Kai Toktassyn

Students & Alumni. Drama.

Kai Toktassyn

Kai graduated from our BA (Hons) Drama degree in 2022, and since then has been building a career as a film actor and producer/ manager in his home country of Kazakhstan.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what you’ve been up to since graduating from ARU.

Hello everyone! My name is Kainar, but everyone calls me Kai because it’s much easier to pronounce. I am 22 years old and originally from Kazakhstan. I live in Almaty City, the former capital. I am passionate about both acting and music, and I’ve been involved in these creative fields since my childhood.

Currently, I work as an actor and am also involved in film production. In 2023, I completed about four or five projects, but one in particular, which I made in January, is very meaningful to me. It’s my first movie, and I served as both the producer and actor. A production company from my home country contacted me to make the film, so I was responsible for the budget, contracts, and all related tasks.

The film is called Ayaz Aga. It's a family comedy about a group of former university classmates who dislike New Year and Christmas and don't believe in Father Christmas. Father Christmas visits them and locks them in a large house until they change their attitudes and start giving more attention to their families, especially in how they treat their children during the holidays. I’m very proud of this project.

Kai's showreel

Where and what did you study before coming to ARU?

Before attending ARU, I graduated from a regular high school in my hometown and also completed my studies at Chaikovsky High School in Almaty. I didn't go to any prestigious art schools because I was quite reserved with my projects during my teenage years.

I acquired all my industry knowledge from ARU. I’m very fortunate to have had such excellent tutors. They taught me everything I needed to know for my career.

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from the course?

I think the realisation that learning is a continuous journey. While the academic content furthered my knowledge and skills in drama, they also taught me the importance of collaboration and adaptability.

During my student life they provided me with a power for academic growth, but also personal development. They challenged me to continue a passion for longtime learning. The university helped me develop the thinking that I must be focused on my area to get something, and to use it in my future career.

Kai Toktassyn singing to woman on coach

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

Let's talk about my major project! The major projects stands out as the most impactful aspect of my education. It provided me with numerous opportunities to develop crucial skills essential for my career, including communications and managing skills. I remember we needed to provide some information about our projects, like how we should sell our product. Obviously our product was our film, so this required planning – we needed to outline our project, establish a budget, and determine market strategies like identifying our target audience.

So I think thanks to that experience I feel well prepared and experienced now. So I’m very thankful to the university, that they provided me with this opportunity to develop my skills. I’m well prepared for anything now, whether I need to be part of the cast or to manage the film.

When did you realise you wanted to move into film?

This is a very good question. During my studies in drama, we not only focused on acting skills but also on the performing industry. For example, in my final year, we had a module TV Production skills, where we managed and analysed how to make films as part of a team, perhaps as a director or camera operator. I really liked how the drama course not only offered opportunities to be a drama student but also to focus and improve on various skills within the industry.

To be honest, while I was on the course, I just wanted to be an actor. But after my graduation, I flew back to my home country, and one of my colleagues contacted me and offered me a job at their production company as a filmmaker. So I thought, “Why not? I would like to try it.” I started working with them in December 2022 and realised it was very fun. I could pursue a career as a filmmaker while also being an actor. So now I'm doing two jobs at the same time.

Kai Toktassyn singing with four dancers in background

What made you want to be an actor in the first place?

I can trace my inspiration back to a project I undertook as a young actor in 2009. The national television film production company in our country, Kazakh Film, contacted my dad and offered me a role in one of their films when I was just six. I immediately accepted the opportunity. The shoot lasted for three months, and I found joy in every aspect of filmmaking, especially when receiving directions from the director.

Despite my age, the entire filmmaking team treated me with professionalism. They offered me cups of tea and asked, “Are you okay? Are you not cold? Are you not hungry or something?” It was something new for me because it was my first project, and everyone was so kind and professional. I was like, “What is happening? Why is everyone so worried about me?” This experience motivated me to be part of this industry and ignited a passion in me.

I distinctly recall a conversation with my dad about my career. He’s a businessman, and he presented me with a choice: to join his team or to continue my career in the performance industry. Reflecting on my love and enjoyment of performance, I immediately decided to follow my passion. I’m very grateful to my dad for always supporting me throughout this journey.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I don’t know. Maybe “Do sports?”!

I think I would definitely tell myself to not lose my passion, to not lose motivation, and to not fall out of love with people. Most drama students and filmmakers know how difficult it is to be part of this industry. We can have a lot of arguments!

It's very challenging to make a film or a project because, while there are many opportunities, there are also a lot of responsibilities. Especially with finances, because I might have $100,000 in my bank account, and I must calculate carefully and be very strict with my budgeting, prepared for everything. It’s really tough because everyone wants something from me during the filmmaking process, and I have a deadline to meet.

I remember someone once came to me and said, “Excuse me, Kai. We ran out of toilet paper. Could you buy some more?” I was like, “Are you kidding me? I have a deadline, I have 100 people on my team who I must pay every day, I have deals with investors who want to kill me, and I must pay attention to every person in this production, and you just come to me and tell me that we ran out of toilet paper?” Then I realised I was losing my patience and motivation, so I just said to myself: “Okay, calm down. Everything’s all right. We’ll deal with it.”

Kai Toktassyn singin and dancing with three dancers in background

Where do you find the strength from to not get demotivated?

I find strength by listening to music or talking with my family. My family is a huge support system and the most important part of my life. Whenever I have troubles, I go to my dad and say, “Dad, can I talk to you?” He’ll respond, “Yeah, what happened?” and then I’ll start explaining, “I have a deadline and I haven’t done this…” and all my problems come out. He’ll then say, “Okay, let’s take a break. Calm down. Let’s have some tea and you can tell me everything.” I don’t need anything like meditation – my family is my meditation. I’m very thankful to them for allowing me to be open and share all my problems.

What projects are you currently working on?

I finished four or five projects in 2023, and I also acted in two of them. In January, we released another film where I wasn’t a main producer or an actor but served as an Assistant to the Producer/Manager. My colleague contacted me for help with the filmmaking because I know a lot of people in Almaty, which helped us save money in the budget. For example, if we needed to shoot a scene in a restaurant, we would typically have to pay to rent the whole place, but because I know a lot of people, we could often get it for free just by asking nicely.

The project is called Nazar Audar/Uyalam no Uialam. It’s a comedy about a family that rents an apartment but also wants their own house. There’s a government deal that can help young families get their own house, so they do everything they can to seize this opportunity. It was quite fun to finish this project.

I should focus more on acting as well. I have a lot of projects where I am a Producer/Manager, and only one or two where I am an actor, so I need to think about that part of my career more. Maybe I can be a director too, who knows? During the course, I had a friend from China who asked me to help out on his major project. The first director was from another university, and I was the second director, which is the most demanding role in the filmmaking industry. You’re always on the radio, shouting things like, “Why isn’t the prep done?” or “Where’s the budget?” So I already have the experience of being a director, and I can try it anytime if there’s a project I can take on.

Where now