Who: Writer-director of shorts “Katrina’s Son,” “dawn.,” “Hope’s War“ and “One Hitta Quitta,” and 2012 South by Southwest-premiering feature Wolf; had February 23, 2013 proclaimed Ya’Ke Smith Day by the City of Buffalo, New York; professor at University of Texas, Arlington
What would be your advice to aspiring screenwriters?
Writing is a journey that is long and tedious and downright depressing at times. It’s a process that in certain stages makes me want to pull my dreads out. In order to become successful at writing, I had to embrace this journey and understand that before I struck “story gold” I was going to have to do some hard digging in the way of research, character development, rewriting, rewriting more and then rewriting again. Also, I have to set my own bar of success, which can’t be based on anyone else’s, because everyone’s success is different.
What was the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write?
Writing the screenplay for my feature film, Wolf, was very challenging because the characters were dealing with a very complex issue that had the potential to come off as melodrama. One of the main characters was a pedophile pastor and I wanted to equally showcase his duality: a damaged human being who had done terrible things, but at the same time could operate in a genuinely godly, supernatural space. I wanted to paint a portrait of a man who believed all he preached, who genuinely loved the people that he pastored and who was a caring human being with a past that caused him to act out the way that he did. I navigated the challenge by finding the human in the monster. The extensive research that I conducted on the character allowed me to look past what he did and tap into his spirit and soul.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently writing my latest feature screenplay, San Antonio, which I plan to shoot in San Antonio in the near-future. The script centers around a Hurricane Katrina evacuee and a Mexican immigrant who help one another deal with the ghosts that are haunting them. I’m also working on a few other short films that will be released later this year.
Do you have a favorite experience at Austin Film Festival?
I was a participant in the Austin Film Festival’s Writer’s Ranch and this was one of the best experiences of my writing career. The mentors that year were Shane Black, Herschel Weingrod and Daniel Petrie Jr.; to this day I still keep in touch with Herschel, who has generously given me me notes on my screenplays and films.
1. Annie Silverstein 2. Jared Frieder 3. Mike Covino and Sam Kretchmar 4.Troy Anthony Miller 5. Kieran Fitzgerald 6. Ya’ke Smith 7. Brian Klugman 8. Nina Ljeti 9. Kevin Hamedani 10. Eric Haywood 11. Andrew Lanham 12. Julie Howe 13. Tess Morris 14. Matt Cook 15. Monica Zanetti 16. VJ Boyd 17. Edward Ricourt 18. David Broyles 19. Sasha Gordon 20. Eric Hueber 21. Faraday Okoro 22. Arturo Ruiz Serrano 23. Maya Perez 24. Max Taxe 25. Negin Farsad