Filmmaker Brian Vowles, in the description of his short film Robot Attack on Vimeo, writes, “Four years ago I set out to make a short film with my two boys and an iPhone. It’s done now. We hope you like it.” What follows is one of the most brilliant instances of guerrilla filmmaking that you will ever see.
Vowles, who makes 3D characters for children’s television shows in Toronto, came up with the idea in 2012 while filming his sons Brandon and Dylan running around the backyard on a lazy Sunday in 2012, according to the Robot Attack website. He shepherded the boys into a few planned sequences that he could cut together to make a silly laser battle using some basic special effects. The resulting film, Lazy Sunday, became a family favorite that the family still laughs at to this day.
Amused by his work on the family film, Vowles began to wonder if he could make a decent effects-heavy film using only an iPhone. After acquiring an iPhone 5S in 2014, Vowles was impressed by the phone’s HD capability and began to consider the possibility more seriously. He asked his two sons if they were interested in making the film, and they were overjoyed with the opportunity.
In May of 2014, the three began work on Robot Attack. Inspired by apocalyptic Hollywood films like The Road, Terminator, and television’s The Walking Dead, the Vowles family approached the topic from the perspective of children facing their fate at the end of the civilized world. The plot revolves around two young boys trying to survive extermination attempts by a giant robot that persistently pursues them.
“Boys are just incredibly dumb, it doesn’t matter where they are or how much trouble they’re in,” Vowles told the Press Association, according to the Mobile Motion Film Festival. “The whole premise is that at the end of the world boys would still be farting on each other, pulling each others fingers and riding in carts. Still being boys, just at the end of the world.”
Vowles made good use of available resources, crafting his story to take place in a nearby abandoned prisoner-of-war camp. The three finished filming in 2015, and Brian Vowles then set to the painstaking work of crafting the film’s special effects, editing the film together, and laying down the sound design.
When the film was finished, Vowles premiered it at a local cinema, with the entire family in attendance.
“My dad was there and welling up just because he knows how much time and effort went in,” Brandon said. “I think it was just overwhelming and had been in our lives for so long that it was done. Just to know that dad’s not just crazy, toiling away in the dungeon. But it’s finished.”
The final film is crafted with loving care, with careful attention paid to shot selection and editing. In the end, Vowles created something of a personal masterpiece.