I love making movies. If I wasn’t paid to do it, I would pay to do it.
Often, it might seem to take forever to bring a creative idea to fruition and therefore, it helps to love what you do in order to be there for the long haul. Movie making, with the many elements required to assemble a production into an organic whole, is seldom pain-free. Creating and building something of value is hard, hard work. However, having a passion for what you do, makes it all worthwhile.
Creative people “experience an urge to originate something of personal significance and to create a vision uniquely their own. Doing so, gives their lives meaning.” (HAVE YOU EVER HAD A HUNCH? The Importance of Creative Thinking) Goethe spent 60 years writing and revising his dramatic poem “Faust.” He was in his twenties when he started it and in his eighties when he completed it! Goethe also spent 40 years revising his theory of color. As comedian and writer Eddie Cantor once said in a New York Times interview: it can take “twenty years to make an overnight success.”
Filmmakers the Smith Brothers (Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith) have that passion and commitment to bring their creative visions, with all the prerequisite kaleidoscopic elements, into finished forms. Both have created since childhood and today, with many individual and shared awards between them from film-writing, to editing, to film production, they are presently collaborating on the feature film VOLITION, premiering in 2018. I interviewed them recently:
Ellen: Tony and Ryan, you both create independently and also jointly plus you both work with a variety of other creative individuals. There is a difference between creating alone and together, that is, between individual and collaborative creativity. What differences do you see?
Tony: Creativity is such an enigmatic concept and I don’t think there is any one way to go about it. Perhaps, the biggest difference between embarking on something as an individual versus on something that is collaborative is the original spark – the original idea. While many people can jump on board and help build projects, it is the creator’s own unique impulse that is needed to hatch the idea. There may be lots of overlap, but I think what Ryan comes up with versus what I come up with, while perhaps sharing many underlying thematic elements, might manifest differently. As an example, in exploring a theme such as freewill, I might tend to push for something in the science-fiction realm, whereas Ryan might see it through the lens of historical drama. This is a broad example, but one that we see from time to time in our work.
Ryan: When creating alone, one has a pure understanding of the form of any given idea he or she might be exploring. When collaborating, the challenge comes in translating this abstract form into something that can be recognized by one’s creative partner. While having to take this extra step (of articulating the abstract thoughts into something more grounded) may seem like a waste of energy, with Tony and me, it tends to be a very useful part of the process. In order to communicate our ideas with each other, we are forced to articulate ourselves. This process seems to test the ideas. Those that pass the test tend to be resilient, strong ideas – not all of them, but many of them. Of course, there are also those times where externalizing an idea and discussing it, can sometimes lead to the death of a concept that might otherwise have flourished internally, but that’s the risk we take when we collaborate. We also try to honour our internal process so that we’re each given silent introspection time in tandem with our external collaborative time.
Ellen: Do you think that an important element in creating collaboratively is also to have the ability to be a proficient, independent creator?
Ryan: While Tony and I collaborate on many projects, there are various other works that we do, that are solo. I think this does help to strengthen our collaborative relationship. We both respect each other’s solo work, and are inspired by seeing the new discoveries we each come to. I think that the admiration we have for each other’s independent creations, leads us to truly trusting each other in our collaborations. I know that Tony’s a great storyteller, so I trust him to make strong decisions. And I think he feels the same way about me. Rarely, do we feel like one person is carrying more weight than the other. We share the work. By the same token, there are areas where one of us is more proficient than the other. In those cases, that person might take on the lion’s share of that piece, but all the while, we are both striving to improve ourselves so that we can share the weight.
Tony: To use tennis terms, Ryan and I can play singles or doubles. I think this allows us to approach the court of writing with an awareness of the many angles that need to be covered in the game of creativity. There certainly are areas where Ryan is stronger than I am, and vice versa, but our ability to share knowledge of the various aspects (serving, volleying and completing) is what allows us to develop as writers – which forces us to look at our strength and weaknesses, thereby becoming better individually and within our partnership.
Great article. Really enjoyed the note at the end to aspiring filmmakers.
Several years ago, Sam and I had the pleasure of meeting Tony. I am not surprised his passion for making movies has persisted and flourished. One can only imagine the exciting filmmaking these brothers are producing with their ability to put ego aside and successfully work together.
True Linda, the Smith Brothers’ end notes to aspiring filmmakers contains excellent advice. They have given generously of their knowledge in the interview I did of them.
Dede – you are absolutely correct – the Smith Brothers do put ego aside because their passion for filmmaking is always at the forefront of what they do.
Thank you, Linda and Dede!
This interview is a rewarding read for anyone interested in film-making, collaboration, and creativity. It is fascinating to learn about a partnership between two filmmakers (and brothers, as well) who work together to create a film. Many years ago when I took film courses in college, the dominant theory was all about the “auteur,” the director whose singular vision was expressed in his or her film, and in many cases this vision was imposed on the film. To work with a partner to communicate, to test, to refine the original idea is a very different process, challenging but rewarding. I find especially intriguing what the brothers say about not “owning” an idea. An idea takes on a life of its own. I hope I will have a chance to see VOLITION and interact with the ideas in the film.
Thank you so much for reading the interview and engaging with it! I think there is definitely value in the Auteur theory. A singular vision can be incredibly powerful. Some things are gained with a singular vision and some things are lost. Collaboration can allow for whole new paths to emerge. With Tony directing, I tried to give him space to shape what he envisioned, and, at the same time, I was there to discuss moments and share thoughts.
We appreciate the support. Please stay tuned for the film!