Filmmaker’s Sons Starred In This Robot Sci-Fi Film Shot On An iPhone

Photo: Robots Attack (Brian Vowles)

Most of us are lucky if our dads threw the ball around with us in the backyard. Indie filmmaker Brian Vowles is going to make a lot of fathers look bad because he made an epic sci-fi film starring his sons, Brandon and Dylan.

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Robot Attack is a post-apocalyptic short film (think Stand By Me meets The Road) with a tagline that says everything you need to know: “Boys will be boys…even in the robot apocalypse.” Shot on an iPhone, the passion project took four years for Vowles, an animator by trade, to complete.

We chatted with the Canadian filmmaker who lives with his family in Ajax, a small city in Ontario, about the inspiration behind Robot Attack, why it took so long, and if he will (or if his wife will let him) do it again.

Mandatory: What made you want to do a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film starring your boys? 

Brian Vowles: I have been animating professionally since 2002 but I’m always working on other people’s projects. I get hired to do my little part of the production, but I’m interested in all parts of the process. I thought it would be a lot of fun to make a little action film with the boys where were I could learn a bunch of new stuff and we would have a cool little movie at the end of it. 

There’s an old filmmaking adage to never work with kids. What was it like directing your sons?

Our process was a lot of fun. We would just goof around and get our shots. They were so young at the time and pretty clueless as to what was going on. The beginning of the movie is a lot of stand-alone shots where the directions were basically, “Walk from there to there and look sad.” It was great because it’s the first time I ever tried to “direct” anything so there was no pressure.  

Photo: Brian Vowles

What was the most difficult part of the shoot? 

The weather was the biggest headache we had to deal with. I wanted the movie to be dark and gloomy and I thought shooting in the tail edge of winter would be good for that. You would be surprised just how little cloud we had. It took about ten weeks to film everything and during that time spring rolled right over us. All of the trees had gone from post-apocalyptic dead to full on Jurassic Park.

Photo: Brian Vowles

How did you solve it?

So I went back to the original locations the following winter and reshot all the shots without the kids. The good thing was that the backgrounds matched the original footage because I used the same camera and lens. The bad news is that I had to cut the kids out of the original footage frame by frame. I think that took about five months. It sucked, but it was worth it.

Photo: Brian Vowles

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It took you four years to make Robot Attack. What kept you keep going? 

Making it with the kids was a definite motivator. It wouldn’t have much of a life lesson if I was like, “OK, kids, we’re gonna do this really cool thing until it becomes too difficult and then I quit.”

Photo: Brian Vowles

What was the family’s reaction the first time they saw the film? 

My brother-in-law organized a premiere at a local theatre which really blew my mind. My parents were crying. My wife started tearing up as soon as the title came up. Brandon was very quiet at the end and had the quivering lip going. I gave him a big hug and it all came out. Dylan was the same. It was the end of our journey and I think none of us were really prepared for what it would be like to actually see if finished. 

What’s next for the Robot Attack

I have no idea. I just hope people keep watching it and sharing it. I have been getting great notes from people. I think the best note I got so far was ‘This movie makes me want to call my brother.” Sniff. 

Will your wife let you do it again? 

If making Robot Attack 2 could be my actual “day job,” then yes. Otherwise, no. She’s been about as understanding as anyone needs to be. 

For more on Robot Attack visit