Casting director Jazzy Collins was Emmy-Nominated for her work on Amazon’s Lizzo's Watch Out For The Big Grrrls in the Outstanding Casting for A Reality Program category. She is the first Black Casting Director to receive an Emmy nomination in this category and co-founded Soulstice Casting, a boutique, full-service casting company that specializes in unscripted and commercial casting, with Kaymie Mattison.
In our latest interview, we spoke with Jazzy and Kaymie about tools and techniques for a successful casting process, casting challenges, and how the casting company Soulstice Casting came to life.
PH: When you were casting for Lizzo's Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, was there a particular scene you used in the casting process to determine the right fits?
Jazzy: In unscripted casting, we don’t cast using scenes, because the show doesn’t have a script. While casting for the show, it was important to highlight their strengths as dancers as well as their stories. During the audition process, the women had to undergo an online dance audition as well as an interview with a casting director. As a former dancer, I know how hard it can be to learn choreography through a screen rather than in a dance room, but these women took it like champs! Besides being strong dancers, these women had to be willing to be vulnerable, talk about their past experiences and share what dance means to them.
PH: After you saw the final product, were there any scene(s) you were especially proud of your casting choices?
Jazzy: Watching the first episode was enough for me to feel really proud of my work. Very rarely do you get to see a cast that has so much inclusivity right off the bat. As someone who is constantly championing behind the scenes for marginalized people to be shown on our screens, I’m so happy to finally see an entire cast of diverse, plus-sized women and be a part of that history.
PH: When re-watching a scene or episode after it has aired for any of your projects, how do you review your work? Are you self-critical?
Jazzy: I love being able to see how a cast comes together on screen and see how production builds a world around the cast. In the past, we were able to meet with the cast in person, but since the pandemic a lot of the time I don’t even meet with the cast past zoom and phone calls! It’s always very interesting to see how the cast lights up in front of all the cameras and be willing to be just as vulnerable as they were with me on TV. When reviewing my work, it’s important to remember that part of the job is that not everyone that might be an incredible fit for the show can be cast - we only have a finite number of spots for talent! So you can’t be too self-critical over who makes it and who doesn’t - maybe there’s another show in the future they’ll be perfect for.
Kaymie: For many years, I made it a point to not watch any content I’ve created, because I am for sure, very self-critical. Now that it's been almost 10 years, I’ve eased up a bit and allowed myself to just have simple pride in my work.
PH: In the casting process, are there any specific tools or techniques that enable you to be successful?
Jazzy: In unscripted casting, you have to be able to take an interest in everything. Shared experiences can help form that critical connection with a potential cast member, and being a generalist can help you connect with them on whatever hobbies or work that they do. Working on so many different niche TV shows, I am chock full of knowledge about the most random things. This helps me connect with just about anyone I speak with.
Kaymie: Easing into interviews and allowing the potential cast to open up on their own really allows for a more relaxed experience. Everyone has a story to tell and you get more stories from them if you can create a more relaxing environment. On more emotionally driven shows/topics, I do what I like to call “virtual hand holding or hugs”. Opening up to a stranger can be difficult, so showing a little bit of empathy - goes a long way.
PH: Describe one of your most difficult casting challenges and how you overcame it.
Jazzy: During the casting process it’s really important to connect one on one with a future cast member. Now with only casting over Zoom with a limited amount of time, it can be challenging to be able to tap into vulnerability and story quickly. For Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, I remember only having about two hours with a cast member and she didn’t have a great space to do an interview that was quiet with decent lighting. We managed to sneak in an interview in the hallway of her apartment building on one of the final days of casting for the project and she was cast!
Kaymie: I was blessed to work on Let’s Make a Deal with Wayne Brady; very early on in my career. The company that hired me, believed in me enough to have me work immediately on set as a Producer, after a few weeks in the industry. Casting for a game show, you have to interview 100s of people in sometimes just an hour and choose in less than 15 minutes. That was definitely a challenge for me. It's strictly going with your gut and trusting your intuition. Yes, mistakes are made but that’s how you learn. I became a more confident producer after that experience and I'm forever grateful to everyone involved with that production.
PH: Jazzy, did you work closely with any showrunners or directors in casting for Lizzo's Watch Out For The Big Grrrls? What was the dialogue or back-and-forth like for that project?
Jazzy: Casting is always a very collaborative experience with the production company and network, and on this project we actually had multiple Casting Directors working together. I worked closely with Megan Sleeper, the SVP of Casting at Bunim-Murray Productions. We’ve worked together in the past on countless projects and I've always had the utmost respect for her and the incredible quality of work she produces. I also always have a great time working with Marissa Thompson, one of the Unscripted Execs at Amazon. Those two women are powerhouses.
PH: Kaymie, can you tell us about one of your recent experiences working with a project director or showrunner? How did you successfully collaborate?
Kaymie: In our more recent project, we worked with a BIPOC Production company and the department heads. Every cast decision was collaborative and hands-on, which we loved. They made very specific and detailed notes on every potential cast member, which exemplified the care they had for the project. They made sure we understood their notes and the why on some individuals that weren’t the right fit. We have had a wonderful experience with every company we have been lucky enough to work with, but it was nice to be in meetings with only women of color. It just exemplified the need for more POC representation in the media and the power it holds. Shout out to Aisha, Andie, Roz, Paige, and the entire MACRO team!
PH: Jazzy, how did you and co-founder Kaymie Mattison come up with the idea to start your own casting company?
Jazzy: Both Kaymie and I have had the opportunity to work in the casting industry for the past decade working for the biggest network shows like The Circle, America’s Got Talent, Survivor, The Bachelor, Love Island, and beyond. When it comes to moving up in the casting world, you can either top out as a VP of talent role at a network or production company or create your own company. After countless interviews where neither of us were the one being chosen for a seat at the table, we decided to create our own table to sit at. Soulstice is the first and only casting company run by two Black women.
PH: Kaymie, what is your goal for your company, Soulstice Casting?
Kaymie: The sky’s the limit when I consider the goals set for Soulstice Casting. The magic word is “Legacy”. We applaud and recognize the industry’s effort and support in putting more POCs at the top. But we want to continue to be the pioneers for proper and intentional representation of BIPOC individuals. Being the first Black female-owned casting company holds power but also a lot of responsibility. We don’t take that lightly. We are big on intentional words and manifesting here. So, we will be the BIPOC industry giant, for casting and media for years to come. Soulstice Casting will be the company that many generations can be proud of and would want to join, stay and help build.