From the Smith Brothers and Director Tony Dean Smith comes VOLITION — a mind-bending science-fiction thriller, where the line between fate and free-will blurs. Released on Apple TV, Prime Video and other Digital Platforms on July 10 we got a chance to chat to Tony about his film, favourite horror movie and more.
Born in South Africa and living in Vancouver since his teens, Tony Dean Smith is a Director & Writer – known for his visual and elegant camerawork, grounded performances and sharp sense of story. His feature-film directorial debut, VOLITION, is an elevated sci-fi thriller that has swept up awards across the world, receiving rave reviews – and has been flatteringly compared to MEMENTO, LOOPER, and BLACK MIRROR. He was the youngest director on the acclaimed television series ROBSON ARMS (3 episodes), helmed the series pilot for HEALTH NUTZ and has written and directed multiple long form movies for TV and streaming.
A life-long camera nerd and storyboard artist, his ability to see the edit before the shoot allows him to save hours of production time, doubly aided by his background as an award- winning picture editor. As an actor of stage (yes, jazz hands) and screen (X-FILES, POLTERGEIST), Tony’s sense of character, precision and playfulness are always present, giving him unparalleled comfort on set – allowing truly authentic and courageous collaboration between his fellow producers, actors and crew. Tony and his brother Ryan are also winners of the Superchannel Super Catalyst Award for their screenplay, “The Sensational.”
“I have always loved social and cerebral science-fiction, from The Twilight Zone to Black Mirror” said Tony “What I love about these stories is how they position a character in direct opposition to his/her belief system – forcing them to look at their lives in often the most desperate of ways. I’ve also been fascinated by the existential debate of fate vs. free-will. If we have free-will, do we exercise it? How do we know we aren’t fated to do so? This led me down the dark rabbit hole of parallel universes, concepts of time and all the types of geekery that I constantly delight in.
“On the surface, VOLITION fits into this mold. It’s is a cerebral science-fiction thriller about a man afflicted with clairvoyance, who is spurred into action after seeing a vision of his own imminent murder. From its origin, this premise had enough of a hook to grab me, yet it’s not what drove me to spend years developing the story alongside my brother Ryan W. Smith (co- writer and producer). What compelled me was something far deeper and, ultimately, something entirely primal and personal. Like the character in VOLITION, there was a time in my life when the world felt fated and deterministic. The more I leaned on a belief that I “knew” how my future “should” transpire — the less active I became. My worldview became a self- fulfilling prophecy. For me, VOLITION works as a metaphor, challenging us to face our greatest fears, very often our own thoughts, and to take a leap into the unknown.”
Below Tony Dean Smith discusses his favourite horror film ALIEN:
“My love-affair with the feelings horror gave me started when I was around 10 years old. For some reason, our local video-store clerk thought it’d be a wise idea to rent Alien to a little kid. To be fair, I did convince him that I had already seen The Exorcist, and that my parents said it was okay. This was all a lie. My parents did not allow me to watch R rated horror, and I had not seen The Exorcist. But… I loved space, E.T., and aliens – so what could go wrong?
As I sank into our living room, on that dark and rainy afternoon (true story), I distinctly recall the sinking visceral feeling as it dawned on me that this really wasn’t a movie about a cute alien who wanted to “be good.” The video-store clerk was right. But I loved space, and I liked what I saw, enough to push through the fears that were slowly bubbling. And then the face-hugger latched onto Kane – and it might as well have latched onto my entire being! I was terrified. But I also couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen. I continued to watch, and I became fascinated by how much we weren’t seeing that was scaring us. I remember thinking that the imagination is far more powerful than something seen in plain sight. I already had first-hand experience in being a dorky kid magician (following after the footsteps of my father and grandfather, who were both magicians), knowing that anticipation is much more intoxicating that the actual reveal. I saw similarities in how the setup of a scare was very much like the setup and payoff of a magic trick. Naturally, I took all of this information and concocted some very elaborate ghost and alien stories – all in the hopes of terrifying my siblings. And it worked. I think they’ve forgiven me by now, but you’ll have to ask Ryan (co-writer of Volition).
The tone, breathing room and the design of the film gave me the type of uneasy feeling that still resides within me when I think about it – and it’s a place I go to a lot when I’m writing within this genre. To me, the brilliance of Ridley and the movie he made starts from moment one, when those A L I E N credits appear. That early choice, to have letters form in an unusual “alien” pattern, sets the stage from the get-go: you’re not in Kansas anymore and no, no one can hear you scream. I revisit the film from time to time and it still has the exact same effect on me. I know what’s coming, but it still makes me jump. I still dread knowing that the Xenomorph is lurking in the shadows. More than all of this, I’m now aware that Ridley Scott did more than just bring an Alien creature into our rainy-day living rooms; rather, he planted Alien eggs in our minds. And now, even when going into the darker corners of my house… I still wonder… is she lurking?”