Danny Cho didn’t grow up like other Korean kids in Los Angeles. Danny grew up in East LA, Boyle Heights to be exact, the only Asian kid on his block. He grew up in a largely Hispanic environment and like his other inner city peers, he saw friends live the gang life, end up in jail or end up 6 feet deep.
In high school, his parents secured a permit for him to attend high school in the affluent suburb of South Pasadena. The culture shock was real. From the moment he stepped on campus and into his new life, he knew that it had changed. Danny recalls his first day walking into school, the student body leadership had set up a booth to pass out bagels to freshmen to welcome them to school. His immediate response was, “What kind of f*ckin’ donut is this?”
Despite feeling academic and social pressure, Danny performed true to his education-focused upbringing and completed his high school career and was accepted to one of the nation’s best universities, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a premed candidate. He excelled. He logged a 3.9 GPA through his first two years of premed coursework, though it may not have always been on the up and up. “I was a phenomenal cheater,” Danny stated with a spark in his eye. In his third year, he decided to change his academic trajectory by switching to a Business Econ major with a minor in Accounting. He knew he wasn’t into trying to save lives. He was into trying to make money.
Just as he was finding his path academically, he was also discovering his passion for comedy. Though, looking back on it now, he acknowledges he was a bit naive, “All I thought I had to be was a funny guy. My goal was to be the funniest I could be, but now, when I think about it, what I loved about comedy was only 15 to 20% of what I actually do. The rest is networking, auditions, talking to agents, shit that you don’t really want to do.” In any case, he knew he found his passion, though at that point in his life, he didn’t know that it would be more than a hobby.
Like most, he put his dreams on hold and joined the rat race. Armed with his degree, he joined one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world, KPMG, one of the “Big 4.” After putting in his time, he became weary. He knew that his passion wasn’t in the corporate life and that realization pushed him to take one of the biggest risks in his life: quitting his job to do comedy. Danny said it best during our talk when he summed his decision up like this, “Every guy you see out there that is working a dead end job, but says he is an actor, entertainer, comedian, singer, whatever… That’s a sad motherf*cker that couldn’t give up his dream. That’s what I am.”
In 2009, Danny worked with his close friend and director Daniel “DPD” Park, on a video called K-Town Hotties.
Every comic does it right? Even Martin Lawrence went drag to get some laughs. In any case, while editing, DPD knew that it would be a hit. He proposed to Danny that they work on a script, a spinoff if you will. Danny countered by suggesting they work on a piece that showcased Koreatown. Surprisingly, all the guys that starred in this project, they were the guys this piece was written for. Everyone’s collective experiences in Koreatown growing up were woven together for the short film. The Entourage-esque faux reality project was funded through personal connections through which Danny had secured their first corporate sponsor, Hite, the South Korean beer company. They received $5,000 for some product placements.
Six days of shooting and several months of post production later, they had their film. They premiered it at the VC Film Festival where it got a great response from the audience. Based on that and some very positive feedback from some bigger names in the Asian film community, they knew what they had was ready for mass consumption. As Danny put it, “This is why, to this day, I love Bart [Kwan] from Just Kidding Films, big guy. He was in the middle of the audience and what I remember is him saying, ‘All I want to say is, that shit was awesome!'” They ultimately won the love of the Asian community and some accolades such as “Best First Feature”.
The film got Danny some notoriety, but he was still looking for a way to monetize his growing infamy, “I was thankful to all the fans, but they were all watching this sh!t for free! At this point, I started asking myself, how am I going to live? Without me going back to a job full time?” Luckily, at that time, he got some national commercials back to back. With this work over, he got back to his passion, writing. After a few months, Danny and DPD came back together because they realized people wanted to hear more stories about KTown. They decided that they would do a full feature. For the next six months, Danny wrote the script and could often be seen at what his fans have dubbed his “office”, Cafe Mak in Koreatown.
After completing the script, Danny and DPD began planning to shoot it. DPD, a student of guerrilla shoots and gritty short projects, said they could probably do this movie with a budget of $60,000. With their network, they were able to secure an investor quickly to get the full amount. They also started a Kickstarter to raise roughly $10,000 for promoting the movie and entering it into film festivals. After some discussions with his manager, who was immediately interested in being involved, they realized that that $60k would not be anywhere near enough money. Their new budget, after extensive study, went up exponentially.
So now Danny was in a bind. He had just finished getting money from an investor and from over 150 backers on Kickstarter and they had secured only $70k. Not even a fifth of the new proposed budget, “Oh f*ck, these guys are going to think I stole their money.” So for the next two years, Danny started looking for investors to keep his promise to the fans. It was not an easy task. The industry, as awesome as it was, didn’t show much support for an Asian American film. Those that did seem interested, wanted to exert creative control over the project and recast integral roles. He knew that this wasn’t the way that he wanted to work nor would it be a positive change for the new film.
After nearly two years of searching, Danny found an investor, one tied with a South Korean cinema investment group, who shared his vision, also not without some prompting. For two days, Danny found himself wading into a sea of liquor and informal conversations, but by the end of the booze-soaked ordeal, he had his start-up capital.
Over 22 days, they shot their full length feature project and in that time appearances were made by supporters of the project that anyone who appreciates film and TV will undoubtedly know: Ken Jeong (Hangover), Eric Roberts (Dark Knight), Daniel Dae Kim (CSI) and Steve Byrne (Sullivan & Son). The film, as hard as it was to get off the ground, was finally done and they were beginning their journey through post production. As of this writing, they have finished the film and armed with it, finally engaged a sales agent. They are hoping to premier the film at film festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). With the support that they will undoubtedly gain once people have seen the final version of the film, they will try to secure a distribution deal to get the movie into regional theaters, initially targeting large Asian communities around the US.
Now, we play the waiting game. The film, though the exact date is as of yet unknown, will be released within the next year. With it, Danny hopes to push himself to the next level in terms of his career. Currently, he is flexing his dramatic writing muscle by working on a gritty crime drama with DPD that explores the life of a Korean American gangster and his journey to find family. Still, knowing how much he’s accomplished so far has only made him more humble, “I’m happy with the work I’ve done, but I know that I have a long way to go.”