An Interview with Dennis Smithers Jr. – By Brian Morton

 Last month I got the chance to see a movie by a first time filmmaker, Dennis Smithers Jr. Now, when someone tells me that this is the first movie that someone has made, I put on the hazmat suit, because nine times out of ten, it’s going to be something you don’t want to touch with your bare skin. But, with A Bothered Conscience, I was totally wrong!! A Bothered Conscience is what independent movies are all about, it’s a great story with incredible acting and the story actually leads somewhere logical, when I got to the end of A Bothered Conscience, I was left wondering where it went next, I wanted more, which to me is always the sign of a great movie. So, since there was only way to find out more about this movie and it’s author, I went to the source and called Dennis Jr. to see what’s next for this young up and comer!

*****

BM – First things first, I have to know, where did you get the idea for A Bothered Conscience?

DS – I’m a hunter and I own some property and I was sitting in my deer stand and the idea just came to me.

BM – (laughing) Just keeping people off of your property?

DS – (laughs) Yeah. I’m a big horror movie buff, and once I got the idea the wheels just started turning. And, being that I’m from Arkansas and that I’m surrounded by 70% undeveloped land, what other story could I write?

BM – Your father plays Keller McGavin in the movie, was it always your plan to use your father or did that just happen naturally?

DS – No, using my father wasn’t intentional. I didn’t write it that way, but he happened to be available and he pulled it off pretty well, because he definitely looks like a mountain man.

BM – Is there more of the Keller McGavin story? Will there be a sequel or a prequel?

DS – I have thought about that, I’m actually writing it now. I’d like to pursue what happens to Keller McGavin after the events of A Bothered Conscience. Maybe a big manhunt where he’s being chased through the mountains by the police. Of course, it’ll take a bigger budget and better equipment but I think we can get that together. I don’t know how long it will take before I can get started on that, but there’s definitely more of the story to come. As for a prequel, I really haven’t given that much thought.

BM – The most common thing we hear from independent filmmakers is financing, it’s the hardest part of any film production. How did you go about getting this financed?

DS – Actually, my father, besides starring in the movie, is the main producer. When I started, he asked me if this was something I really wanted to get into. When I said that it was, he told me that he’d help me. And he did, he financed the whole production.

BM – I have to tell you, that I was really impressed with this movie. Most of the time, new filmmakers forget that they’re telling a story. When I got to the end of A Bothered Conscience, I was blown away by the ending, it was one of the best twist endings I’ve seen in quite a while.

DS – When you’re doing a film, you try to do your best in every aspect of the production, but when it comes right down to it, in movies like this one, the ending can make or break the movie. So, I knew going in, that the story had to be good and the ending had to be strong, knowing all the limitations that we had, I knew that the story would make or break the movie.

BM – Can readers get their own copy of A Bothered Conscience?

DS – Right now, I’ve only made a few copies to sell at the premiere of the movie. (Which happened on June 17th at the Gem Theatre In Heber Springs, Arkansas) Right now, we’re seeking traditional distribution, and that’s my focus right now. If that doesn’t’ work out or is working too slowly, I’ll certainly make it available on the internet, but we’re not selling copies online, right now. But, if we do, I’ll certainly let you know.

BM – What about the production? Did it take you a long time or was this a pretty easy shoot?

DS – The concept came to me in 2003, and I wrote it and I polished it and re-wrote it a couple of times. We actually started principle photography in July of 2005 and we finished in December of 2005. We were forced to film almost exclusively on weekends, since we all have day jobs. Once we finished with filming, we started editing and that lasted until April of 2006, when I finally felt that the movie was complete.

 BM – Are you showing the film at any festivals?

DS – Actually I’ve got it in just a couple of festivals right now, but I’d like to more of them.

BM – When do you think you might begin filming the sequel?

DS – I’d like to do a different film before I started working on a sequel.

BM – Would a different film stay in the horror genre?

DS – Yes. Absolutely.

BM – Care to tell us what the next movie may be about?

DS – There’s a script that I’ve written called Miller’s Place. It’s the story of two police officers, one goes out at night, gets drunk and hits and kills a pedestrian. He tries to cover it up, by taking the body to a cemetery, what better place to hide a dead body than a cemetery. Especially in a fresh grave, you could dig up the grave, bury the body and no one would ever know it’s been disturbed. Well, what he doesn’t know is that the body that’s in the already grave isn’t quite dead, it’s more undead, and the cop unleashes it. There are a couple of twists in the story too.

BM – Any time frame on getting that one started?

DS – Right now I’m focusing on the marketing and getting distribution for A Bothered Conscience, so all I can tell you is A.S.A.P.

BM – Besides the premiere that you had any plans on showing it anywhere else?

DS – Not right now. The reason we went with the Gem Theatre was that it’s one of the very few places near me that offers DVD projection. There is one other theatre in my hometown that offers DVD capability, but I called them several times and they never called me back about it.

BM – That’s too bad, they don’t really know what they were missing. A hometown guy with a great movie like this, that’s a real shame.

DS – Well, some people just, either don’t have the time, or they take what I’m doing with a grain of salt, so it’s just a shame.

BM – Back to A Bothered Conscience. The cast, did you hire people, were they all friends of yours, how did you gather your cast?

DS – As a matter of fact, it’s all friends and family. Besides my father, who plays Keller McGavin, the other lead in the movie, Lucas McGavin is played by Steven Martin, he’s my cousin. The little boy who plays Lucas at age 5 is my nephew. I really just gathered up everyone I knew and we all did the best that we could do, there were no jokes, it was just work, work, work.

BM – I would never have known that it was all friends and family. I’ve been told that when you’re trying to do a movie the worst thing you can do is hire your family. You really shattered that story for me, because I couldn’t tell that your cast was anything but professional actors.

DS – That’s one good thing about my family. We all love horror movies, I grew up watching horror movies. I just took it a step further than being just a fan, I was always more excessive than just a horror movie buff, I didn’t really just watch the movies, I would study them. I really wanted to be a filmmaker before I knew what a filmmaker was.

 BM – What movies inspired you to want to be a horror filmmaker?

DS – Really the basics, Evil Dead, I’m a big Sam Raimi fan. As far as stories, I like Richard Matheson, because it’s just like they say, he is legend. I think, though, that Sam Raimi is my biggest influence. He started out kind of like me, he didn’t have a lot of resources and he used what he had to make movies, so he’s a big inspiration to me. I’m also a big fan of the Scott Speigel movie, Intruder, it’s basic, it’s simple, but it’s still a great movie, in fact, I’m probably one of the few people who actually own a copy of it…and it’s store bought!

BM – You said that you started filming in July but you didn’t finish until December. Since most of the movie takes place outdoors, did you find filming difficult, with the seasons changing around you?

DS – Actually, the way the story was scripted, the story went through a season change. We began shooting in the summer, and then when it was twenty years later, some of those scenes took place in the fall, so working weekends actually worked to our advantage, because we got the season changes that the story needed.

BM – Thanks a lot Dennis, it’s been nice talking to you.

DS – Thank you.

Before I got off the line with Dennis he gave me the chance to speak with his father, Dennis Sr., who plays Keller McGavin, so I’ll be able to tell people that I talked to them both before they became big! If you get the chance to see A Bothered Conscience, I can’t tell you how fast you should get your ticket! It’s that damn good. Since we had a chance to talk, Dennis told me that he WILL start selling copies of A Bothered Conscience via the web soon, I highly recommend this great indie flick! Go get your own copy right now at Smithers Productions!

We here at Rogue Cinema wish Dennis the best of luck with A Bothered Conscience and can’t wait to see what’s next for this first time filmmaker.