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An Interview with ‘The Next Dragon’ – Janell Vela Smith

Posted June 17, 2012 by Tiger33 in Features

Janell Vela Smith’s love for martial arts and fitness goes much deeper than a basic desire to ‘get fit‘ or ‘self defense‘. Janell is a true example of a martial artist who really ‘gives’ back to martial arts and local community. Personal Trainer, Stunt Coordinator, Producer, Role Model – Janell took time out from her busy schedule to have a quick chat with AMP about Martial Arts and her upcoming project : The Next Dragon.

AMP : Janell if you could give us a bit of a background into your interest in martial arts, and how it all began?

Janell : My martial arts journey began with my intrigue in old kung fu cinema, every Saturday afternoon I was glued to the television watching “Kung Fu” Theater. A station that played all of the original old school kung fu films that we all love!, As a young girl I was very active and athletic, from age 4 training in gymnastics, baton twirling, cheerleading, all athletics/dance based activities BUT,, I Loved going with my Dad to watch “live action” wrestling matches! My love for martial arts developed early but I was not able to learn until I was adult age. I joined a Dojang to learn how to kick properly, 17 years later 1st Dan TKD, 3rd Dan Tukong Moosul(traditional korean/chinese art), I have trained in many arts but I chose to be trained under a monk Wonik Yi from the Dae Yeon Sa Temple in Korea(Temple of Great Achievement)

He taught me the true meaning of a life dedicated to martial arts. Also, because of his expertise, we had many actors and Directors contact us in Austin, Texas to learn traditional martial arts for film work like Robert Rodriguez for his film Sin City.
I then helped develop Fighting Stunts Associaion in Austin Texas, we trained actors/martial artist for film work. Watching this process helped me later develop “The Next Dragon
My other projects either in Development or in Production -

Also developing 

  • In the Line of Duty reality show
  • Dominion Film with parters Jody Nolan and Jeremy Hawa



AMP  : You are currently heading a new project : The Next Dragon, Could you tell us a little bit about the project ,the structure of the forthcoming show, and of course the planned release date and availability?

Janell : Yes, I am Producing The Next Dragon, the structure was later developed by myself and Producers Arnie Reyes and Phil Abatecola(Producer of Hell’s Kitchen)
We are nearing end of development stage and going into pitch phase. We will see which major network is the best place for the Exciting new reality show!

AMP : So how did the Next Dragon get started ?

Janell : I developed the idea from my Stunt Company..working with various actors/martial artist for film projects. I thought it would be interesting to share this insight with audiences. It is a hard journey to develop ones skills as a “true martial artist” and as an actor. Many people do not understand the level of dedication this takes to become an “Action Star”

It is a hard journey to develop ones skills as a “true martial artist” and as an actor



AMP:For any upcoming martial artists actors reading this, are places still available on season 1 of Next Dragon, how can they go about getting involved ?

Janell : Place are still avaiable. They can contact us via our Facebook page – simply submit your demo reels and our producers will look through this for casting purposes as the time nears for final candidate selections.

AMP :Aside from being behind ‘The Next Dragon’ , you also seem to be involved in a multitude of areas revolving around screen fighting, can you tell us a little bit about your fighting stunts association ?

Janell : Yes, I have been the Director for Fighting Stunts for a few years. We provide film/tv/web/video games access to martial artists for their projects. I also help manage  the careers of several martial artists from the Fighting Stunts Association.


AMP :Are the judging panel been confirmed for The Next Dragon ? we heard rumours of a few famous names being involved in the project ?

Janell : We have been in contact with many A List directors/Martial Artists and Producers . At the moment we can not confirm the judges for the first season until the final round of negotiations are complete – but so far looking very good !



Trivia : Janell has also studied Taekwondo, IpsunTaichi, TaichiChuan. Competed for several years, almost making the US Olympic taekwondo team but missed by age cut-off. Went on to obtain several state, regional and National titles.


The Next Dragon Update by Belinda Acosta at the Austin Chronicle


Janell Vela Smmith

The indefatigable Janell Vela Smith, of Austin-based Iron Dragon Productions and producer of The Next Dragon, the martial arts reality series she was casting last year (see “Witty, Pretty People, the real deal on Austin as a reality TV casting mecca,” Austin Chronicle, April 2, 2010), touched base with TV Eye recently:



Austin 360 Blogs Out & About with Michael Barnes


Austin360 blogs > Out & About > Archives > 2011 > April > 24 > Entry

Iron Dragon Reception for Cine las Americas at El Sol y La Luna

The surge of spring Austin events sometimes drowns out the socializing around Cine las Americas. The movies are carefully chronicled (start here at the Austin Movie Blog). But unlike some other local cultural fests, Cine pre-parties, after-parties and receptions rarely filter out into the larger consciousness.


Carlos Corral and Lisa Marie Mejia

Late Friday, I took advantage of a personal invitation from Janell Smith to attend an Iron Dragon Productions reception and public interview at El Sol y La Luna. (As if I needed an excuse to drop by this East Sixth Street culinary and social anchor.) Super-fit martial artist Smith, who tends several irons in the film and television fires, introduced me to eight or 10 movie artists while we waited for the interviews to start.


Carmen Marron and Araceli Santana Lancón

I heard from energetic Carmen Marron about her Latino dance film, “Go For It,”, which was picked up by Lionsgate. The studio is spearheading a fundraiser that will drive money back to the educational dance project.

Carlos Corral told me more about Mind Warp Entertainment and his movie, “Hands of God,” featured at the festival.


Alberto Ferreras and Trina Bardusco

I met the three-person creative team behind “Habla Texas,” filmed here and co-produced by HBO Latino, as well as Aracela Santana Lancón, whose documentary “Blattangelus” is making the festival circuit.

Cine las Americas: Yet another force making Austin more interesting, one social or cultural connection at a time.

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2011 SXSW Network Mania in Austin

Many Thanks to all of the Super Talented people who are helping us get some great interviews and footage of 2011 SXSW for National Assoc. of Independent Latino Producers and "Latinos in the Industry"

It is off to a fantastic start!, I am super tired because as usual I triple book myself because I hate saying "NO".  I had a weekend packed with premieres, parties, interviews, parties, teaching Kickboxing, parties!

I have already met so many talented people that I look forward to collaborating with in the future! Cheers to Love, Life and trying to make my small world a fun, Hip, meditative, chic place to dwell.


The Network Austin Mixer

Dear Film, Game, Music and Entertainment People, Friends, Investors, and Fans,

WHAT: The Network Austin Mixer
WHEN: Wednesday December 8, 2010 @ 6 PM
WHERE: ND Venue - 501 Studios - 

WHO: Everyone involved in film, theatre, and entertainment... and YOU!
Janell Smith


JANELL VELA SMITH is an entrepreneur, educator, martial artist, film producer, stunt director, personal trainer and kick box instructor. She is multi-talented and passionate about life and her work as a martial arts and fitness trainer. Janell served as the stunt coordinator for Lucas Arts and software developer Terminal Reality in the highly anticipated Star Wars video game, code name “Natal”, designed for the Xbox 360’s Kinect motion sensor controller.


Janell’s extensive background in both martial arts and stunt work helped to provide a natural foundation for her to become Executive Producer/Creator of THE NEXT DRAGON Reality show. She is also currently developing another show with Patricia Vonne for Univision. So join us on Wed Dec 8 and learn about stunt work in film, get the scoop on Jannell’s productions, and network!










We will not have another Mixer in December due to the holidays. Our next Mixer will be help on Wed Jan 12 November. Keep informed about the Mixers via our website - http://networkaustinmixer.com  



Interview with Popular Hispanics


Music and Entertainment: Popular Hispanics showcases and highlight Hispanic culture through its heavy coverage of the music and entertainment industry.  We bring you the latest news whether it salsa, rock or Hollywood, all music all entertainment, all the

The Fighter Within: Excelling In a Man’s World

by Viridiana Ramirez


Janell filmingWhen you think about action movies, you generally only think about the stars and their cool martial arts moves.  No one really cares to know who trained and directed his or her favorite movie stars.  Then, when you do think about who trained, directed, and produced the movie one assumes it was done by a man; and who’s to blame one from assuming that, after all, action movies are dominated by men, both on and off the screen.


Stepping into an industry dominated by men takes a certain type of woman: A woman who is not intimidated by any labels and who goes above and beyond to accomplish what she wants.  This woman is Janell Vela Smith.  To better understand the kind of woman it takes to be successful in this industry is best to hear it from Janell herself.  “The main component is that I’m a go-getter.  I’m a Type A,” says Janell.  And a Type A she is.  After meeting with her, I knew she was a woman with agallas, as we say in my language, meaning tough and full of valor.


Tell me a little bit about Janell.  How exactly did you get into producing and becoming a martial arts stunt trainer?


Ah, I get that question all the time.  It’s just something that happened, that I fell into.  I never planned it.  I’ve always been active.  When I was little I was a cheerleader and in gymnastics.  From a very young age I was always in some sort of activity.  My parents always had us in activities, so it was perfect because it was prepping me, but I hated it.  I didn’t want to do activities after school, I wanted to go play, but now I’m thankful.  [Then] After my first child I gained weight, so I wanted to loose weight.  I really enjoyed it and I even taught a hip hop class at Gold’s Gym.

Janell Smith - Black Belt

Janell’s credentials and honors are long.  She has about ten gold medals that range from Korean Martial Arts to Taekwondo and holds a First Degree Black Belt World Taekwondo Federation and a Second Degree Black Belt World Tukong Moosul Federation.  Obtaining all these awards was not easy.


Its been 16 years.  A lot of bumps and bruises.  No broken bones, but a lot of bruises (she says with a laugh).


Getting into the film industry and producing films happened the same way as it did in the martial arts industry—she just fell into it.

I wear many hats.  I can tell you one thing honestly, in the stunt world, it is a cutthroat [industry].  I had no idea going in, but you know I said I want to do this.  I want to be able to provide a service and I have some knowledge, I want to organize it and put a big group together.  I knew this was a man’s world.  Like the martial arts world I had to fight my way through that and it was OK.  If you want to be tough you have to be tough, just take it.  I did fall into some pit falls, but I still have faith in people.  Definitely the stunt world, it’s not easy.  I wish I would have picked a different thing, she says with a chuckle.  You know, there were days I’d be on set, and you’re so exhausted and so tired, you know, it takes a lot of physical, mental, and spiritual strength because when your body gets tired and your mind gets tired, then you really have to pull from your heart.  That’s one thing we get blessed in the Latin culture; we have a lot of heart.  I can tell you that that’s where I get my strength from because of my family and if you draw on that strength, then I’m like OK, you can’t stop you have to keep going.


What projects are you currently working on?

Rudy ReyesCurrently my project has been developing for the last few years, from all of this action and martial arts, is The Next Dragon.  It’s a reality show that will encompass action, training, martial arts; all the things it takes to be an action star.  Right now it’s in pitch phase and we are working on getting a big network to pick it up, like Spike, Discovery Channel, ABC, you know, well known networks.  The show has the possibility of being like an American Idol.  Who doesn’t like action films, you know?  So to watch all these guys train on a daily basis to become an action star, to become a Jet Li a Bruce Lee, it’s a lot of work.  We got Rudy Reyes to host the show. 

I have this to say about Rudy: the best thing about Rudy is to highlight his book, Hero Living; it’s his whole philosophy.  He’s just a great guy.  I couldn’t of found a better host for this show.  I mean, being a black belt martial artists and an actor, you know he’s just the whole package, plus he’s easy to look at.  Working on action films, we’ve worked with Robert Rodriguez from Sin City and currently I’m working with his brother Marcel Rodriguez, he’s the director for The Next Dragon.  As for judges, I’m hoping Robert [Rodriguez] and maybe Jet LiChuck Norris will hopefully be pitching in as well. 

The Fighter Within: Excelling In a Man’s World

by Viridiana Ramirez


Janell & RudySpeaking with Janell, I could tell she has never let success get to her head.  She’s such a well-grounded person as well as humble.  She’s not one to forget about the people who have helped her along the way.


To be successful in anything, it takes a lot of people, you know, its not just me.  So whatever success, it’s because I’ve had people push me.  I’ve had really great coaches.  I’ve trained with Olympic coaches, the Olympic Taekwondo The Lopez Family, and my mentor Grandmaster Wonik Yi.  When I started developing the show, I wanted a show that he could be a part of because he, like Bruce Lee, developed his own martial arts style but he wasn’t famous he was just teaching, and I thought, this would be so cool to get him in front of the camera, to have people see what he does.



You are the only female producer/martial arts stunt director in Texas.  How does it feel to have that title?  Does it ever intimidate you?


I don’t think about it.  I actually don’t think about it, she says with a laugh. You know, I just do it.  I think titles are great, you have to have them, but I feel like I can do so many different things.  I think, as long as you are passionate about something, of course people know I am passionate about martial arts and the creative arts, so anything that I can bring to the table to help that grow, then I have to do it.  Even if it means having to do more, I’ll do it. 


Do you see the industry growing with more female stunt directors? 


Oh man, when I first started there was nothing and now I look back and I see all these people like right behind me and asking, “What are you doing now?  What are you working on now?”  I can see that it’s changing.  Maybe when I came in, they could see that a female martial arts producer was getting something started, so all these female martial arts trainers were right behind me. They are very talented, so I see a trend.  Pretty soon there are going to be action films with all females, no males, so that will be great.  Most of what I’ve done, I think I’ve worked with more males than females.  There’s just not a whole lot of females, but I’m going to change that.  I’m going to keep pushing for more female leads.


Although one may imagine that she has a lot on her plate, she keeps on adding more.  Janell has established her own stunt company called FightingActing Stunts.  Every couple of months they hold workshops that are offered to actors in Texas.  These workshops offer weapon training, martial arts training, and wire stunt training to name a few.  As I learned from our interview, she enjoys keeping busy and will continue to go for as many opportunities as she can.


I’m training all the time.  If I’m not on the business side of things I am at the gym.  So, its either martial arts, kickboxing, weight training, all the things that go into becoming an action person, it’s a lot of physical work.


To reinforce how humilde y maravillosa this Latina is, Janell has never forgotten about her community and the city that watched her grow—Austin, TX.  Her company offers free stunts training to up and coming directors of The University of Texas’s RTF program.  She also has special plans to put Austin on the map as one of the go-to-places for action films, which she is doing through her reality show project, The Next Dragon.


This will open up a door for a lot of people.  I just also want to create room for people in Austin; there’s so much talent.  Having a reality show out of Austin will help.  I want to get projects going that shows people that Texas is the place to go.  It has the potential to be the next Hollywood.


Austin has also given back to Janell and has acknowledged all her hard work as a producer.  She has recently been nominated to be in The National Association of Latino Producers.

Janell Smith 

I feel really strongly about helping other people, especially within our Latin community.  I don’t have like a formula, all I can do is tell people what I’ve done and maybe they can do the same thing with whatever they are working on.  Whatever resources I have, I’m happy to share. 


What can the action and martial arts stunts industry as well as her followers expect from Janell?  Well, you never know, there could be a movie up her sleeves soon.  Are you working on other projects besides The Next Dragon?


I’m working on a couple of scripts.  I’ve gotten somewhat into writing, which is good.