All News
Photo by KC Works, courtesy of Kim Coleman.

How Kim Coleman and Her Peers Pulled Together to Create Casting’s Long Overdue Oscar

Kim Coleman is a hero. How else would you describe the woman who was at the forefront of the movement to get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to finally create an Oscar for casting?

It took years, and lots of effort by lots of people, but it was Coleman who was at the center of that effort, using her role as an Academy Governor to help push the change through. It helps that she’s also a damn fine casting director in her own right, and might just be up for that Oscar sooner rather than later.

Coleman is a regular collaborator with Spike Lee and Tyler Perry, has worked on Oscar-winning films like BlacKkKlansman, buzzy TV shows like Lovecraft Country, The Good Lord Bird and Dear White People (and the movie that spawned it), and such notable other flicks as Till, Beast, Hustle and The Inspection, among plenty of others. Her latest, the remake of the teen flick Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, is now streaming on BET+. She spoke to us from Los Angeles.

How did you get into casting?

I fell into it. I have worked in the fashion industry for years. I was gonna open a retail store in La Jolla, and that didn’t come together. I said, “What can I do now? What’s a natural fit?” I said maybe entertainment, but I didn’t know much about it.

I went through the Yellow Pages and the only thing I knew was talent agencies. I said, “Let me go from A to Z.” When I got to the C’s, I called this company Creative Artists Agency. I just cold-called and said, “Are you hiring?” There was an opening for an assistant for the CFO, and I said, “I could do that.”

I worked there for a little while, and I met an agent who, every Monday, we would talk about all the films or TV shows that we saw that weekend.

We were talking about it, and she said, “You should get into casting. I think you’d be great. You have to intern, but you don’t get paid any money. I’m gonna send you a script. You read it. If you’d like it, I’ll introduce you to a casting director.”

I read the script. It was a little dark, but I said okay. She introduced me to Billy Hopkins. He was here from New York casting the film. It was Se7en. He said, “Kim, I can’t pay you anything. We don’t have any budget, but I’ll teach you everything about casting.” And it was great. That was my first experience, and I learned a lot.

After that, you decided to pursue it.

I interned with many, many casting directors, just to learn everyone’s style. I wanted to be a sponge. I said, “If I’m going to dive into this, I want to understand it and know everything about it.” So that’s what I did. I got an assistant job with Vicki Thomas and worked with Vicki for about six years. I was an assistant, then an associate, then we partnered, and then I went on my own.

I’ve talked to a lot of casting directors, and most of them start with, “I sort of fell into it.”

(Laughs) It’s crazy, right? Because there’s no clear pathway to becoming a casting director, and you know, everyone has their story, their trajectory.

It’s not an exclusive thing by any means, but you work on a lot of Black-themed projects. Is that by design?

I really relate to the subject matters and the stories, and a lot of the filmmakers I’ve known for so long and luckily they still call me and hire me back. I try to mix it up, but yeah, I gravitate towards stories that I’m familiar with.

Does that also allow you to find and develop new talent?

That’s what I try to do. I feel like there’s so much untapped talent out there. I try to give young actors a shot, and a lot of times it works out and it’s a good thing. I’m always looking for the next new fresh face, and I love to see the actors who’ve grown, who I’ve seen from the beginning and have watched progressing to become more confident and stronger. It’s a thing for me.

Let’s talk about the Oscars. It’s long overdue for there to be a Casting category at the Oscars. How did you do it?

It’s been a long time coming. When I became a governor, that was a priority for me, as well as my co-governors, Deb Zane, Richard Hicks and outgoing president David Rubin. I asked David what the opposition was in the past for casting directors to be eligible to win an Oscar, and he said that, among other things, we never asked for it. At that point, we decided this was the right time to pursue it. 

We worked very hard, long hours, to make it happen. Numerous meetings, we had several presentations and phone calls. It’s a process that took over two years, and with the efforts of many casting directors and past governors over the years, they started the train and we just had to keep it going. 

So many actors, directors and producers were all very helpful and supportive when we presented our case to the awards committee. That was the first step, then the Board of Governors, and without them both, this wouldn’t have happened.

I have to shout out Lynette Howell Taylor, who was the head of the awards committee, and our three director governors, Ava DuVernay, Jason Reitman and Susanne Bier, who were very supportive and behind us every day. It was a real team effort to get this over the top. I don’t like to speak for folks, but it was the right thing to do, and it’s overdue. We are in the main titles along with everyone else.

In talking with other casting directors about it, what’s great is how excited everyone is to celebrate someone in your field winning an Oscar. Even if it’s not them.

Exactly. And, again, speaking for myself, that was most important to me.

This is not an individual thing, this is for all of us. I tried to stress that as many times as I could when I was in these meetings with the governor Board of Governors. Just, the passion and the love for what we do, and I think that came out. I think they just heard us loud and clear because we were so specific and so honest, and it all came from the heart. When it comes from the heart and it’s true and it’s honest, how can you say no?

That seems like a great way to segue into my final question, which is, what bit of wisdom or advice would you give to an actor coming in to audition for you?

Just be prepared. Have confidence in your interpretation of the character. I think actors come in and they show what they think I want to see.

I want to see your take on it. Your little flavor, what you bring to the table. I want you to do well. I really do. Take your craft seriously and be prepared, because a first impression is very, very, very important. If you’re not prepared, I don’t know if I can go on this journey with you. Have confidence, come in, and give your best take on it.

Did you know that Casting Networks Premium memberships now include access to health and well-being benefits and discounts? Click here to learn more about Thrive!

You may also like: