Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
On March 26, it was the first time I hosted a former Marine turned casting director as our guest speaker for Casting Networks’ Inside the Industry Seminar! He was best known to me for casting the Old Navy commercials. Enthusiastic, smart and passionate casting director David Kang led an interactive, informative and fun seminar!
Here is David’s bio-
David began his business career as an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry in 1997. Combat Casting was his first venture, casting actual military, law enforcement, and firefighting on Hollywood’s production sets. Combat Casting’s success spread rapidly through the film industry and led to another company just one year later, Networks Casting. For the next five years, Networks Casting was one of the premier extras’ companies in Los Angeles. In 2003, David joined one of Hollywood’s elite boutique extras casting companies, Background Players. Under his management, Background Players cast actors for the feature films Mr. Woodcock, Balls of Fury, World Trade Center, Disturbia, and Rent.
Just after 18 months of managing Background Players, David established yet another company, David Kang Casting. The budding company’s first job was booking all the extras and specialty performers on Rush Hour 3. David also became one of the biggest music video casting directors, casting for artists such as Michael Jackson, 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Eminem, Jonas brothers, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Usher.
The videos that David has done casting for have won, MTV Music Awards and MVPA Awards year after year and in 2011, 3 of his videos he cast for were nominated for a Grammy including Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance which won a Grammy in 2011 for best music video of the year.
Producers’ and Directors’ confidence in David’s casting abilities provoked them to hire him to work on various projects all around the world such as: Toronto, New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami, and the Bahamas. Just this year, he has worked with big name Directors such as Francis Lawrence, Joseph Kahn, Hype Williams, Rich Lee, Wayne Isham, Diane Martel, Jean-Baptise Mondino, and David LaChapell. Ultimately, his ability to find fresh new talent is one of the reasons Directors keep coming back to him.
In 2010 David also produced 2 feature films “Detention” starring Dane Cook and Josh Hutcherson which had its world premiere at SXSW film Festival March 2011, and “Fear Not” which is still in post. David also founded a Non-Profit with his 7 year old son called Project LACE (Loving Abandoned Children Everywhere) bringing awareness to help end poverty, loneliness, and neglect of children everywhere.
David began by telling the roomful of attendees that he was a United States Marine from 1993-1997 and while stationed in Okinawa, Japan he was “discovered” as an actor while he was playing basketball by some advertising execs watching him from a restaurant across the street!
Fast forward to his discharge as a Marine and his pursuing acting in Los Angeles, David said, “I took a class and someone asked me if I was SAG. [Screen Actors Guild] He said, ‘What’s SAG?’ Let me get a raise of hands…does everybody know what SAG is? Who here doesn’t know what SAG is? Okay great! I had no clue what SAG was back then and they said that the only way people to take you seriously is you’ve got to be SAG. So I said, ‘How do you get into SAG?’ There’s two ways to get SAG- 1) Get a part in a movie or 2) you can start out doing some extra [background] work and hopefully you can get SAG that way. It took two days and I pretty much signed up with every single extras casting company there was. I signed up with a company called Central Casting and my first job was LETHAL WEAPON 4. I don’t know how it is now but you had to call the lines and see if there’s work and stuff…[laughter]…so it’s the same thing! If you fit the description, you call in. It was my first time calling and I was all nervous.” He said that when he called into Central, he gave the first five numbers of his Social Security number and was very quickly told he was booked on the job!
David went on to say, “My first job was LETHAL WEAPON 4 and I worked as a non-union extra and before we even shot, they paid us for four days to train on how to march and stuff. There were about 85 Asian guys learning how to march and to hold rifles. They hired this US Navy Seal, I mean who could kill you in a 100 different ways in two seconds [laughter] who had no clue how to teach people how to march, drill and hold rifles. That’s what I did in the Marine Corp. I was part of the Silent Drill Team, Color Guard and Burial/Ceremony Detail…so one thing I knew was about uniform and how to drill people. Towards the end of the first day, I saw somebody important. I didn’t know back then, what the 1st AD, (assistant director) 2nd ADs or any of the terms were but I knew that this guy was important because people were going up and talking with him. So I just tactfully was trying to figure out a way to tell him that ‘I need to be that guy teaching these people how to march and teaching these people how to drill’ not this guy who can kill you in two seconds because he has no clue what he is doing. The day went by and I had the opportunity when the AD was kind of next to me and I kind of said out loud, ‘This guy has no freaking clue of what the hell he’s doing.’ [laughter] I didn’t say it to him. I kind of just said it out loud. The AD’s like, ‘Excuse me?’ I said that this guy has no freaking clue what he is doing. The AD said, ‘You think that you can do better?’ I said, ‘I’m not trying to be cocky but I know that I can do better.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah? Get the hell off my set right now.’ I said, ‘Whoa…hold on one second. I’m just letting you know that his is what I did in the Marine Corp. I trained people for three years to do exactly what we do. This guy can kill you in two seconds 100 different ways but he has no clue how to train people how to march and stuff.’ The AD said, ‘Really?’ and I said, ‘Yeah and that’s the God’s honest truth.’ He said, ‘Okay…go take half of these people and let me see what you’ve got.’ I was the happiest person from there on! Now remember Warner Bros paid us four days to train, okay? After lunch, I got about half the people, so I got about forty people that I had to train to march while this other Navy Seal was training the other forty. Within like two hours, my guys were all marching perfectly with rifles and stuff. [laughter] To make a long story short, the guy took me back and told me that he was the 1st AD and he couldn’t give me a SAG voucher that day but he was going to give me one for the next three days. I said, ‘Great!’ That’s how I got into SAG. The whole point of the story is that they paid us four days to train. After the second day, every single one of these soldiers knew how to do everything, so we actually lost two days of work. I basically saved Warner Bros two days of pay, so I had all these extras mad at me saying, ‘Like why did you train us?’ I said, ‘Why’d you learn so quick???’ So we only ended up doing two days but they brought me back in and from that day on, I became like the ‘technical military advisor.’
What Warner Bros would do is every single time they had a scene with these military people, they’d call me up and say, ‘Hey Kang, can you come down right now? We have a scene…’ They would send me a limo or town car and pick me up and I would go down there and train these people how to hold a rifle right. It was a joke but these people are like “Dave, is he holding his rifle right?’ and I’d say, ‘He needs to move it up one inch. Perfect!’ That’s how I got started in the business. From there, being a military personnel, especially being a Marine, I am very attentioned to detail, so when I would watch movies or TV shows and you’d see something that was not done right, I would get upset…’Oh my gosh. I’m a Marine. You don’t put your hands in your pocket or wear your hat indoors!’ Someone should do something about this and then the light clicked in me! ‘That someone should be me!’
My very first company was back in 1999. I was still doing extra work. I started a company called Combat Casting. Combat Casting consisted of real military, real firemen and real law enforcement. We called ourselves, ‘The Reel Deal’ and we spelled it with two ‘e’s. Three things: 1) You knew that we would always be on time. 2) You knew that we would have the right uniform. 3) If something was not done right on-set, we could be a technical advisor and say, ’Hey listen, I’m a SWAT and that’s not how you hold a pistol’ or ‘I’m a fireman and that’s not how you hold the hose when you’re carrying it.’ That was the way that I broke into the business. My first year I broke into the business, every single production company was hiring me and I wasn’t doing it for the money. I wasn’t getting paid. Everyone’s like, ‘How much are you getting paid for this?’ I said, ‘Nothing. They’re just using me. I’m working on every single set now and I have this network of people that I can get work for…all my firemen and I can get work for my police officers. These guys are all union as well. After about a year and a half of doing that, the very next year, all the military, police and fire movies all kind of went dead. I had to start thinking of what could I do to go bigger?”
David said, “I believe in timing. I believe that if you are the right place at the right time…there are so many times that people are at the right place at the right time but they don’t utilize that. It’s not just timing but executing. You know in 2005 when I started this David Kang Casting, I was just nervous. You are starting a business and you don’t know what to expect. You have people who say they will support you but you don’t know if they are going to or not. So I started David Kang Casting and I’m networking. I’m always about networking. I’m always trying to get more business, even now. One thing for me is that my phone never turns off. I sleep with my phone. If that phone rings, I’m picking it up. I have a couple of funny stories. When I was in Beijing, I was at the Olympics and my phone was working there. A producer called me at 4 o’clock in the morning her time. I’m in Beijing, China and I’m helping her…’’Yeah, let me get online and let me get this stuff done for you.’ That’s they can expect from me. My phone is always on and I’ve kind of got that where people know if they need to get hold of David, then he’s always going to be available. If I don’t pick up, I’ll get back to you in like an hour. So on Christmas Day, I had a great opportunity where Justin Timberlake was shooting his music video WHAT GOES AROUND with Scarlett Johansson. There were two casting directors that they used but it was Christmas, so they are not answering the phone. The producer called me up and said, ‘David, I am in a jam here. The director has both his casting directors and they are out of town. Do you think you can handle this?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah! I can handle this!’ [laughter] I said, ‘I promise you that I will not let you down.’ He said, ‘David, I know you won’t. You were the first person that I thought of as soon as the first two casting directors the director wanted were not available.’ That is what sort of broke me into the business because I was still doing extras casting at that point and that was my very first video Justin Timberlake’s WHAT GOES AROUND. I knew that there was a lot of pressure on me but I also knew that it was Christmas Day, so I could kind of fall back and say, ‘Well… it’s Christmas you know and there was not that much talent available.’ I did the job and got all the talent and the director was really happy. Then I just used that to kind of get myself into the door. For the next three, four or five months, I’d be like…’Yeah…I’m a principal casting director. I just did Justin Timberlake’s last video…’ [laughter] You should definitely hire me.’
David spoke of his professional goal setting to become a principal casting director. After he achieved his goal of becoming a principal casting director, the amount of jobs he cast grew every year and he shared his statistics-
- In 2005- 9 jobs
- In 2006- 24 jobs
- In 2007- 42 jobs
- In 2008- 56 jobs
- In 2009- 65 jobs & produced 2 music videos
- In 2010- He produced two films including his film DETENTION starring Dane Cook & Josh Hutcherson and in addition to the two films, he produced 4 music videos
David added, “The reason that I am telling you all this is that I am always moving ahead. Yes, I love casting but what I really want to do is produce. Casting is what pays my bills and I’ll probably be doing casting another three, four or five years before I start jumping into the producing realm.” (fulltime)
David advised actors to set professional goals with timelines and to take our professional acting careers seriously and to treat it as a business. He also shared that he thought the easiest way for an actor to get into an agency or a casting directors’ office is to intern for them for two weeks.
David’s “Five Year Plan” was to build his own studio and have 20 directors that he worked with. Now, he is currently building a 4600 square foot studio in Culver City opening soon that will accommodate five casting directors…and David now works with 56 directors!