For this weeks On The Rise with… Michael is talking with Chase Kuker. Now, Chase is a producer, singer, actor… He’s pretty much done it all! It’s a great lesson about how you never know where you’re going to end up in the industry.
Michael did a great job with the interview!
Check it out below!
On The Rise with…
Meet Chase Kuker, a multi-hypenate who hails from Lampasas, Texas. Chase has led quite the interesting life as he’s climbed the industry ladder: he started out as a member of the popular band ChaseJordan while simultaneously working heavily in the humanitarian sector…then moved on to producing films…and has just recently started his own production company involving film and music production, called Kopis Key Productions. Oh, and he’s not even 30 yet. Read on to see how this real life inspiration story began…
Michael Marcelin: Let’s talk about how you first got involved with the industry. You and your twin brother, Jordan, started out as actors when you were younger. Did you have any success there, and if so, what kind of roles and productions were you involved in?
Chase Kuker: Jordan and I found an agency in Texas that was started by a former L.A. model who liked the idea of us as twins. So we were brought in, and ultimately got signed. They taught us how to model and act, how to do monologues and to enunciate…they even showed us how to lose a little of our Texas accents. So at 16-years-old, we went to this expo in Dallas, Texas that they host. It’s about 3,000 people who come and compete and agents all over the nation show up to look for the “next big thing”. Unfortunately, I did a monologue that went horribly! It was the worst monologue ever. Anyway, out of 3,000 people, one manager, Dino May, saw us and ended up liking us, despite how bad we were. He thought he could help us, so, out of 3,000 people that year, we were the only two who got picked up.
MM: Is he the reason why you finally packed up and moved to Los Angeles?
CK: Yeah. We’d never left Texas before, so coming out to L.A. was a huge shock… and he put us right into everything. We just hit the ground running. We didn’t even know what was going on. All of a sudden we were in audition after audition… started doing some Abercrombie-type modeling gigs and commercials. We auditioned against a lot of Disney and Nickelodeon kids who you see everywhere now. But we were only out here for a year when we decided to go to college. We had scholarships, so we attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma for four years and travelled the world thanks to humanities classes they offered, gaining some experience. Then we moved back to L.A. after that, and we felt better prepared…having the knowledge and understanding of how the industry really works. We’ve been back for 7 ½ years now.
MM: So when you came back, did you find it easy getting back into the groove of things, or did you have to rebuild the network you had in place before you left?
CK: Well, Jordan moved back to L.A. six months before I did. After I graduated, I got hired to do graphic design for a deck building company. I was going to take that job, but at the last second I changed my mind and said “Nope, I gotta go back to L.A. and follow my passion. This is what I want to do.” So while I was in Austin, Jordan was here with our friend Justin Mayo, who went to school with us. They started Red Eye, Inc., a charity organization that plugs entertainment people into humanitarian causes and different local charity events. Outside of that, we came back cold. One day, Jordan was at a basketball game at the Los Angeles Dream Center, where a celebrity basketball game was happening, and he ended up meeting and becoming friends with Joy Enriquez and her sister Tiffany. Joy is married to Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, the music producer. So those were the first people in the industry he met coming back here, and they were the first people I was introduced to when I came back.
MM: So did you pick up your acting career immediately when you got back out here?
CK: It took us awhile to get back in the groove of finding an agent again and going on auditions, but nothing was really happening with it. So we focused on Red Eye in the meantime, and in the midst of that, Rodney asked if I wouldn’t mind stepping in and helping out around the studio while his assistant was on leave. I had never been in a recording studio before in my life, and knew nothing about that industry. The closest I got to that point was me piddling with a guitar throughout college, and I wasn’t even great at that. Jordan grew up singing, so he knew more than I did. So I got to learn the music industry from the inside out from the top producer at the time. He was a producer at Interscope under Jimmy Iovine then, and was working on every big artist that’s out now. A lot of them were writers. I saw them come in, writing for other artists like Whitney Houston, and Beyonce…Britney Spears. And now those writers are Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Nee-yo. Through this, I got to learn about music and grew a passion for it.
MM: How did ChaseJordan come about?
CK: I started bringing in poetry books and would sit there and read poetry and try writing my own songs while I was in the studio. I started hanging out with Jon Asher, who had just moved out here. He had a little studio set up in his guest house, so I picked up a guitar and he was like “Ah, I like that” and he started recording it. He threw some Auto Tune on and I sang into it and made a melody. Then we brought Jordan in and we recorded our first ever song. One day we were playing it for Tiffany and Joy when Rodney walks in. We told him it was us, and he liked it…he wanted to develop us and see what we could do. So Tiffany and Joy started managing us. We took vocal lessons from Seth Riggs, who worked with Michael Jackson; we learned choreography from several choreographers. Throughout all of this, we started paying more attention to production and musicianship. We got put with mentor Stephen Petree, who helped create the band Shiny Toy Guns, and we really found the appreciation and the seriousness of what it takes to be an artist. We ended up signing with Darkchild Records and were one of their first artists. I even started a YouTube channel of Jordan and I doing a bunch of songs and we got a pretty decent following off what I think of now as pretty terrible videos. But you learn.
So one day, Rodney started auditions for a girl group, and one of the girls brought her boyfriend along. His name happened to be Chase (Stockman), and I thought it was cool to meet another Chase! We saw his photography and saw he had great video skills, and was into music as well, so he and I wrote a song together. It was an instant match, so he started doing some video for Jordan and I. At the time, my brother and I were trying out the idea of a trio, so we asked Stockman to join us. He then introduced us to his buddy, a DJ named John Lock, and the four of us wrote our first song together called “Ting Tang”. It was this fun, hip-hop song, and we realized “This works.” A couple days later, we wrote this other song called “Tightrope” and showed Rodney. He loved it, and we recorded a couple of other songs with him…and that’s kind of how we formed together as ChaseJordan, with the three of us. Rodney was the one who came up with the name when it was just Jordan and myself as a joke and said “Oh, you should just call yourselves ChaseJordan”. At first I thought it was a joke, but it stuck with us, and now it’s 7 ½ years later.
MM: Are you still creating as ChaseJordan, or have you moved strictly behind the scenes as a music producer?
CK: Rodney wanted us to be more of a boy band, and we wanted to be more of a band playing instruments. He kindly let us out of our contract and we entered the Wango Tango Breakout Star contest for KIIS FM in 2011. We ended up winning out of 300 bands! We had this song called “Lose Control” that we did with John Lock and it ended up being a hit. We won $10,000, bought new instruments, and were able to play Wango Tango in front of 5,000 people along with Katy Perry and Justin Beiber. From there, we got a manager in Ken Komisar, who really took us under his wing. We did 30 songs, most of those with producer FrankMusik. We worked for three months with him in the studio and had two labels ready to sign us…ready to go…and I just had to really step back and think about it all. I love doing music, but I’m not a huge fan of performing it. And personally, I felt we were a good trio as far as writing and making cool songs goes, but I thought other artists could perform our songs better. So we decided to cut what we were doing and turn Stockman loose so he could pursue performance. That’s when we stopped being ChaseJordan as a band, but ChaseJordan is still a brand name for what Jordan and I do. He does PR for several different companies and does a lot of night life events. And I mainly produce music and score and do my own projects. So we’re still involved in music, but it’s all under the company I started, Kopis Key Productions.
MM: So you’re already a multi-hyphenate: actor-musician-music producer…what made you decide to go a step further and move into movie producing?
CK: During the time we were ChaseJordan, we started a production company called Fleet Automatic Entertainment. We did all of our own music videos, had all of our actor friends star in them; and we had a comedy website on YouTube called Sniksme, where we did some quality videos. That’s how we kind of pushed ourselves out there and learned production and started working with crews and different DPs and directors and found a love for the production side of things. During this time, I found a book called “Day of War” on that had just come out, and I fell in love with it. I’m a big historical epic and mythology fan, so this book was right up my alley. I emailed the author, and said “Look, I’m in a band and I love this book. If you need any help promoting it, let me know how I can help”. It was brand new, and from a smaller publishing company, and I saw that it was optioned for film by a company called Giant Killer Pictures, which I had never heard of. I got an email back from Cliff Graham, the author, and we started to use our band platform to promote his book series. It turned out the director involved was David Cunningham, who did “To End All Wars” and Grant Curtis was the producer, who did the original Spider Man trilogy and “Oz, the Great and Powerful”, and they were Giant Killer Pictures!
Sadly, when I stopped ChaseJordan, I had to stop working with “Day of War”…I didn’t know what to do. But I’m a big believer in faith and I believe if you’re doing something right and you’re passionate about it, that you can keep pushing through and something will open up. And something did. I got a call from the producers, and they asked me to fly out to Hawaii to come do a tour of where they were going to be shooting “Day of War”. Some investors were going to be out there and they asked if I could come talk to them about it, because they liked my passion for the book. So I got flown out there, threw some ideas out…but I didn’t know anything about film, so I could only do that. After that, I came back to L.A., trying to think of who else I knew who could help, and I remembered a couple buddies of mine had produced a few films, and I pitched the book to them. They ended up really liking it and asked if Jordan and I wanted to work with them, because they were starting a production company. Even though they knew I had no experience, they liked how I could talk to people and get them excited about a project…so we formed American Film Productions together under an investor, George Voskericyan.
Almost immediately, we entered pre-production on four films within five months. I read something like 150 scripts in two months, all while getting projects on the docket. It was probably the most stressful time of my life. I was thrown head first into the deep end, and was having to learn as I was went. So under American Film Productions, we ended up doing a film called “Grass Stains” with Tye Sheridan (we didn’t have a lot to do with this one, just investment mainly); “Helicopter Mom” with Nia Vardalos and Jason Dolley; the third film was “A Relative Stranger” with James Badge Dale, Ethan Embry, and William Forsythe; and the last film was “Tell” with Milo Ventimiglia, Robert Patrick, and Alan Tudyk. We were very fortunate…we had some great casting directors in Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee for “Tell”. They were Academy Award winners and worked on “The Help”, “Good Will Hunting”, and “Seven”.
MM: What’s “Helicopter Mom” about?
CK: Helicopter Mom is a term for an overbearing mother who constantly hovers over you and winds up adding more stress to your life than you need. So when she finds out her son might be gay, she just goes with it, and gets really excited, trying to force her kid into that role, even though he’s really just curious and trying to figure out who he is. For instance, he meets a girl in school he might like, but his mom keeps trying to set him up with guys, and there’s some funny things with that. Nia Vardalos was awesome in the role. And the movie deals with issues people deal with every day, about putting labels on people and allowing people to figure out who they want to be. There’s a lot of gray area in life; not everything is black and white. And every issue has a lot of gray areas. So it’s got a good message. This was the first film where I got to be on set behind the camera, and it was really cool to wear the producer hat. And it was great to be able to shoot that locally, because we were in pre-production on our next film, “A Relative Stranger”.
MM: What’s that one about?
It’s a post-Civil War film about a guy returning from the war with a dark passenger inside of him. He’s haunted…he’s not the same guy he was when he left. It’s also very Hatfields and McCoys…about two warring families. He comes back, defending one against this other family who’s wealthier and trying to hold one over on the less fortunate family. There’s even a Romeo and Juliet love story in there, for good measure. I’d compare it to “High Plains Drifter”…kind of dark. James Badge Dale is our lead, which we have the honor of having him in his first starring role, and he plays a darker version of who Clint Eastwood was in “High Plains Drifter”. I was able to go out to Texas for five weeks with my buddy whom I do scores with, Carson Aune. We shot it on film, and it’s going to be a cool movie. It was awesome to be able to do a movie in my hometown.
MM: And your next movie was “Tell”…
CK: Yes, “Tell” was the one we ended up doing the most pre-production on because one of our producing partners, Juan MR Luna, was also the director, so it was kind of his baby. My producing partners had gotten that script right before Jordan and were hired, so this was something that had been worked on and worked on for a while, and we were able to get Barden and Schnee to come aboard and help cast it. We saw every actor you could think of, and we had a great agreement with the screenwriter: he got full credit, but we could change some things in his script, which is rare, and we ended up updating it from a 1950s set story to present day L.A. So I clocked a lot of hours working this script for a couple of weeks with Juan, making the script what it now is. We hired Haven Entertainment, with Kevin Mann, and made the film happen. Unfortunately with this film, there were some political things that went on behind the scenes, because all of our production credit was taken away. So I now have a “special thanks” on the film. Sadly, it happens. That’s the movie industry. But you learn from mistakes, and now I know the ups and downs of smaller independent movie making, which will help me as I keep moving on.
MM: Onward and upward to bigger and better things.
CK: Exactly. I did an interview and photo shoot for another friend of mine, and the guys on “Day of War” saw the interview and thought, “Oh, well, he’s done films now! Maybe he has something to offer. Let’s check in on him!” The development for the film was done, and now it’s ready for private equity to finish it off. I can’t name any right now, but they have three big studios circling it, and another smaller studio wanting to put up private equity, so I got called in and was able to use a lot of the contacts I had to help bring investment to it. So we’re currently in meetings for that, raising the funds to see if we can make this movie happen. It’s going to be a big movie. At the moment, I have a contract that says I become co-executive producer for anything I bring to it. And since I’m good at making “A” get along with “B”, that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s one of my passion projects. It’s been four years now, dealing with these really great people.
MM: Do any of your previous projects have distribution that we can look forward to?
CK: MGM bought “Tell”, but I don’t have a release date for it yet. “A Relative Stranger” is still in editing. “Helicopter Mom” is doing the festival route, looking for distribution. And “Grass Stains” is currently available on DVD. We also just produced a short film, called “Domino Falling”, which premiered at the Hollyshorts Festival last month. I have to say, it’s one of my favorite scripts I’ve read. It’s “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” meets “Once Upon A Time In Mexico”. And it just got entered in Rainfest in London.
MM: Doubling back, after your film production, you decided to start your music company…
CK: Right, so after we did those films, I wanted to branch off and do more music stuff. American Film Productions got me started in this portion of the industry, so I still work with them loosely, but I wanted my own production entity that wasn’t owned under an investor, because I do work with other investors. So I started Kopis Key Productions, which covers everything: we do music videos for artists, song production and writing, PR, branding, and night life events. We edit reels and music. We’re kind of like a one stop shop for everything. Chase Stockman works alongside us too…he shoots and edits a lot of the projects we do. We back his career as well, while he’s doing his EP as an artist, which I’m excited for, because it’s one of the coolest EPs coming out. And our other friend Chase McKendry…three Chases and one Jordan (laughs)….has an app called Divvie for social media that’s really great, so we work with him and use all of the stuff at our fingertips to integrate into social media. He also acts in a lot of stuff we do, and he’s very creative with us. I just got the website up, http://www.kopiskeyproductions.com/, where people will be able to see all of the projects we’ve done and are currently involved in.
MM: Are you interested in helping musical talent who are trying to find their way into this industry, or are you only working with established artists?
CK: I’d love to say I work with established artists, but we’re still finding our own way at this point. I love to challenge myself, and hell, would love to work with people who’d be willing to work with me. If there are people willing to work with me, and they have to have a passion for it, all the better. But they have to be good…I won’t work with just anybody, because I believe if you do something well, you need to respect yourself enough and work with quality and don’t go beneath that. I need to be doing quality things right now because I’ve put the time and work into it. So I like working with artists who are great and do their craft well. And it’s cool to have them want to work with me.
MM: Do you have any film or music projects in the works that you’re able to talk about currently in the pipeline, besides Day of War?
CK: I have a few film projects up in the air that I’m considering, as far as producing goes, but they’re early in the planning stages. I also have a short film that I’ll be doing my first solo scoring for in the near future, which is cool.
MM: What’s a movie you’ve seen that you really enjoyed and you sit there and say “I wish I had produced that!”
CK: Honestly, I love Christopher Nolan films. I wish I had done “Inception” or “Memento”. But if you want a recent one, I wish “Edge of Tomorrow” had come across my desk. I love that movie. It’s a good movie and it’s as original as it can be with its take on themes that have been done a lot, like aliens and time travel . I just think it’s a great movie. If you were to ask me what movie I’d want to be in as an actor, it would be this one. I would love to play the role Tom Cruise did. And if you asked me what actor I’d like to work with, it’s Tom Cruise. That’s still a goal of mine to be in a film with or producing a film Tom Cruise is in.
MM: Are there any musicians you would like to work with in the studio?
CK: I would love to work with Ryan Tedder. I think we’d mesh well, artistically. But when it comes to music, honestly, I’m a big score guy. My Ipod is filled with scores from films I love. Hans Zimmer would probably be one of the people I would just even love to sit and watch work. Also John Murphy and Cliff Martinez…I have a bunch of composers that I just love.
MM: Is there a genre of film you haven’t produced yet that you’re hoping to produce soon?
CK: Yes! Horror. Or thriller-horror. I just want to produce a genre picture in horror. The great thing about those films are that they can be done cheaply, and well.
MM: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to people who are still trying to get their foot in the door in the entertainment industry?
CK: You know, I always feel like I’m always struggling to get my foot in the door, and then I look back and realize I’ve been in all different kinds of areas in this industry…working on big projects, working with big people…and you should always feel like you’re getting your foot in the door, because it’s never-ending. I always want to do bigger and better things, and since we can’t learn everything in this lifetime, I feel you can always keep going. So I would say: do the small things. Do what it takes to be the person you want to be and be prepared and qualified to be in the part of the industry you want to take part in. It’s all about practicing your art. I mean, I learned how to play the piano by watching YouTube tutorials… and now I’m producing music.
MM: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
CK: I’m a big reader. I love reading. I get excited more than anything else when I get a new book, and I start reading it, because it’s like I’m about to embark on a new adventure. I read every night…I don’t even care if I’m tired and can barely keep my eyes open. I get super excited about books.
Favorite Movie: Fight Club, Last of the Mohicans
TV Show: Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, True Detective
Actor: Tom Cruise
Actress: Rachel McAdams
Musician: Lisa Gerrard, Sigur Rios, M83
Book: Paradise War
Author: Stephen R. Lawhead, Cliff Graham, George R.R. Martin
Food: Gluten Free Domino’s Pizza
Director: Christopher Nolan, Nicholas Winding Refn, Danny Boyle
Album: Last of the Mohicans soundtrack
If you’d like to follow Chase’s career or check out his work, you can do so at the following:
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