Since Head Cheeze, our predator-in-chief, recently decided to have a lot of the independent companies send submissions my way, it’s been a bumpy road. Several of the films have been worth the time, while many have made me want to chew my own eyes out. A Bothered Conscience, from Smithers Productions, showed up in a non-descript envelope, with just some contact info and an URL. Needless to say, it sat for a while before I picked it up, and once I did, I was floored.
I contacted director Dennis Smithers, Jr., whose father stars as the veteran gunman Keller McGavin in the film. The Smithers family put together a really nice work, so I wanted to hear more on the past, present and future of the movie and their production company.
HV: The film was shot entirely on location in Arkansas. I see that’s where Smithers Productions resides. Was there any friction or specific incidents with local government or law enforcement that affected the filming?
What originally gave you the idea for A Bothered Conscience? It’s a pretty grisly story!
I was deer hunting one morning, about 4 years ago, and thought: Damn, wouldn't it be bad if someone was out here picking off people instead of animals? So, that started the gears turning for what finally became the screenplay for my first motion picture.
Was the role written with Dennis, Sr. in mind, or did he just wind up being perfect for it?
Absolutely! I wrote the story with exactly my Dad in mind. Not that he would do something like that, but on the fact that he definately looks the part. I honestly never thought he would wind up playing the role of Keller McGavin though. I just didn't think he would want to do it. But, as you know, luck prevailed and he accepted the role when I asked him.
How did you go about getting the other actors for the story? I see some are family, but what about, say, Stephen Martin?
Stephen is family. We're first cousins. He actually has two roles in the film but I think we pulled off consealing his identity good enough to play the Lucas McGavin character also. He is one of the poachers at the beginning of the film. He plays along side his brother, Sean, and my good friend Gary Franks. That was originally his only role in the movie. But, due to circumstances beyond our control, the original person that was to act as Lucas became unavailable. We had to do something quick. Stephen was very interested in the part, auditioned, and got it.
The original version was just 32 minutes. What aspects of the story were added to extend it to the feature-length 87 minutes?
The original short didn't have Lucas' father in it. We only hear Lucas talk about him. So, adding the father to the movie gave us great time gain. Plus, we added more zombie/ghosts (whatever you wanna call 'em) to the story. Just simply more kills, ect. And I personally like the added "drug dealer" scene that we gave to the story. That was our comic relief.
The film premiered at The Gem Theater. What was that night like and how did the crowd take it?
The Gem is in Heber Springs, Arkansas which is only about 35 or 40 miles away from where I live. A lot of people that I knew showed up. But, on the same token, there was a lot of people there that I had never seen before. The attendance was in the triple digits and they all responded positive to it. That was a good thing.
The night itself, on my part anyway, was mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness. The weather was awful! Heavy rainfall occured all night long. But the weather didn't stop us from having fun.
Have you shopped the movie around so far and if so, any interest generated in terms of distribution?
Distribution is the next thing on the list. So far we have only sent to reviewers and newspapers to hopefully add material to the press kit. The time to seek distribution is very near.
Where did you get your filmmaking knowledge and who would you say influenced you?
To be honest, everything I learned about filmmaking I learned myself. I never had anyone that I could go to and ask for advice, the basics, or anything. I never attended any type of filmmaking school. My knowledge came from watching other movies and research. People tell me that I did a great job with the cinematography for the movie. I was writer, director, and camera operator. Before the short, I had never filmed anything. The feature is only my second project. I just have a natural "feel" for directing and knowing how shots should look through the camera. I guess people are right when they say I was born with it. Hell, I don't know.
But I can say that I finally met someone that has helped me a great deal with this. Doug Johnson. He was the editor and sound man for both the short and feature. We all have leaned a lot from him and he has helped us out tremendously. I hope to keep him on board with Smithers Productions.
As far as influence, I'd have to say Sam Raimi, George Romero, and Tom Savini.
What’s next on tap for Smithers Productions?
I have a screenplay finished titled "Miller's Place" that I am looking at very seriously. Also, I am presently writing a screenplay that isn't titled yet. Someday I hope to make a sequel for "A Bothered Conscience." It would be about the events of Keller McGavin that takes place right after the first one ends.
How did you find Doug Johnson? His score really helped create the feel and pace of the movie.
That is also unique in itself. I placed an add on horrorfind.com back in January of 2005 looking for an editor for the short film. Only a couple of days later, I get an email from a guy named Doug Johnson from New York.
The rest is history.
Everything that has happened between Doug and I on the making of this movie was completely correspondence by mail, email, and phone. I don't think you hear of that too often. We both took a chance and trusted each other 100%. The only time I have ever met Doug in person was the night of the premiere on June 17, 2006.
After the event, he, his wife, my Dad, and myself had dinner together around 11:00pm that night.
We parted company around 4am the next morning.
Today, we continue to correspond via the internet, mail, and phone. We have developed a unique friendship because of all this.