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Daily Inspiration: Meet Kevin Coleman-Cohen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kevin Coleman-Cohen.

Hi Kevin, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I like to start off with what inspired my latest film. Many years ago, I was the Outreach Manager for Youth In Need, Inc., a non-profit in St. Louis and St. Charles. I believe I was with the agency from 2005-2008. This was immediately after the American Film Institute (AFI) graduate school. One day, I went to Downtown St. Louis near the old Greyhound Bus station which was near the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I was riding the streets alone on a Monday afternoon. My staff was generally off on Mondays, and it was my admin day, but on this particular day, I wanted to check out the hot spots and say hello to some of our regular youth participants.

This particular area was called “The Tunnel.” My staff named it because we literally could drive underneath the bus station and up to the Post Dispatch. This area no longer exists due to construction. I have pictures for your review if you like. While down in the area, I didn’t see anyone, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young Black teen, 16 years old, engaging in a sex act with an adult Black male behind a large dumpster. I stopped and was about to make a u-turn, and the adult male took off running, but the teen stood there and gathered himself. This behavior didn’t alarm me, but I was shocked that it was happening during the daytime. Things like that usually occur at night with adults. But I rolled down the window and asked if he needed any condoms. And his response, I will never forget, “he gave me more money not to use a condom.” I introduced myself to the young person and told him about our program. I know about youth homelessness is that building trust takes time since so many have failed them, so it’s hard for youth to open up.

I gave the youth food, our program information, and hygiene supplies. I also told him I would return the next day, and he agreed to meet me. The next day I returned around the same time, and he was there. I got out of the van and talked and once again gave him food, told him about our program, and told him we could help him. He opened up about his mom, who was on drugs, and his entire personal life. We made plans to meet the next day again. I was convinced I would get him into our program. However, he never showed up, and I never saw him again. To this day, I wonder what happened to him. I looked for him for months but never saw him again. I decided to write a screenplay about his story. I was so drawn to him and others just like him. Youth like that young person is homeless in plain sight.

I was dealing with my trauma. My mom, my best friend, died at 50 while I was holding her. I had returned to St. Louis after graduating from the AFI to look after her and my baby brother, DeMarko. My mom passed from lung cancer. My kid from DeMarko was asleep in his room in the basement. I didn’t wake him that night after she passed. My mom died in my arms at 10:35p on September 18, 2005. I called the funeral home (my mom was in hospice care), and they removed her body a few hours later. That morning I walked into the bathroom while my brother was getting ready for school, and he looked at me and said, “dude, get out. I am getting dressed”. That moment I told him mom died, he fell into my arms. I knew he would never get a good night’s sleep again the night before. He was only 15 years old. DeMarko’s dad and my mom separated many years ago. We have different fathers. My dad and mom were divorced. I am the oldest of 5, but no other siblings lived in the house at the time.

I have always believed in telling stories. My educational journey started at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. I credit the lovely former Mass Communication Chair, Kathe Dunlop, as one of the most influential people in my life. She also hired me when I returned to St. Louis after grad school and through me in the classroom. I had no idea what I was doing but fell in love with teaching. After graduating from STLCC-FP, I went to Howard University and majored in film and television. I got to work for veteran Hollywood actor and director Bill Duke (Sister Act 2, Deep Cover, Hoodlum) and countless other films. After HU, I worked a few non-profit gigs, one of which is too painful to discuss, but it was a big media story in St. Louis with an agency that hired a porn star to entertain youth, some were minors. (here is a link to that story written by the St. Louis Post Dispatch: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/5761620/babaa-scandal/).

Then in 2003, I was accepted into the AFI and majored in Directing. In my first year, I was the only African American accepted into the directing discipline, and there was much self-imposed pressure on me. I mention this because the film industry is still a very hard business to navigate through. My AFI thesis film, “Snapshot,” played at many festivals around the country and won Best Student Film at the Hollywood Black Film Festival in 2006. Snapshot never played in a St. Louis festival, which made me sad and mad for many years. For some reason, the St. Louis film community is hard for me to get access to. However, St. Louis is home and will always be home.

I founded Coleman Entertainment, LLC in 2005, which will change to Coleman Entertainment Media Group later in 2022. The State of Missouri has a lot of tax benefits, unlike California, which is very difficult to survive as a small film production company. All official production business is done in St. Louis. I fly to St. Louis often. I currently reside in Los Angeles, specifically in Long Beach and will be relocating to Atlanta at the end of the year and commute between Atlanta and St. Louis. My current film, Elon was shot in St. Louis and Los Angeles. Specifically, I shot one scene in Los Angeles and the rest of the film in St. Louis. We are still trying to raise money to finish post production, this is a very important story. One day, I aim to take over the Union Seventy Center on Union and Highway 70 in the north city (The old GM plant) and make a film studio similar to what Tyler Perry did in the Atlanta area. St. Louis is rich with culture, and I love making movies there. Elon is the second film produced by Coleman Entertainment, LLC in St. Louis.

I currently teach at Pepperdine University, Santa Monica College, and Columbia College Hollywood. I would love to teach in my hometown again, specifically at Washington University, Harris Stowe State University, and St. Louis University. Still, for some reason, I haven’t been able to convince any of them to let me yet. Lol.

On June 6, 2022, at 3:30 I cried. I wrapped production on my short film, Elon. That story is based on that young man I met many years ago under the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Here is a teaser from December 2021 that we used for fundraising purposes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkQ6PYp7w9g. It is a dream come true. My plan is to create a pitch deck and use the short as a proof of concept for the feature version of the story. This is a story that must be told.

I am Kevin Coleman-Cohen, a producer, director, educator, youth advocate, and sometimes a writer. Lol.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been fairly smooth?
The road has been very difficult. When I graduated from the AFI, I graduated into a desert while most of my counterparts graduated into an industry. Hollywood is very difficult to penetrate. Sadly, racism is real in Hollywood. There are perceptions about Black audiences and Black directors. We are consistently placed in a box. This is why I founded my own company. This is also why I want to produce and direct my own stories.

Quick story: During my first year at the AFI, all directors attend pitch sessions put on by the writers. It’s usually a very scary time. But I remember sitting there listening to various stories and not hearing anything I wanted to direct. Then a story called “Epic” was pitched. It was a story about a Black rapper. Seriously, everyone in the room looked at me, suggesting I just wanted the film since I am Black. Oh no, heck no, I avoided that story like the plague. But the bigger point is the perception that I must tell Black stories since I am a Black man. NO Ma’am. I am a Director who happens to be Black and wants to tell stories, period. I ended up doing a wild film about a couple who were in a car accident, and one of them died. The survivor is a painter, but to see again, she must take the face of her deceased lover since her face was disfigured from the car accident. Yes, very wild and I must also admit a horrible film. LOL, But I wanted to prove that I can tell stories and not just stories about a Black rapper. I am not really into rap anyway. LOL, except old school 80s and early 90s rap. 🙂

Another challenge at the AFI was being completely broke. I would avoid the financial aid office. They called, emailed, and sent letters saying I needed to pay or risk being kicked out. One day, I got caught and was sent to Dean Sam Grogg’s office. He is a very nice man but is all about business. He said what’s up with not paying. I looked at him and said I was broke. I also shared with him that I had lived in a hostel on Hollywood and Western in LA, a few blocks from the AFI. He seemed confused as to how could anyone at the AFI be broke. He pulled my file and saw that Mr. Chuck Fries (a legend in Hollywood) had written me a letter of recommendation, which was also a board trustee.

To my knowledge, Mr. Fries (who has since passed away) has never written one before or since. I told Dean Grogg how Mr. Fries was exiting an elevator at the Beverly Hills Hotel one day. I was standing there in a tuxedo with my friend Rodney. We were undergrad students from Howard University. But I won this grant from the Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors. They flew me out and put me in a hotel for the ceremony. Mr. Fries was the MC and President of the agency. I was the first or second ever to receive a grant in 2001. I think it was for $8,500, which allowed me to finish my Howard University student film and pay my crew.
https://www.caucusfoundation.org/recipients/grant_recip_past.html.

In any event, Mr. Fries was exiting the elevator and looked at me in particular and said something like, “why are you two fellows standing here when you should be in there serving our guests.” Mr. Fries said in a not-so-nice tone. He then walked away. The point is Mr. Fries had mistaken me for one of the Hotel’s servers. I was so angry. I had no idea who he was; surely, he didn’t know me either. My friend Rodney calmed me down by saying, “man &^% that dude, we’re in Beverly Hills, and you’re about to get this money for your film. Be cool, Kev”. When the ceremony began, we were seated near the front (sort of like kids at Thanksgiving dinner), and I saw Mr. Fries. I eyeballed him for what felt like 30 minutes. When all the grant recipients were asked to stand, I did.

Mr. Fries saw me, and the color ran from his face. I was also shocked that he was the man who was going to give me this check. To make a long story short, he walked up to me after the ceremony and apologized. He then asked if there was anything he could do. I said yes, write me a letter of recommendation to the American Film Institute. And in a nutshell, he did. When I told that story to Dean Grogg, he put away my file and said go make your films. And to this day, I graduated from the AFI, having not fully paid my tuition. This is a true story!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a Director, Producer, Writer, and Educator. I teach the following:
– Gender and Race in the Media
– Directing
– African Americans Images in Film and Television
– Film Studies

– Survey of Mass Media
– Screen Analysis
– Stories That Matter
– Producing
– Documentary Theory and Production
– The History of Cinema

I am the former Director of Residential Services for Covenant House California (Their Oakland site). As you have read, I am an advocate for youth and homelessness. I am also the former Outreach Manager and Drop-In Center Coordinator for Youth In Need, Inc. (St. Louis)

What matters most to you?
Making my late mom proud, creating experiences with my nieces and nephews, and telling great stories. I don’t think many stories are truly being told the way they should. Money doesn’t motivate my filmmaking. Oh sure, I want all the bells and whistles available like all filmmakers do. I also wouldn’t mind living in a fancy BIG Malibu mansion either, LOL. But what matters to me is bringing the underheard and undervalued to heightened consciousness. As I said at the end of my teaser for Elon, I want to shine a light on their stories.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
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