Build your own playground. Don’t worry about pleasing other people. That’s a surefire way to end up being miserable. Find a way to pave your own path. My good friend and producer Antoine Allen says it best, “You gotta validate yourself, man.” At the end of the day, you have to be happy with what you’re doing.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kazy Tauginas. Kazy is a former restaurateur and Golden Gloves boxer turned actor. Growing up just outside of Chicago, Tauginas played a different sport each school year, settling on figure skating before he discovered a natural talent for boxing after college. His grace on the ice helped him in the ring, where he fought in 13 amateur bouts. After trying his hand in the restaurant business, Tauginas turned to acting and writing, a passion that led him to the New York Film Academy, where he graduated from their Conservatory Acting for Film. Tauginas has appeared in numerous theatre, film and television roles. His television credits include “Sneaky Pete,” “Blindspot,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Good Cop”. Tauginas’ film work includes “The Equalizer 2” “John Wick,” “Eleanor,” “Sollers Point,” and the award winning “Life Is Too Short”. This fall, he will be seen in “Dolemite is My Name,” starring Eddie Murphy. After writing several short films (and starring in over 20 of them), Tauginas drew inspiration from his mother who’d been diagnosed with Lupus and his own boxing experience, and decided to write “Standing Eight,” a short about a boxer who is forced to retire and contend with life outside of the ring after being diagnosed with lupus. The award winning film played in numerous festivals around the world is currently available on Amazon Prime Video. Tauginas resides in New York.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kazy! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course! I grew up in Oak Park IL, a suburb of Chicago. I always had a passion for the arts. I took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Although my parents pushed me to learn how to play most sports, I eventually settled on figure skating. In hindsight, I realized that it was entertaining the crowd which I enjoyed. So you could say I’ve always been a performer at heart.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Truth be told, film was always my greatest passion. I didn’t realize until I got older that it could be an actual career path. For years and years I didn’t even know it was feasible. It wasn’t until I attended an open house at the New York Film Academy in New York City, and Matthew Modine made an appearance to speak to us “potential” actors. Something he said resonated with me. He first commended us for even stepping in the door. He said so many people were afraid to take that step. He went on to say “Maybe acting isn’t what you are meant to do, but if you do this training and go through this program, it’ll make you better at anything you do.” I was sold. After that, the idea of becoming an actor became something I desperately needed to make a reality. I enrolled at NYFA and started a new chapter of my life on Jan. 3rd 2009.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I feel like it’s about motivation. You have to ask yourself “How badly do you want it? What are you willing to sacrifice?” In my case for years I sacrificed comfort and stability. I slept on a pull out couch in my friend’s living room in NYC for two and a half years. I waited tables to get by. I remember there were numerous days that I could only afford to eat one meal a day. Was it good for my self-image? Probably not, but I was willing to do whatever it took. Making an idea become a reality takes commitment. You have to fail your way to success and just accept and learn from those experiences. Honestly, I still fail all the time. On the acting side, every time I audition and don’t get the role, I’m failing. But that’s part of it.
So to answer the question directly — commitment. That’s how I overcame the challenge.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Take an honest look at your current lifestyle. In five years, if you keep doing what you’re doing, will you be happy?
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
In my life, I can never see myself do anything but be a creative. I would be miserable. If you truly, deep in your heart, love what you do, no matter that challenge, you’ll continue doing so. The moment you no longer love it, means you need to take a different approach or walk away all together.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I enjoy living my life the way I want to live it. I enjoy calling my own shots. The downside is, you have to work. Nothing worthwhile come easily. Owning your own business is no exception. You probably have to work harder for yourself than you would at a job because everything rests on your shoulders. I’ve just accepted this as my reality and I’m fine with it. The juice is worth the squeeze so to speak.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Celebrities in real life vs. celebrities when the camera is on.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
I’ve given myself deadlines and cutoff dates. But somehow, I always manage to beat those deadlines and I just stay the course. I also think back to my days of waiting tables and I’m instantly smacked back into reality and motivated to continue moving forward.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first short film, “Salvation Road” was a series of mistakes. None of which were particularly funny at the time. I just ended up spending significantly more money on almost every aspect of production. I also didn’t hire sufficient crew or have a complete shot-list for a fight scene. All that did in the end was make my second day of production move significantly slower than I had originally anticipated. Regardless, I’m still incredibly proud of the final product. It was one hell of a learning experience.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
First and foremost, I don’t consider myself a great leader. I’m just a creative trying to find his way around this complicated and often times strange world. But, I find inspiration everywhere I go. I’m inspired by the energy of New York City. I’m inspired from watching classic cinema. I’m inspired from seeing a fantastic live performance. I’m inspired by the tides of the ocean in Redondo Beach. I’m especially inspired by my parents. I think because my mother has been battling Lupus for my entire life and my father has stuck by her side I think of how I would like to make them proud.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope that I have managed to create a voice for the Lupus community with my award short film, “Standing Eight”. Those with Lupus have been underrepresented in pop-culture. I’m currently working even harder on getting a feature length film made so we can take an even bigger leap into the entertainment world. I think getting larger project into the public domain will help further the cause. My thought process is this… the more lupus awareness, the more funds for research which will eventually lead to a cure.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Find like-minded people to work with. Having a team who is on the same wavelength as you and share similar goals as you is critical to success.
- Be patient. Nothing happens exactly when you want it to. Things happen when they are meant to happen. Just stay patience and persistent. Keep moving forward.
- Build your own playground. Don’t worry about pleasing other people. That’s a surefire way to end up being miserable. Find a way to pave your own path. My good friend and producer Antoine Allen says it best, “You gotta validate yourself, man.” At the end of the day, you have to be happy with what you’re doing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a mentor. Someone who’s brain you can pick. Someone who is where you want to be or has been there before. More often than not, you’ll need guidance.
- Take time for yourself. I mean this. You can’t be on the go all the time. You’ll burn out. Take time to smell the roses. You deserve it.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want to inspire my fellow filmmakers and artists to use their creative talents to truly make the world a more tolerable place. Art is an escape, but it can also stimulate change. Open people’s minds. Educate them. Entertain them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want” — Muhammad Ali; I’d say it’s pretty self explanatory.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Martin Scorsese. Every one of his projects, a work of art. I would just love to have a chat with a living legend. What would we talk about? Honestly, I would just listen.
There is so much to be learned from someone like him.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.