Hollywood News Source got the chance to watch Sci-fi film Volition and then interview the cast and crew ahead of its screening at London’s FrightFest 2019 Film Festival.
We conducted interviews with specifically with Tony Dean Smith, Ryan W. Smith, Adrian Glynn McMorran and Magda Apanowicz.
INTERVIEW WITH TONY DEAN SMITH & RYAN W. SMITH
Volition feels like a pretty unique take on Sci-Fi with the only two titles that remind me of it being Kameron Hurley’s Science Fiction novel The Light Brigade and that Next the 2007 film starring Nicolas Cage. Had you heard of those or short story The Golden Man that inspired the latter?
TONY: We’ve never seen The Light or read The Golden Man, but we’ll look for those titles! We were aware of Next and did eventually watch it, but found that our premise had its own unique twist, which differentiated it from their more classic take on clairvoyance.
I’m interested in how things like location scouting works on an independent film like this. How do you balance the perfect spot with the limitations that come when you’re not being backed by a large production company?
RYAN: It was a juggle. We had to get creative with balancing what we had imagined with what was available. Fortunately, we made the film in Vancouver, which is where Tony and I grew up, so our community is quite well established. We had incredible support from friends and family, some offering locations for us to use, others being willing to share their home for a nominal fee. I think people could tell that this was really a passion project, so they were happy to open their doors to us.
When did you come up with the initial idea that became Volition? Was it always a feature as opposed to a book or series?
TONY: I came up with the original idea when I was in film school. Back then, it was written as a short film, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with various elements within the story, so I shelved it and made another short film instead. I then took the idea out of my drawer a number of years later – and that’s when we were both able to tackle the material, and to elevate, ground and expand it into a feature film.
Were you familiar with the work of the two leads?
TONY: Adrian Glynn McMorran was actually in my first student feature film, so our working relationship goes back a long time. Since then, Adrian and I have also worked on various other projects, including Adrian’s music video for a song called Seven or Eight Days (which is actually where the James character gets his look from). Ryan and Adrian also grew up together and went to theater school together in undergrad, so Adrian’s really part of the family. As for Magda Apanowicz, I’ve known Magda for a long time and have always wanted to work with her. Magda was an acting student at a film school where I was a directing instructor. When I first saw her perform, I immediately identified her as someone with incredible talent and honesty. She’s always had that “it” factor.
You have assembled quite a cast for fans of Sci-Fi shows over the last decade was that intentional?
RYAN: We picked our cast more based on who we felt was ideal for the roles, but, yes, their incredible science-fiction background is a huge plus. Fans of sci-fi will know Adrian Glynn McMorran from Supernatural, Charmed and Arrow. Magda Apanowicz is a sci-fi fan favourite from her work in series like Caprica, Continuum, Kyle XY, among others. Aleks Paunovic also has a great sci-fi track record, on shows like Van Helsing, Snow Piercer, iZombie, and the Planet of the Apes franchise. The same can be said for John Cassini (Continuum, Kingdom Hospital, Eleventh Hour), Frank Cassini (Continuum, Stargate SG-1, X-Files) and Bill Marchant (Chappie, Stargate SG-1, Godzilla). The film also has a great cameo from veteran actor Blu Mankuma, who is well known to sci-fi fans. We’re lucky to have them all!
What are some of the unique challenges of managing production on a budget? And what are some of the positives?
RYAN: The positives are that limitations force you into making very concrete decisions, which can actually help creativity and problem-solving. Also, because this film was made independently, everyone hopped on board based on her or his passion for the project. Our set had a real family feel, which I think made the work stronger.
TONY: Everyone was working extra hard to make this project happen. We can’t thank them enough for that. As for the negatives, not one scene is shot the way it would be if we had more time. Due to the time constraints, we had to forgo elegant, sweeping camera moves in favor of a more run and gun approach. Anything to make our day. That being said, we’re very happy with the aesthetic of the film. Working with our DOP Byron Kopman, we found a look and feel that matches the narrative really well.
What have you learned from this project now that you’re nearly on the other side?
TONY: Never write a clairvoyant movie ever again! We’ve learned so much from the process of making Volition. Going forward, I think we’ll just be that much better at anticipating what’s possible and what’s not on a given budget. What we’ve also learned, which has been positively reinforced by the experience, is that one does not need a massive budget to tell an interesting story. Going forward, we’re excited to see what a bigger budget and better schedule will allow us to capture.
What do you think about the current state of Sci-Fi in film and TV? Meaning do you think it is easier for shows and films to be greenlit and perhaps more importantly in the case of shows are networks now more likely to give genre shows
RYAN: I think the industry is going through a unique shift right now. There are so many new avenues opening up, with each of the streamers battling for dominance. It’s positive news for creators of content. Is that making it easier for show and films to get greenlit? Hard to say. Even with the new avenues, I think it still all comes down to the quality of the work. We’re striving to keep creating innovative, thought-provoking content, in the sci-fi space and others.
TONY: I think the world is hungry for intelligent, cerebral science-fiction. For us, there’s nothing like sci-fi to bring up societal issues that still need solving. From Black Mirror to Ex Machina, science-fiction allows us just enough distance from our everyday lives to provide context to the challenging questions. We’ll keep asking those questions and exploring them through story.
INTERVIEW WITH ADRIAN GLYNN MCMORRAN
What first attracted you to the role of James?
ADRIAN: Tony (director/co-writer) and I made a music video in 2012 for my song “Seven or Eight Days‘, which was almost like a prelude to Volition. Even though he wasn’t called ‘James’ yet, the look and feel of the character I played in that video was basically an early version of the Volition character (i.e., broody a.f.) — someone haunted by his past trying to understand the crazy and surreal things happening in his present. Over the years, Tony kept bugging me every time he and Ryan had a new draft to read, so I was pretty sure that at some point in the history of the world the script would be done and I could finally do this project with the Smith brothers.
Did you do your own stunts?
ADRIAN: I sure as heck did! I was especially proud of my flying back roll across the motel bed. I guess a couple years of amateur peewee gymnastics really paid off.
What was the audition process for this role?
It went something like this:
Tony: Hey Glynn, you wanna play James?
Me: Will you pay me millions?
Tony: No, but we won’t make you read for it.
Me: You got yourself a brooder.
You’re also a musician how do you manage your time between your two roles?
ADRIAN: I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t manage at all. Both professions require an enormous amount of existential angst but they are slightly different flavours of existential angst, so maybe that’s what keeps me going; the variety. Of angst.
What do you think Volition does that appeals to viewers as it wins awards across Festival season?
ADRIAN: We’re all really proud of the attention the film is getting, especially since it truly felt like a labour of love to everyone involved. I’m just happy viewers can understand it! Believe me, there were many times on set when nobody knew what the hell was going on in the story except for brainy Tony, so when people started seeing it and getting it, that was very gratifying. I think people like having their minds bent a little and I think this film gives them that in a very new and layered way.
INTERVIEW WITH MAGDA APANOWICZ
What was the audition process for this role?
MAGDA: Mr. Tony Dean Smith sent me a Twitter DM asking if I’d read his and Ryan’s script. He had been thinking of me for “Angela” the past few years. I told him “I’m in!” Tony laughed and asked earnestly, “read the script first”. My lack of hesitation was the trust I found in his passion. Not to mention we worked together another lifetime ago when I was 18-years-old, in film school. I loved his energy then and his ease in directing. I knew I wanted to work with TDS again!
You’ve got quite a Sci-Fi filled resume. Do you think that Sci-Fi and genre TV & Film were offering more depth in terms of female roles as we see more recently the rest of Hollywood trying to catch up?
MAGDA: Vancouver has always been a mecca for Sci-Fi. Be it our gloomy sky’s and abundance of haunting forest or the Sci-Fi network based most of their shows in Vancouver. Either way, there was a lot of genre themed auditions I would go for, growing up. I have found, genre shows to be an asset to an actors training. ‘How do you bring a fantastical concept into a relatable story?’. As an actor, realizing the ‘out of our reality’ storylines are often metaphors for life. Finding the truth, the pain, the fight that people struggle with in their everyday life. I agree fully, Sci-Fi and Fantasy is where we have seen strong women being portrayed, first. I’m excited to see where Hollywood lands on the depiction of women and our parts in the world.
Fans of Sci-Fi TV will have seen you take on multiple attackers on Continuum were you hoping to show off those fighting skills on Volition?
MAGDA: Any project I have an opportunity to be physical or potentially do stunts, I am pleased as peach punch. I grew up loving Jackie Chan movies and respecting Bruce Lee’s fight skills. Actually, when I first started acting (in my teen-hood) I had debated on going down the path of the Stunt World.
What is your favourite thing about Angela?
MAGDA: That she never gives up. Chip on her shoulder or chipped nail polish, she’s a fighter. The conviction in her loyalty. If she cares or loves you, you will be a part of her fight.
What keeps Angela from running when things get crazy and then crazier? MAGDA: Back to my point above. James becomes a part of her fight. The two both felt like they knew each other before they ever met. That thought ‘I think I loved you before I ever met you’. When you find that person in life, you stick through things others might not.
What do you think Volition does that appeals to viewers as it collects awards across Festival season?
MAGDA: I’d have to say it’s the mix between good story telling in adventure with characters I can relate to and am invested in. A rollercoaster of emotions, a flavor of 80’s fun laced with sweaty bloody heart and mobster sheen… strap me in, I’m down for that ride.
How far did you or the writers take Angela’s backstory? How much of that can then be brought into the performance?
MAGDA: I’d say there was a combination of what Tony and Ryan saw as Angela’s backstory, then filled in the performance with my interpretation. Going in, knowing Tony saw me as his Angela for while made me a bit nervous to live up to his hopes but rumor has it, he loves what I did with Angela. Haha “you really brought her to life”. I think I got a sticker or maybe it was a cookie.
What does Angela see in James a guy who most might see as a bit of a screw up?
MAGDA: Partially just that, I think most people have always seen Angela as a screw up. Here’s a girl that trusts no one and feel like she’s always being used by someone. Runs into this Asshole. Two broken souls who saw a part of themselves in each other. I think that makes a twizzler. What can I say, She got dem butterflies when she saw that boy knocked on his ass with a bloody nose.