For brothers Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith, their new science-fiction feature Volition was a fully collaborative endeavor in every respect with them sharing writing and producing duties and Tony installed as director. A story with many nuances and turns, Volition represented the first feature for the Smith Brothers. “The kernel of the idea came to me in film school,” said Tony Smith. “I wrote about a scientist who makes this drug that makes you ‘early.’ As soon as he invented the drug, things went badly.”
Though he was a successful editor, Tony Smith was feeling a stagnancy in his creative life, which informed the Smith Brothers’ screenplay. “My envisioning me never making it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he stated of Volition’s underlying story. “A down and out guy seeing his own death. I wrote a quick first draft. We spent the next couple years trying to crack the details.”
After Tony Smith brought Volition’s first draft to his brother, Ryan jumped on board the project. “I really loved what Tony started with,” Ryan Smith recalled. “What might be causing clairvoyant phenomenon? When we started re-writing, looking at clairvoyance from a structural point-of-view, it became a challenge that we really wanted to crack. With enough iterations, we landed at where we are now.”
Indeed, Tony Smith conveyed that from that initial direction, the Smith Brothers had a group of radically opposed means of telling the Volition story, but one determination was made: their main character would not use his gift like a superhero; clairvoyance would be an affliction. “He would attract people on the fringes of society,” Tony Smith noted.
After the Smith Brothers locked their script, they sought methods of production. “The intention was always for us to make the movie ourselves,” said Tony Smith. “We are lucky enough to be able to live in Vancouver. We went out and bought prosumer equipment to shoot the movie ourselves, but that didn’t happen. We got some backing.”
In fact, Vancouver has been a prominent hub for the principal photography of films and television shows for decades. “Vancouver is in this really unique situation,” said Ryan Smith. “L.A. productions come up here. The crew and cast in Vancouver are playing at a very professional level. Tom and I have both worked in that industry here.”
When the Smith Brothers endeavored to set up Volition in Vancouver, not surprisingly, their local colleagues answered the call. “We are starved for our own original content,” Ryan Smith said of Vancouver-based productions. “When we approached actors and crew with the script, they loved what we were trying to do—not for a studio in L.A. We had the advantage of having cast and crew members.”
Not only was Vancouver hungry for a local venture, the filmmakers were just as passionate about their first feature film. “We were willing to do it at any budget level,” Tony Smith revealed. “It’s a complex film, and any filmmaker can make a movie within a certain constraint. We were willing to do that.”
As the brothers moved into pre-production on Volition, they ramped up their skills and enhanced previous knowledge. “When we decided to go forward with this, we had to learn on the fly,” Ryan Smith confessed. “For us, it was that leap of saying, ‘Maybe we can learn this.’ It was one step after the next of picking up new skills. We didn’t have the massive team to do it for us. We wore so many hats, and so did everyone on set.”
To save production costs, the Smith Brothers shot Volition on practical Vancouver locations, modifying and dressing locales. “It was brutal,” said Tony Smith. “I had to schedule the film—the page count per day is what matters. We shot 12 pages per day on 18 days of shooting. Our days were 12-hour days but slowly got longer—three six-day weeks. It was very difficult; I was so exhausted from the prep. It was nearly impossible.”
Underscoring his brother’s reflections, Ryan Smith noted that Volition’s set was a ‘rough and tumble’ one. “Blood, sweat, and tears,” he said. “The crew and the cast were there to push through. There was a lot of passion with everybody. On those longer days, everyone was just ‘in.’ We shot in 2018; we are still recovering from it. We’re hoping that the next one will have a slightly bigger budget and more time.”
As a director, Tony Smith noted that, on a project with a severely limited shooting schedule, he needed the requisite discipline. “You have to shoot it in a utilitarian fashion,” he commented. “We started with easy stuff first. Do your prep—it’s about the story and the actors. The director does know what they want: confidence.”
Lastly, the Smith Brothers brought Volition into the cutting room to assemble and refine their footage. “The edit was, in the end, the biggest challenge,” Tony remarked. “We had to readjust our expectation, re-writing within the edit.”
Adding to his brother’s statements, Ryan Smith gave Tony due post-production credit. “Tony edited it,” Ryan said, offering that he too made significant contributions. “We were both giving notes and working on it—an indie film that we did ourselves, with not a huge amount of resources. It’s been a big part of our lives, but, ultimately, super rewarding.”
To watch Volition, you can find out where it’s available on the official site.