Movie: The Sickness
Director: Ian Volner
Hello Ian, welcome to the SIFF.
1.Tell us how your journey began in the films?
First off, thank you again for allowing both myself and my short to be included in your festival! My journey began long ago, like so many others, watching film with my dad. Flash forward to 2013 and I’m in college, pursuing a STEM degree when I find out that my dad has suffered a series of strokes behind the wheel. Luckily he survived, although he was unable to care for himself anymore. I then decided to make a high risk, high reward gamble and dive headfirst into film as a career. It was love at first sight, no matter what happened next, I knew it was where I wanted to be. Unfortunately, my father passed in 2019, however I’m sure he would be proud of how far I’ve come as a filmmaker.
2.Storytelling is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. How do you find inspiration to come up with new stories?
Growing up as an only child with hard working parents, allows you a lot of time to cultivate an overactive imagination. While they set out to provide the best life for me, I spent my formative years watching movies, playing video games and exploring with friends. This was an incubator, a seed bed for who I was to become. The exhilaration I feel every time I present a new concept, a fresh draft, or a completed work to an audience is so child-like, it reminds me of those days and I believe it’s that important feeling that spurs all of my creative choices.
3.How did you come up with “The Sickness”?
The Sickness was born out of frustration. It represents a deep, primal need to create. The title itself is not a reference to anything other than the feeling I get when I’m unable to create. It burns, like a fever, like a sickness. At the time I was struggling through a treacherous pre-production cycle on another film and all these invisible hurdles it was presenting myself and my team. I then turned to my best friend of 17 years – the star of the film – and asked him, “If I come up with something, ANYTHING, would you be in it?!”(Or something along those lines, it’s all a blur now) and he fearlessly agreed. From there, a script was born and a crew grew around it. What started as something simple, evolved into something far more complex and strange and, well, here we are!
4.Ian, you are a brilliant storyteller, there is no doubt. As a storyteller, what kind of stories do you want to present more to your audience?
First off, you are far too kind. However, the kind of stories I want to tell are the ones in which the audience is free to feel more than just satisfaction. Life is complex, full of unpredictable vexes, tragedies and outcomes both by our own hands and those we cannot fathom. Stories, on the other hand, are a safer, more controlled environment designed to make sense of the chaos. However, life rarely imitates art in this way and I want my art to instead imitate life. I think these stories are the ones that bring true satisfaction, wisdom and growth. Life wants to be sweet, but those who cherish its actually bitter taste are the ones who enjoy it longest. That’s not to say that I prefer my work to be completely pragmatic, atheist or nihilist in nature, but that I want us all to also stare those elements directly in the face. Think of it as exposure therapy to assist in life’s many challenges.
5.Both the actors have done a beautiful job in the film. How was the casting process?
Fantastic! Jake Taylor, our lead, is my best friend. We’ve been through thick and thin together and I think this bizarre little film brought us even closer together. Though I was terrified to present this material to him initially, for reasons I’m sure you understand. However he’s a professional through and through and had no reservations with the content. Anastasia Lutz was cast due to her incredible audition she sent me for another film. It was the first audition that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in terror. Not for fear, but for the sheer oppressive talent she presented and how inept it made me feel. So to suggest I was incredibly lucky to meet both of these incredible talents (and the amazing supporting cast members who flavored this world) is an understatement. I’m eternally grateful.
6.It is safe to say that “The Sickness” explores its characters’ psychological aspect. How challenging was it to frame and construct the story?
This was quite the challenge. So much so that I think the puzzle I’ve built,has yet to be solved without my assistance (which is also an invitation to revisit *wink*). However the actor’s psyche in this film is without a doubt turbulent, there’s a lot he’s dealing with personally and so much is riding on this moment. There’s a lot of guilt. A lot of regret. Yet strangely enough, he’s fearless. I may have given away something just now… Maybe not, ignore that last part.
7.How was the filming process? Did you face any difficulties while shooting?
Oftentimes what is on the page isn’t a perfect representation of what the lens captures. However, on this project, everything was perfect. It was exactly my vision from top to bottom. We did, despite our best efforts, have to shut down for a few weeks due to covid. Luckily, I got the worst of it, most of my cast and crew got away unscathed while I was mauled. We reconvened and finished in the same month. Seven wonderful days.
8.Which directors inspire you to do better?
So many. Wow! I look up to so many directors, the same ones that I’m sure we all do! However, the one I look up to most, happens to also be the one closest to me, my amazing friend and professional I aspire to be like: Danny Shepherd. I owe a lot to him and it’s thanks to our constant collaboration and conversation that I’m the director I am today. I think everyone needs a friend like him, someone that challenges you, forces you to rethink your ideas because he has your best intentions in mind. I’m truly grateful for our relationship and hope to one day consider myself his equal.
9.What are some of your favorite films?
I love so, so many. I think this is the hardest question you’ve asked so far!.. I really need to get my list down one of these days but I can list a few for sure. I’ve loved Spike Jonze’s Her, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure, Bong Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder, Juzo Itami’s Tampopo, Wim Wenders’ Paris, TX, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Orson Welles’ The Killing, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Elim Kimov’s Come and See, Paul Veherhoven’s Starship Troopers… This is just a small sample, the list is so long and spans the entire lifetime of cinema, without a doubt.
10.Coming back to “The Sickness”, one of the most distinguishable features of your film is the color palette. What does it symbolize?
I’m glad you think so! For The Sickness one of the things we wanted to visualize was the inner conflict for our character and the many places in his present and his memory. The orange glow of the room’s natural ambiance also allowed us to really dial up a sense of heat or fever that would hopefully keep our audience sweating alongside the protagonist, contrasting against the cool, dark, blue world of his past. Of course the finale has its own implications, however I’d rather let everyone draw their own conclusions there.
11.How has filmmaking changed after the pandemic?
I was very lucky to work most of the entirety of the pandemic. Safety should always be paramount on set and with an unpredictable virus like covid, its imperative that we take as many necessary precautions as possible. I think that a lot of the systems that we’re rapidly put in place were overall for the greater good and ultimately saved a lot of lives. In this now post-pandemic-but-not-really-because-its-still-here life we live now, I’d say that everyone is still conscientious of protocol and willing to make the necessary adjustments to either halt or help production continue in cases of outbreaks. Hopefully the worst of it has passed us.
12.Last but not the least, we’d love to know your experience of working with the SIFF has been?
Wonderful! I only wish that my team and I could have been in Sweden to enjoy the festival with you all, maybe next year! Thank you for having us and we hope you enjoyed the film.
Thank you for spending your time with us!