Janell Smith is a talented martial artist, stunt performer, and producer who is the CEO of Iron Dragon Productions. Along with being a martial arts teacher, Janell has worked alongside some of the top talents in her native Austin, Texas, notably Robert Rodriguez, the founder of El Rey network and the director of El Mariachi, the Spy Kids franchise, and most recently, Alita: Battle Angel. Janell has recently started up her own free streaming app, Iron Dragon TV, which focuses on martial arts in various genres, from action films to documentaries to short films.
World Film Geek had the opportunity to talk to Smith about Iron Dragon TV as well as her background in martial arts and stunts and the upcoming IDTV Action Film Festival, which starts this weekend!
Janell, it is a pleasure to be talking with you about both Iron Dragon TV and the upcoming IDTV Action Film Festival.
Thank you so much! It is my pleasure to talk to you as well.
What’s your martial arts background?
I started out in Taekwondo. I hold a 1st-dan black belt in WTF Taekwondo. I did a lot of competing with the Olympic team because the World Taekwondo Federation style is the one they hold in the Olympics. I made the international level in 2002 where I was a national TKD champion.
I met one of my masters who introduced to the style I do now, called Tukong Mulsool. It’s a Korean art that was used in the Korean military. My master, Wonik Yi, created the style for the Korean military. He came from Korea to move to the United States to teach the style. So, I trained under him and he returned to Korea. I’m leaving in October to travel to Korea and test for my 5th-dan in the style.
That’s amazing! So, what led you to get into the film industry?
Well, my master actually worked on the film Sin City, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez. He trained Devon Aoki for her action scenes. She studied Tukong for the film. We trained her in all the cool ninja moves she did and after that, we had a lot of actors come in to train in martial arts for films. That opened the door for me. My master and I partnered with a stunt team out of Austin called Fighting Stunts. And we were the first stunt organization in Austin.
I eventually got into producing because I thought it would be a lot of fun. It is a lot of work. From stunt coordinating and choreography I got into producing. Here we are several years later. I produced mostly short films and a few features. I also got into doing stunts myself. I really enjoy it!
Have you ever had any major injuries during your stunt career?
Not really. I think I sustained more injuries during my competing days (laughs). When you’re competing, you go all out. Years later, they come back to haunt me. Shoulder, knee, ankle. I’ve learned balance and work around my injuries. I’m in one piece (laughs). Nothing major but I hope to jump in front of the cameras soon because I really enjoy it.
Who would you consider your heroes?
Oh wow! Definitely Bruce Lee, he opened the door for all of us. I love Jackie Chan. Donnie Yen is definitely on top of my list. And Jet Li.
As I call them, the Big Four!
I grew up watching Kung Fu Theaters as a kid. Now having a martial arts channel, I am hoping to bring that back. Bring back the old films that I grew up watching for a new generation. Shaw Brothers, all the old stuff and they were at times hokey, and they were so much fun! Now, I hope there’s a new generation of the genre because of films like John Wick and I got to meet Keanu Reeves and we talked about his martial arts training. He’s the real deal. He really enjoys it and he’s very passionate about training. When he made Man of Tai Chi, he had a screening here and he’s really humble. A very sweet man. Now, it’s like people are appreciating the martial arts genre.
And with 87Eleven, these guys are making waves. They just came out with Hobbs and Shaw, and the founders of that team got their start as stuntmen.
Oh I know that and I was excited to hear they want to remake Bloodsport and I thought to myself that for Chad Stahelski, that would come full circle because he was in Bloodsport III as one of the Kumite fighters and helped with the fight choreography back in 1996.
Oh wow! I didn’t know that. That would be great! I can see they are bringing that back to genre. I hope to visit them someday. One of my buddies actually works on pre-viz for the group, David No.
Oh, I remember David! He and I briefly got in touch when I was starting out doing a small martial arts tribute site during my college days.
Yeah, David and Eric Jacobus produced Blindsided, which is now streaming on our Iron Dragon TV app.
That is awesome. I love watching up and coming talents who need to get their due. I remember Daniel Wu, the star of Into the Badlands, mentioning that he had used YouTube to look for up and coming stunt performers and one of my all time favorite teams is Martial Club, who recently unleashed some parodies of some great stuff like Avengers: Endgame (see video above). Have you heard of them?
No I haven’t but they sound amazing! I would love to check out their stuff. Definitely send me their YouTube channel.
These guys are awesome! They have even worked with Jackie Chan and members of his stunt team, including Andy Long Nguyen and they have a fun short film with I think they’re called the Young Masters. I would recommend Pokemon Go Crazy to watch on their channel.
I definitely will have to check them out!
So, tell me about Iron Dragon TV and the IDTV Action Film Festival.
Well, we just started Iron Dragon TV. It’s a free streaming app that involves martial arts in various genres of film as well as sporting events like the World Combat Association. We are currently looking to work with distributors, making calls and everything, so we can get the rights to stream some classic martial arts films. Right now, we have Battle of Shaolin (aka The Damned/Snake in the Eagle Shadow 3) on there, but we have some great short films, documentaries and I’m producing a series called Joaquin, which is about a demon hunter. You can find us at irondragontv.com and even download the app on Google Play, Amazon, and Roku.
I’m definitely getting the app! That’s for sure! What could we expect at the IDTV Film Festival this year?
Well, we are holding it on August 9th in Austin, Texas. A friend of mine has a major place called the Stunt Ranch. I mean this place is like an adult’s dream playground. (Laughs). It’s really huge and we’re going to screen the pilot of Joaquin and have some short films including one called No Way Out, which was done by Max Huang, who is on the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. On Saturday, we will be at the EVO Entertainment complex and we will screen some short films and the film Hollow Point. It’s going to be a lot of fun this year.
This is so amazing! Janell, it’s been wonderful talking to you! Fans, check out the Iron Dragon TV website and app now and in you’re in the Austin area, be sure to get a chance to see the IDTV Action Film Festival. Here are some links to help you. http://www.idtvactionfest.com and http://irondragontv.com/. Janell, thank you again for talking about these events and your background! Hope we keep in touch!
Definitely! It’s been a pleasure talking to you!
A Special Thank You goes out to Janell Smith for making this interview possible!