The Project

SMU's Film & Media Arts Summer Film Production

The SMU SFP is an entirely student-run production of a feature film. The project originated off of a production shot in 2010 and has become a tradition of the SMU Film & Media Arts Department. It occurs on a biannual cycle, meaning a new project starts every two years. Smile is the 2019-2022 SMU SFP.


Roughly 6 scripts were submitted for consideration for this cycle. All applicants were read by the selection committee of SMU Film professors and local film experts, and then given notes for revision. The writers were given about a month to revise their scripts and resubmit. Of the revised scripts, three were selected as finalists. Finally, the selection committee selected Smile as the winning script.


From there, Directing/Producing teams were assembled. They pitched to the selection committee in hopes of being chosen to lead the Smile team. Kelsey Hodge, Brittney Hutchison, and Alexa May were selected and immediately began pre-production under the advising of SMU Film Professor Mark Kerins. Darnell Robinson was added to the team as a Producer roughly a year later.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this cycle has been prolonged by a year. The original production dates for the summer of 2020 were pushed back to the summer of 2021 to ensure the safety and health of all cast and crew. However, Smile is once again moving forward with full force.


"On October 15, 2017, in my second year of college, I turned 20 years old. On October 16, 2017, my grandmother passed away. This was my first experience with the death of a person so close to me in life. Something told me that things would never be the same. By the end of her life, she had become the glue holding my dysfunctional family together. And it was suddenly all over. But I didn't really do anything. I went to the funeral, cried a little, and I moved on. After all, I was still in school and had things to do and other responsibilities.


Fast forward to a year later. October 15, 2018. I was excited to be turning 21, but I knew that the next day would be the first anniversary of my grandmother's death, something that I hadn't talked about with anymore. October 16, 2018. It'd been a year and suddenly I just felt... off. I didn't talk about how I was feeling with my mom or any friends because I couldn't put a finger on what was making me feel this way. And everyone has to deal with death at some point in their life. What makes me special? I made a lot of mistakes that semester that I still feel the consequences of today. When my mom realized how bad everything was, she was upset, terrified, but also confused as to why I didn't reach out for help. Why did I try to handle everything by myself?


I had gotten into such a dark place during that time in my life that sometimes I wondered... how different would things have been if I was just a bit more broken? What if I was damaged enough that I tried to end my own life? This is when Jules' story, a story like so many other women out there, began to show itself to me. I wanted to make a story centered around a young woman that did not include a question of whether she would end up with a boy as the central question. It was the question of is she going to be able to survive, despite everything in her life being so dark. It's the journey of going through something traumatic but trying to figure out a way to come out on the other side stronger. I saw that as something that, for black women in particular, we often have to overcome in our lives, but is never talked about.


I feel that Smile is the opportunity to explore this more through Jules and the many relationships in her life, particularly the mother-daughter relationship which can be so rich, complicated, and full of generational trauma. I hope that Smile can be a way to discuss the answers to these questions and explore stories like Jules', like mine, and so many more."

- Writer & Director Kelsey Hodge


At its core, this film is an exploration of how we handle trauma and recovery through the various relationships in our lives. While not every person has attempted suicide like Jules, we've all been in our own dark place at some point and have had to deal with it with the people around us. The audience will be able to place themselves in Jules' shoes in every scene, during every argument, every laugh, every cry, from the beginning to the end of the film.


While this film deals with heavy topics like abuse and suicide, there are lighter and more comedic moments. Films that have found this balance that serve as inspiration are Lady Bird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. An important relationship that is explored in Smile is the mother-daughter relationship. This is a complicated relationship that is so authentically represented in Lady Bird that we hope to convey between Jules and Carolyn. Additionally there is a lot of weight in the relationship amongst Jules and her two best friends, Ferris and Cole. Their connection and loyalty to Jules is strong and the vibe of their friendship is very similar to Charlie, Sam, and Patrick from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Molly and Amy from Booksmart.