Despite what most people may think, it takes a small village to make a movie. There are the producers, director, actors, and all the camera crew, to just name a few. One production category that is commonly forgotten about, yet one of the most important, is the stunt team. Luckily, for the Texas film industry, we have a stunt team right here in Austin.
Fighting Stunts is a martial arts stunt training organization that has been apart of the local film community since 2006. Janell Vela Smith, CEO and lead team member, saw a need for a local stunt team after her friend and mentor, Grandmaster Yi from Tukong Academy, trained actress Devon Aoki for her roll as Miho in “Sin City,” as well as training “Sin City” creator Frank Miller. From this high profile beginning, Smith has been able to take Fighting Stunts from an idea born out of an opportunity to a stunt team that has worked on numerous projects from music videos to independent films.
To truly understand what goes into Fighting Stunts, and what they stand for, one must take a deeper look into Smith. Smith is no newcomer to fitness, having been involved in after school sports since she was a child, and eventually followed in her idol’s footsteps and enrolled in martial arts.
“My Hero was Bruce Lee, and I knew one day I would be doing that amazing dance of martial arts,” Smith says. “Today I hold three black belts, hoping to test for my fourth black belt this year, two time Texas State Tae Kwon Do Champion, one time Regional Champ and 2002 National Taekwondo Champion, and I have trained with the Lopez family, a multiple generation family of Olympic athletes. “
If this impressive list of accomplishments doesn’t make you tired, her passion for fitness might. She has been able to blend her love of fitness, mainly martial arts, and her passion for business into her current career path.
“[I]took it upon myself to develop, build, and promote Fighting Stunts as the premiere place to go and train for stunts and martial arts,” Smith says.
With Fighting Stunts, Smith wants to offer an opportunity for people to try their hand at something new and challenging. Many hopeful participants attend her stunt classes throughout the year, but it takes a dedicate athlete to provide the effort and hard work that is required to become part of her team.
Being a female in a male dominated business, Smith takes a proud stance in the women’s empowerment movement. Not only is she a physically tough person, she makes it her goal to share this strength with other females through her self-defense classes. She plans to take a trip to Piedras Negras to teach local women some defensive skills; skills that can be life saving in a part of the country that is in distress.
Smith is determined to become a prominent producer in the Austin film community. Along with Fighting Stunts, she has numerous film and television projects in the pipeline, each one built from the ground up.
“I have learned that producing is the hardest and most rewarding job I have ever done! Being a fitness professional definitely helps me keep up with the demanding schedule. When creating and producing projects the formula for me is ‘Plan your attack, Attack your Plan,’” Smith admits.
Smith has several pieces of advice for those looking to get involved with the film industry, in any role that they connect with. The most important skill would be to have a positive attitude, and a tough skin also helps too. Working in this industry isn’t the easiest, but for those determined, it’s possible. Smith offers different advice for those looking for a future in the stunt world. “For the stunt world, train hard, and find a good mentor/teacher,” she says. “Take acting lessons to help with the action training and develop a well rounded resume with plenty of training and put your skills to work with projects.”
The next few years could possibly be the age of Janell Vela Smith and her Iron Dragon Production company. Fighting Stunts continues to make waves, working with a local actress on her possible return to a local film hero’s new production. Currently, she is working on a few shows which are in several stages of production, including casting for a pilot for “Zone of Silence” and Viva Latino (which aired on The CW during the 2011 season). On top of these projects, she is in the middle of writing her book ”Awakening the Dragon Within,” and hopes to honor her father by starting a non-profit organization for orphans in Mexico. There may be one area that Smith may want to improve — “I would like to find more female stunt members,” she says.
Janell Vela Smith is a force to be reckoned with. Smith understands that she’s blessed with a multitude of skills, and she strives to better them with each day. “Success is not achieved alone. I have many people who believe in me and my projects and without them I would not be able to do these types of projects. My goal is to create more projects for the Austin film community, projects with some amazing martial art action,” Smith declares.
For more information in Fighting Stunts or to audition for Zone of Silence (both taking place on August 11 at the Premium Blend Performing Arts center in Georgetown), or any of her many upcoming projects, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will also find her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/janellvelasmith), Twitter (@janellvelasmith)and on her website (www.irondragonproductions.com).
Austin Fusion would like to send our deepest thanks to John Ramseier and for allowing us to use John’s Gym (www.johnsgymatx.com) for the photoshoot, and Smith’s sparring partner Samy Say.
MUA: Kym Smoak