McMorran was someone I had my eye on for a while. I had filmed a music video with him and also knew him from my student feature. Adrian is just such an authentic person and artist, that I knew he’d be the perfect blend of cocky, cool, and wounded. The rest of the cast was also built primarily off of previous relationships I had. In fact, I had worked with all of the main cast before, so this was like coming back home. And like I always say, casting is all about lining up the essence of the character with the essence of the performer.
Which scenes in Volition did you find to be the most worthwhile and most challenging during filming?
Actually, the most challenging was day 1. Firstly, I had a cold and was quite sick. Secondly, we were shooting 12 pages that day, including a two-sided fight scene, the first meeting of James and Angela, Meeting Sal… it was insane. Not the best planning for the first day, but our schedule wouldn’t allow much wiggle room. For those that have seen the film (no spoilers), there is a fight at the beginning of the film that sort of repeats later on… that was tricky, especially given the circumstances.
How did you find the post-production process for Volition?
If I could have just received a fraction of James’ clairvoyant ability, I might have steered clear of the Volition edit, as it was incredibly difficult. I’ve worked as an editor a lot in my life, so I thought I was ready for the Volition challenge, but it was a lot harder than any of us anticipated. As the edit is the final rewrite, we left no stone unturned in trying to tighten the elements of plot, while also maintaining the character-driven story we were telling.
What films/directors have had the biggest influence on your filmmaking and for your feature film, Volition, and why?
I have a long list of directors and artists that I love: Kubrick, Spielberg, Stone, Scorsese, Cameron, Blomkamp, Cahill, Garland, and many more. I think the common denominator between them all is their courage to tell stories that push the envelope of what it means to be alive in the mystery we call existence. These films and filmmakers encourage me to continue to tell stories about who we are, where we are – and what we might be.
What’s next for you?
First a little nap. But then Ryan (brother, co-writer) and I are deep into two very exciting scripts. I can’t say too much about them, but they both use Volition as a jumping-off point. Very different content, but you’ll be able to see that it fits under our umbrella of interest. We’re so excited about them and we can’t wait to share!