Q&A with Daniel Blake Smith

Daniel’s short film ‘Safe & Happy’ is the February winner of our monthly contest and an official selection for our 2021 festival.

What was the inspiration behind making the film?

‘Safe & Happy’ was inspired by a long-standing interest I have in exploring powerful personal secrets as a storyline for a film. And here, the protagonist, Ray, has a very compelling secret about his past conduct that profoundly shapes everything we see in the film. So I think that secret provides fascinating motivation both for the actor and the audience in watching the story unfold and the character unravel.

What did you learn from the experience making the film?

I learned from making the short that if you prep your actors and crew thoroughly before the shoot--in this case, a one-day shoot!--you can create a sense of immediacy and urgency to get the best work out of everyone. It was an extremely focused cast and crew and I think that helped inspire their very best efforts.

How has the film been received?

I'm pleased to say the film has prompted a LOT of commentary--nearly all of it positive--wondering what went on BEFORE and AFTER the story that's presented in ‘Safe & Happy’. We've been accepted into 26 festivals and been nominated and/or won 9 awards, so it's been extremely gratifying to see how audiences have embraced the film. We had remarkable performances from all three actors--Clayton Bury, Jessica Ambuehl, and Don McClendon--that, I think, imbued the film with a real and vital sort of feel.

What do you love the most about the filmmaking process?

Since I'm first and foremost a screenwriter, I'd have to say I love the original conception of the story and characters--in indie films, story is king and I love to be the creative element in developing a compelling story. But I also love the editing process as well--some say the editor is the 'final author' in making a film. And it's true. I love to have the opportunity to make additional creative (and, yes, strategic, scene-saving) choices in the editing room too.

What is your advice to filmmakers making their debut short film?

For those making their debut short films, I say make films that matter--either in terms of the question posed by a film, the theme explored, the conflict (or humorous situation) that's played out. Nothing wrong with being silly or funny; just do it in a way that's personal--and unique--to you. Audiences will sense that and spark to it.

What are you up to next?

I'm temporarily moving from short films into several feature projects: I have 3 in pre-production: two that I'm writer/producer one: a true crime thriller, PROOF, that Atlas Entertainment (SUICIDE SQUAD; JUSTICE LEAGUE; WONDER WOMAN) is setting up at NBC/UNIVERSAL with producing partner, Blumhouse, as a limited series. Also a thriller, BLOOD BORN, we'll be shooting in October; and a sci-fi thriller, DARK ROOTS, that I'm producing (but did not write) early next spring.