Arts & Culture

The Mind Behind “Smile”

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Kelsey Hodge, a senior at SMU, is a BFA Film Major and Arts Entrepreneurship Minor. However, when she first arrived at SMU, she would never have imagined herself in film.

Hodge started as an Engineering Major. She took a film class to complete a UC requirement since she has always loved theatre, choir, and the arts. After realizing that this was something she loved and could see herself doing, she decided to shift paths toward something she was more passionate about.

Hodge decided to jump in headfirst and began working on a few smaller sets to get a better feel for the film industry.

“I definitely had to up my movie-watching game because, believe it or not, I wasn’t watching a whole lot of movies,” Hodge said.

When she first became a film major, she would never have believed that she would be writing and directing her own feature-length film. In fact, she never saw herself as a writer at all.

Hodge came up with the idea of “Smile” in an upper-level film writing course.

“Smile” is a coming of age story about a young woman named Jules who goes through a traumatic experience, returns home and has to work through life. Jules is just off her first year of college and is navigating this web of lies that she builds between her friends and her family.

The film takes place in the summer following Jules’ failed suicide attempt. It explores the mother-daughter relationship and mental health, specifically in the African American Community. Issues like anxiety, depression, therapy, and childhood trauma are also explored in the film.

“I feel like that is something that is not explored or rather discussed a lot in the different types of media we have,” Hodge notes. “I felt like this would be a good opportunity to start that conversation with this film.”

Hodge comments that although “Smile” is not a true story itself, it is inspired by events that she, her family, and her friends have experienced. She believes that it is a story that people can relate to. She says, “being in college, you hear about all the good things in life, but you don’t always hear about all the challenging things that could come about.”

Hodge had a tough moment coping with her grandmother passing away her sophomore year. It really impacted her performance in school and how she was behaving around friends. She saw a shift in herself, and it was the lowest point in her life. Hodge had a support system to get her through, but it made her think of people who don’t have a support system or resources to pull themselves out of dark places. That’s where the idea of Jules’ story came from. It felt like a story that needed to be told.

The film’s title, “Smile,” came to Hodge naturally. The title has led to a couple of cheesy scenes about having a smile on your face and how it can improve your mood. The characters going through denial also use smiles as coping mechanisms. Believe it or not, it is a pretty important moment whenever a character smiles.

“The facade we put on, the face we put on, what we show to other people, it can be a wall between what we want to perceive versus what we’re feeling and the actual reality of situations,” Hodge says. “I enjoy the nuances of expressions of people, of moments, there is a lot of power in silence and a facial expression, and I really explore that a lot in this film.”

“Smile” was originally planned to go into production this summer but has been postponed until the summer of 2021 due to COVID-19. “Smile” was chosen as this year’s SMU Summer Film Production. The Summer Film Production is completely student-run, but it is overseen by SMU’s film faculty. Student film writers can submit scripts to be produced and premiered within two years.

“Not every writer is a director,” says Hodge.

Once her film was chosen, she had to shift from the role of the writer to the role of the director. She knew that she had a vision for her story. All she had to do was find producers that were just as invested in the project as she was. As soon as everything was together, they hit the ground rolling.

However, Hodge’s process has been slowed due to stay at home orders. The production team had begun addressing their options for the summer as soon as questions arose about returning to campus after spring break. They had already assigned crew heads, auditioned the talent, and locked down locations.

Hodge is taking this setback in stride. She realizes that it is not only her production that has been pushed back but also productions within the greater film industry. Knowing this eases some of her anxieties.

She is planning to stay in Dallas and schedule her life around the film for the next few years to make sure she can tell the story the way she sees it.

She knew that even if the film had stayed on schedule, it would have taken up the majority of her time for the next three years through pre-production, post-production, and the premier.

Hodge wants to reach a large audience and impact as many people as possible by sharing her story.

If you would like to volunteer as an extra, crew member, social media team member, or wish to be involved in “Smile” in any other way, reach out to amoviecalledsmile@gmail.com.

For more information and to view the funding goal, click here. The fundraising campaign will open again in the fall.

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