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How Veteran David Kang Found Success in Movies & TV

Marine veteran David Kang is the producer and judge on a new competition reality show called Cast Me!, which airs on cable network Myx TV on Tuesday at 8pm ET.

Cast Me! describes itself as "American Idol for actors" and puts contestants through unusual and eccentric auditions with casting directors as they try out for roles in upcoming television commercials, movies or music videos.

Myx TV is a network aimed at Asian-American viewers and can be found everywhere on DIRECTV channel 2067 and on cable systems in select cities around the country. You can check availability for your location here. Episodes are also streaming on the Cast Me! website.

David Kang tells us the story of how he made the transition from the Marine Corps to show business and offers some solid advice for anyone looking to make the same move.

Describe “Cast Me!” for our readers.

I'd have to say it's probably the first show of its kind, the first show where we actually put contestants through this whole audition process. It's a competition show where we actually choose an actor for the part.

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Tell us about your military service and how you got into the business.

I served in the Marine Corps. During my last year, I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan and I was contemplating whether to reenlist or not. In Okinawa, I was recruited to do a television commercial, playing basketball outside. I guess a Japanese advertising agency saw me and wanted me to play defense against a famous basketball player in a sports drink commercial.

It was all new to me. I'm like, cool, I'm down for it. I'm not even that great at basketball, but I'm a tall Asian. So they flew me to Tokyo and I got this whole star treatment, hair and makeup. As soon as that happened, I was hooked. I decided I was getting out of the Marine Corps and getting into acting.

It was 1997. I immediately started trying to get into the acting business and I failed miserably. I just realized that I wasn’t an actor. I started taking some acting classes and one of the guys said, “ey, if you really want to get serious, you have to become a SAG member.” SAG is the Screen Actors Guild. How do you become SAG? “You can either have a speaking part or you start doing some extra work. You have to get three SAG vouchers.”

I registered with every single extra casting company. A company called Central Casting booked me on Lethal Weapon 4. For the scene, they had to hire between 70-100 Asian guys. They had to all look like they were Chinese soldiers. On the set, the extras had to learn how to march, hold rifles and all that.

When I was in the Marine Corps I was part of the color guard, so all I did was march people and drill people all day long. The movie had hired a Navy SEAL guy who could kill you in three seconds in three hundred different ways, but he had no clue how to march these guys.

The situation went on for three days. One day at lunch, I strategically sat myself next to the person that I thought was in charge and said to another extra, “This SEAL guy is a joke. He has no clue what he's doing.” And the guy in charge immediately stood up and he says, “Get the F out of here, you're fired from my set.”

I said, “Whoa, whoa, hold on a second. I'm just saying this because this is what I did in the Marine Corps. I taught people how to march, to drill. This guy is a Navy SEAL, he might know how to kill you in a hundred different ways in a few seconds, but he has no clue how to march people from point A to point B.”

And the guy says, “Do you think you could do better?” I said, “Well, I know I can do better.” He said, “Okay, well, after lunch take half the people and let me see what you can do.”

Within one hour, all my 40, 50 Asian soldiers were marching in sync. That began my whole career. And he apologized to me, I apologized to him, and he basically told me that I can't hire you today, but for the rest of this movie I’m going to hire you as a SAG extra and also want you to be an advisor for this movie.

That was my first job and it was one of the coolest jobs. We shot for probably three months and I was one of the advisors for Lethal Weapon 4 for any take in a military scene.

I probably did a year more of extra work. Because I served in the Marines, I paid attention to detail. It would upset me when things were not done right. Take, for example the movie The Rock with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. It was an amazing movie, but I actually walked out of the theater because, in that opening scene, they had a four man gun salute instead of a twenty-one man gun salute.

I thought, “I cannot believe this.” This is a 100 million dollar movie, how could someone not know about this? It seemed disrespectful to me, because I'm a Marine and that’s what I did in the Marine Corps. I decided that someone should do something about this. I met policemen and firemen and SWAT people on sets and the were also seeing movies get their jobs wrong.

With all of my knowledge and all the people I knew, I started a company called Combat Casting, which featured real military, real law enforcement, and real firemen. Our slogan was "We Are the Reel Deal.” Movie producers knew we're gonna be on time, because the military is always on time, and secondly, we're gonna have the right uniform. And most importantly, if something is not done right on set, we can also be a technical advisor.

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How did the "Cast Me!" show come about?

One thing about me: I have ADD. And I'm from New York, so I kind of have that street smart hustle. After doing Combat Casting, I opened it up to all extras casting. I 2005 I started doing principal casting. So from 2005 all the way until 2010, I was doing extras and principal casting.

A lot of people I was working with said, “Hey, you're not a casting director, you're a producer. You might be good at casting, but you'd be doing a lot better job as a producer.” I decided to give it a shot.

In 2010, I started getting into some commercials and music videos. I did a music video for the Rascal Flatts, I did a music video for Katy Perry, and then I started a movie. I made my first low budget feature film, which was a nightmare, but I learned so much from that. With all the mistakes you make, you learn from those mistakes and you just become better. So in 2010 I did one movie, 2011 I did a second movie. In 2012, I wanted to get into TV, but nobody would hire me as a reality producer, except for a reality hunting show.

I took the challenge and started producing a reality hunting show called the Hollywood Hunter. When I took over, it was on its second season and was in the bottom 5 percent of our network. I went in not knowing anything about TV producing, but this one show gave me a chance, and now we are on our seventh season of the Hollywood Hunter. We are the top 5 percent of our network, and we're syndicated in two different countries and on three different networks now.

I learned a lot from that show. Any kind of reality show is going to be hard, but reality hunting shows are incredibly difficult, because you can't tell these animals, “Cut, let's do it again, you know.” If you missed the shot, you missed the shot.

I learned a lot from the Hollywood Hunter but I wanted to start producing other content. One day my mentor and business parter came to visit me in my office and started watching all these audition tapes. He said, “Wow, you have the coolest job in the world.”

After talking for a few weeks, we decided to do a reality show about the casting company. We shot the pilot, we pitched it to two dozen networks, and there were two networks that were interested in it. We decided to go with Myx TV for it just because we not only own the content, we can also produce the show as well. That was very important. we can produce it the way that we want to do it and not the way that a network would want us to do it.

Photo Credit Sophia Koivisto

Photo Credit Sophia Koivisto

What's some general advice for people who are separating from the military who think they want to be in the movie business? What should they do?

There are two things they should definitely do . They should sign up to do extra work and they should also sign up to do PA work. Both of those jobs definitely get you in the door. When you’re being an extra or a PA, you're allowed to make mistakes. They don’t expect you to know anything going in.

As you start doing that, you can figure out what you might like to do. I didn’t know I wanted to be a casting director or producer. I really thought that I wanted to just be an actor. After I realized that I wasn’t an actor, I would show up to the set on time or early and I would help with production.

I discovered that I could do the casting thing. There are other people that I met when I first started that loved doing extra work, but now they're makeup artists or they're working in the prop department or the art department.

When you become an extra on a movie or TV, you can definitely tell the production, the second AD or the first AD or one of the producers that you also want to be a Production Assistant. Ask if you can give them your number.

I always advise people to do a job for free because it just tells people how much you want it. There's so many people that want to get paid for everything, but I've learned that doing a lot of free work goes a long way. I still do a lot of free work, because I try to help people who are just coming up.

The PA's of today, two years from now they're going to be the producers and they’ll remember that, “Hey, that guy gave me my first start. He helped me with this, helped me with that. He did a free job for me. Now I’m a producer, let me hook him up.”

It goes a long way when you do a free job. Doing one or two days of free work is not going to hurt you. Hell, it's not gonna kill you. You'll learn and they’ll respect you more and then they’ll hire you.

Once you become a PA or extra, you're in that world and you can start asking questions to different departments. “You know I want to be a grip or I want to be electric.” Or ”'m really interested in makeup. How do I get to have your job?” And you'll learn so quickly.

The entertainment world is so similar to the military world. We have a chain of command that we follow. Any person who’s served in the military can come out and go into the entertainment world and fit in perfectly because it's such a smooth transition.

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