Interview With Martial Artist Expert and Hollywood Actor-Director, Kely McClung

Kely McClung ‘s love of martial arts began at an extremely early age. It was a combination of his martial arts training and his confidence in his own creative talents that helped him make his transition into the film world. After 20 years in the film industry, Kely is now directing, producing movies, and acting in his own films. He’s successfully fused his talent in martial arts into creating movies that pack a punch for any audience.

Here is his story.

How did it all start for you?

I was never one of the hip, cool people in high school or college; I just wanted to be the world’s greatest fighter. I trained in many martial arts all over the world, and was of course teaching at my own blend of philosophies and fighting styles. I was lucky enough to win the International Full Contact Stick Fighting Championships and that brought me to the attention of people in Hollywood.

Talk to me about luck and Hollywood for you?

Though my concentration was on martial arts, like most people I had dreamed of being in films. Still, it seemed too far from my reality to ever think it could really happen.

A friend in St. Louis where I had taught seminars invited me in to audition for Mike Stone; at that time, a very famous Karate champion who was working in the film industry. He was helping to search for a replacement for Van Damme who was making the jump from B to A movies and renegotiating his contracts. Though the deal didn’t work out for me, and eventually Van Damme of course went on to bigger things, Mike invited me to help out on American Ninja IV in South Africa.

Because of shooting delays, I spent months in South Africa and had the chance to really start learning about the process of making movies. From Mike and the opportunity of being there, I had time to start learning how to adapt my martial arts skills to the screen. There is huge difference in fighting technique and film technique – it’s two completely different skill sets and concepts.

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I wasn’t too thrilled about these low budget stories, and so by the time I left, I was already working on my first screenplays.

How did you end up creating your own work?

I fell in love with film and the entire business and challenge of making movies from the first few seconds of being on that first film set. I then spent nearly 15 years as an actor, a stuntman, script doctor, and editor, all with the thought of directing my own stories.

I did nearly every other job in the film business I could, from helping build sets, to casting, and producing, and even hair and make up on commercials. Finally, with the convergence of technology; better cameras, computers, and software, and my own talents, you run out of excuses to not just make a movie. It took a lot of work on my end, but I finally had the confidence that I could be a good director.

What happened next?

The first movie I did as director was BLOOD TIES. My film partner Robert Pralgo and I were determined to make a feature film, and so I convinced him we should shoot in Thailand to maximize our small budget. We filmed for a month on that first trip. We came back and also added Miami, Washington, D.C., the mountains of Virginia, and of course my home in Atlanta. I made 4 more trips to get it done, and added scenes in Cambodia. All told, it took me 4 years to finish the movie. We’ve won a lot of awards for it at festivals all over the world.

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While doing the festival circuit, I shot my first short film, AM SESSION. It screened at the American Black Film Festival in the sold out Writer’s Guild Theater and was bought by HBO. Shot for only 400 dollars, I still don’t think the execs at HBO believe me!

So what are you working on now?

I just finished a new much bigger feature film, the crime thriller KERBEROS. I also helped produce and direct a movie in Hollywood for my friend Stan Harrington named CREED. Both movies have their official World Premieres on July 24th at the Action on Film Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Do you feel that you’ve been successful at this business?

Even after all these years, I feel like I’m just now starting to know where I am going and how to get there. I like the idea of creating my own work and opportunities instead of only waiting for someone to hand them to me. I know I still have long way to go, but people are starting to recognize my efforts.

What advice do you have for me?

Keep doing what you are doing, networking and letting people know what you are trying to accomplish. If people don’t know what you are trying to do, no one will know that you working toward being an actress. Hard work and dedication can bring you luck and opportunities, but you need to be ready for them.

Where can people go if they want more information on you and your movies?

For more information, please visit


by Sofia Gian