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Conversations with Atlanta's Movers and Shakers, Kors Vandiver

Award-Winning Filmmaker and Educator, Kors Vandiver

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Kors currently resides in Houston, Texas. By way of Atlanta, Georgia. It was in Georgia where he took a serious interest in filmmaking after he served as an apprentice to a local director. Eventually, he would receive mentoring advice from Director Spike Lee that fueled his hunger to take his talents to the next level.

Now, as an educator and award-winning filmmaker with his original footing in the Atlanta music industry, Kors brings over 12 years of experience in the film/TV industry as a writer/producer/director and over 10-years of experience in education.

His scripts have landed attachments and interest from actors such as Ryan Gosling, Idris Elba, Skylan Brooks, Nate Parker, Emayatzy Corinealdi, and even Oscar-winners such as Mahershala Ali. Also studios, producers, agencies, and management such as Sony/Columbia, David Goyer's Phantom Four, Kevin Turen, Tyler Perry's 34th Street Films, Anonymous Content, ICM, CAA, WME, and more.

Atlanta Film and TV:Can you take us on your journey, of how you found your love of the arts, to where you are now?

Kors Vandiver: “I think I was always in the arts as a kid. My parents cultivated my love of the arts at a very young age. I was born in New Orleans, which is a place known for Jazz and Blues. I was big on music as a young kid, and my dad had bought instruments. My brother had a sax, and I think I played the recorder and the violin. And, I wasn’t very good at it! My younger brother got into cello and the bass, and he was good at it. But, I still was good at playing music by ear. I would mess with the sax. We would go out to the French Quarter and Break Dance and would try to get money. But, when my mom discovered I could draw - I could draw very well as a kid since I was about four or five years old. My mom took me to art classes, which spurred my interest in comic books. It was also the intro for me to put art and storytelling together, even though I was in love with television. It didn’t necessarily feel the same. I was a comic book kid and drew a lot of Spiderman and Incredible Hulk.”

Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parents recognize your gift of the arts, and how did they nourish that gift to facilitate growth?

Kors Vandiver:My dad was always very encouraging about me as an artist. He would say, ‘Oh, look at that boy draw!’ And, my mom was big on’ Oh, let's go to art class.’ She took me to a museum in New Orleans, and I would paint there. I would paint fruit - apparently, my fruit was good. I don’t think I ever caught the knack of painting. I was just very good at drawing. My mom entered me into competitions where I got national notices as an artist I received at eight or nine years old. People were calling the house, and it was interesting at that stage.

I think as I got older, my parents got used to it. But, as most parents usually do, they want you to go to college and do things. When I was still in High School, I sent my art to Marvel Studios to the comic book company. I got a letter back saying, ‘Hey! You’re pretty good! You should look us up when you get out of school.’ I told my parents that I had this opportunity, and everybody was kind of like, ‘Whatever. Make sure you get a job doing something that is going to pay.’ Lo and behold, I wish I would have jumped on that Marvel train!”

Atlanta Film and TV: What fueled your hunger to pursue filmmaking?

"I was in the music business and started as an artist. At the time, I was rapping and not taken seriously. I honestly was running around in the street for a long time before I was doing that. I met Biggie at a concert. I knew his song ‘Who Shot Ya?’ because my older brother was doing shows around town, and was a DJ. I was running around in my car playing ‘Who Shot Ya?' I went to the concert and was on the front row. Biggie saw me rapping, yanked me up on stage, and let me be his hype man! He asked me, how did I know that song? Once I told him, we became acquaintances. Biggie encouraged me to rap and to take it seriously. At the time, I was like, ‘Oh. I make more money than you!’ Which probably wasn’t true. However, my ego thought it was! Nonetheless, I went through as an artist and was on the Def Jam tour. I had some success and never really wanted to sign a record deal. I had gotten saved and was rapping about things I had been through in the street. At that point, everybody just thought I was a good rapper but didn’t know I was talking about God. Being behind the scenes and seeing what was happening, that wasn’t what I wanted."

- Kors Vandiver

I was doing management and worked with T-Boz from TLC, and a mentor James Andrews, a big Columbia exec who had brought me on the team. I was doing some brand management with him and Ludacris on the Red Light District Album, which was the segway to which I decided that I don’t want to do this anymore.

James Andrews invited me to a party at his house. I brought a script I had written, which by the way, was on loose-leaf paper. James told me to avoid his uncle because he was racist, Atheist, and blind! And, I thought this is exactly who I want to talk to! I b-lined for the kitchen, and I started talking to Jame’s uncle. In the process of speaking to him, I shared my script idea with him. My script was a story that would star Mos Def, as a modern-day story version of Christ, called ‘Son.’ It had a hip-hop-infused story about the gospel. New Jersey was Jerusalem, and Mos Def was a carpenter who ended up in Brooklyn working for his dad in construction. I had the supernatural element in it as well. After I pitched it to James’ uncle, he grabbed me. I thought - ‘Uh-Oh’. His uncle said to me, ‘I was blind, and now I see!’ I then said, ‘what’s going on?’ James’ uncle said, ‘you just pitched me a hip-hop story of a black Jesus in the modern day time, and I believe every word.’ He then said, ‘I used to be a racist, but, I don’t think I am anymore. I used to be an Atheist. I don’t think I am anymore.’ He then told me to come to live with him in New York. ‘I used to be a screenwriter. I will teach you how to write.’ He told me he went blind watching Before Sunset with Ethan Hawke. He went blind in the theater, his eyes closed shut, and things went black. I didn’t go to live with James’ uncle, but it hit me. I told him that if you can make a blind/racist/Atheist switch lanes, then maybe there is a reason for you becoming this thing and doing this.

There are a few other incidents that propelled after this one. But, that was the catalyst. I ended up being an assistant for Atlanta Filmmaker Andre Butler, But, it only lasted for a day. I was writing something, and I shared it with him. Andre called me into his office and let me go. 'I thought, was it that bad?' He told me ‘no. It was that good! I am telling you right now. If you stay with me, you will stay with me forever, and I will try to keep you forever. And, you will not learn anything. You are already a better filmmaker just from this paper than I ever will be.’ He then told me that I needed to do my own thing. In the end, I was mad. But, I went home and got on my computer, and I put that thing on CraigsList. In about an hour, I had 60 messages from people. One was a producer that I knew and watched an Indie film that I liked, and my friends and I all watched plenty of times. I hit the producer up, to which he told me he was interested in my story. He also told me he could offer me a deal and money for my script. Immediately, he offered $280,000. In hindsight, If I knew that in this business, that never happens, I would have taken the money! Initially, I told the producer, ‘no. I’m good. I am going to do my own thing.’ And hung up. He called back and offered me half a million dollars! I started thinking about it. At the time, we owned a car dealership. In fact, at that time, I was there typing my script. I thought I would take $50,000 and put it on a credit card. Eventually, I told him, ‘no, I’m good.’ Andre called back and offered a 5149 deal, which is where you say, you will have the last say. You’ll have control. He offered $980,000 towards the budget. I told him, ‘yeah. Sure! Let’s talk.’ Andre Butler asked to read the script. I told him to give me three days so I could edit and polish the script.

In all honesty, I was trying to make a short, and at the time, I did not have twenty pages of a short film. At that moment, I knew I had to write a feature. After that, I picked up Screenwriting for Dummies, and I started working on a feature film. Within three days, I sent it off. Andre struck up a deal, and the project ended up being way more than he could fund. It was upwards of forty million. A huge producer came in and was interested. He offered a ridiculous amount of money for the script, and at that point, I was like, ‘Let's take it!’ Another guy came in as a manager on his team, and they argued back and forth with this guy who wanted to take over.

Finally, I was like, ‘Let's take the money and go our separate ways.’ These guys argued us out of a deal. At that moment, I quit. But I had enough courage and went to LA after that.

Atlanta Film and TV: Upon leaving Michigan State University and embarking on your professional career, were there any moments of fear or self-doubt you had to overcome as a Black man operating in a space viewed primarily as a white artform?

Kors Vandiver: "The thing with Michigan State, I honestly started taking classes after I was in the industry. I felt like I didn’t have anything to validate myself, even though I had already produced stuff. I was seeking to look better on paper. I wasn’t a kid who was going to school or left school. Going into the industry, I didn’t experience race issues the same way. I experienced them differently, but that gave me a lot of knowledge on how the industry works. It also gave me a lot of insight which I share with people who are not in the space or not dialed in enough to get that information. Looking back, I was always surrounded by black filmmakers, writers, and producers who were always around me who I saw doing things.

After that, some white producers helped me with my first film and gave me my first job. Initially, I was a part of a TV show in LA. Steven Speilberg had a show. I didn’t make the final round, but I made the second, and I decided to drive out to it. People found me interesting enough, and I could be mentored by Steven Spielberg and be on the show. I am going to see what happens. It was more of a prompt. I hadn’t gone yet. But, I felt like God was saying, ‘go!’ I hopped in the car, packed up everything, and drove to LA. I ended up getting a job, working with a black producer who hired me to write a script about John Legend. This producer was doing a doc, and he wanted a script. I wrote it, got paid, and ended up getting a job in production, which was a film and a TV show going on at the same time.

The director asked me if I could edit. At the time, I was taking Time Warner classes. It is not around anymore but is an amazing program where you learn all about production, and then you’ll get a Producers Certification. And, afterward, you get access to studio equipment, and you can run a show on your own channel. I finished the Time Warner Producer Program, and I thought I knew how to edit! I ended up telling the director, ‘yeah!’ I got in the car and called my girlfriend who is now my wife of twelve years, and I said, ‘hey! I just got this job, and I have no idea what I’m doing!’ I thought I could edit, All the big productions edit on Avid, and I was editing on I-Movie, and I thought it was all the same. I went to Borders in Culver City, and I went to Avid for Dummies and started making these notes. I went in on the following Monday for the interview. I wrote stuff on the back of my hand and had sticky notes in my sleeve. This guy took me into the bay and told me to show him this and that. I’m doing stuff and sweating and looking at the palm of my hand and trying to figure stuff out. He says, ‘ yeah. You look like you know what you’re doing!’ He slapped me on the back and walked out, and said, ‘you’re hired!’ Afterward, I collapsed on the computer, and thanked God! I ended up working, and it turned out to be a show for Martin Lawerence.

I ended up working for Martin and Mike Bohusz, and Doug Williams. Mainly with Doug and Mike for the next four seasons. I was promoted again from assistant editor to editing to camera. Doing BTS camera work, BTS directing, writing sketches. There was other work. I was doing commercials, filling in, and doing pilots. Not knowing that wasn’t beneficial to me in terms of credits. I wasn’t getting all the credits I should have been getting. Nor was I getting the pay I should’ve been. Sometimes It was from a bigger check, cut from somebody else. But, I did get a lot of experience. It was a fun time, and eventually, I left!"

Atlanta Film and TV: What inspires you these days?

Kors Vandiver:"Foundationally, I care deeply about doing things that I can feel like when I die, God will say, ‘well done!’ Connected to that are meaningful things, which attracts me to those human rights stories. But, I just like good stories. The excitement of putting something together that I, and hopefully, an audience, would want to see is what drives me. On paper, people are usually impressed. They will say, ‘this is amazing!’ But, I haven’t arrived yet. Because for me, there is so much more to accomplish. There are so many other things that I’m doing that people don’t know about. Especially as a filmmaker and what I’m working towards. Those things are important to me and keep me motivated and reaching those goals."

Atlanta Film and TV: Many people relocate to Atlanta because of the film scene. Most, with no experience - only wanting to be in front of the camera. A lot of times, they don’t feel it’s important to get training, work as an apprentice, or even get mentoring in their field of interest. Can you share with us the importance of getting training? And, you can also share the importance of working as an apprentice and having someone mentor you?

Kors Vandiver:"Personally, I believe in it wholeheartedly, and it is something I try to do. I meet people. I share, I give information, and I teach whatever I can do because it just doesn’t happen for us as a community. It’s rare in general for black people to impart nowadays for whatever reason. I think if you go back, you don’t have to go back too far. Back to the ’60s, ’50s, or '40’s, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters, and brothers were teaching each other different things and were holding one another accountable for the things they were taught. There was the idea of learning a trade. This is how you foundationally build a house. Or, this is how you milk a cow or grab eggs. When I grew up, one of my uncles was an Orange Grove Foreman. My younger brother and I worked in an Orange Grove with a bunch of my uncle's Haitian tenants, who were refugees he would help when they would come to the United States. He would help them get housed. Give them jobs, which was a big influence on me. Working in an Orange Grove and seeing how hard that work was and how hard it was to make one-hundred, eighty, or even fifty bucks. People have no idea how hard that work is! Some of the guys worked so hard because they had to feed their families somehow.. The bottom line is, passing things on to people there is a benefit to that. Now, everything today is ‘look out for me!’ If I help somebody, it is going to endanger my career and my steps. Which is kind of like a 'crabs in a barrel mentality. I believe what God has for you is for you. I have been stepped on and taken advantage of. But, that’s just life, and it’s a part of doing things you love. Be responsible and help people. You don’t need to expect anything in return. It is hard, but it’s just the way that it is.

Even though my conversation with Spike was a one-time hard conversation, it gave me that time. And, I appreciated it. I was able to thank him down the road, which is important. I was fired after one day of working with my mentor Andre. But, he gave me his insight and wisdom. The script I wrote and got a lot of attention landed in the hands of the person who I wrote it for; Idris Elba. I remember my manager at the time set up a meeting with Idris. Idris sat down and told me, ‘let's do it!’ which blew my mind. You can write something. You can see and believe it’s for somebody. You can put that thing in their hands, and they’re going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Because with those yes’s there have been plenty of no’s. There have been unexpected things, and my project with Ryan Gosling was unexpected."

"Share your gift with other people. Because you never know what is going to happen."

- Kors Vandiver

Atlanta Film and TV: I read in your bio on IMDb that you come from a family of educators. Would you say that having an education in a field where most will say that you don’t is important? Can you share with us why you feel it’s important?

Kors Vandiver: "I was not traditionally educated in film. I went at it the way a lot of filmmakers do. I honestly believe (not to say that education isn’t important.) I just don’t think traditional education matters in terms of what route you want to choose. If you are a person who doesn’t like risks, then go to AFI, USC, or UCLA. Go places where there’s a theme, and if you get a degree from those people and try to work in the industry, you’re going to get a job. Are you going to be doing creative stuff? Who knows! Probably not. Or, it may be pretty hard unless you’re producing something out of school, and these guys hire you. Now, you have the opportunity to say ‘hey, I’m working as a producer, who’s been hired at a company. Then there’s the side of you wanting to be a filmmaker, and you want to make stuff. You have to get on-set experience, and get on a good one. Get around talented people. Watch, observe and build relationships. Once you build relationships, you learn and go back to those same people and say, ‘hey! I’m trying to make a movie. Here’s what I’m doing. And, you’ll learn through the process, budgeting, and all the things you’ll need to know to make a film. But, I truly believe nobody is going to be able to teach you the aspects of filmmaking better than actually getting the experience of doing it. Education is important. But there’s a caveat to it."

Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice to someone wanting to pursue writing, directing, or producing films?

Kors Vandiver: "You need stamina. You gotta make sure this is something you want to do. There’s a lot of statistics out there that don’t float around for film. But there’s a couple that stick with me all the time and that I share. One is, a feature film on average, takes nine years to make. To put that in perspective, that’s your favorite Indie movie from A-24? Or even lesser, or a big Marvel movie, which takes forever. I have projects I’ve been on for seven years. The Birth of a Nation took about nine years to make. Thank God Nate Parker called me at the tail end. Movies take a long time to make, and there are plenty of ‘no’s.’ and ‘this will never get made!’ You have to have the stamina for ‘no.’ You have to do a story that you want to tell. But, the caveat that I share with people is to make sure it’s a story that is marketable.

One of the things that is unfortunate for us is we feel the need to educate and inform with every story we make. Hollywood is not looking for that. Hollywood is looking for you to make films that entertain. If you can creatively educate and entertain. No problem! But, it is not what they are doing. The average white consumer is not out there looking for educational information. Honestly, Millennials, and Gen Z'ers, are not looking for educational information, either, which is why you hear conversations about trauma and how it is too much. I do not want to dumb down any situation that is like that. But, everyone has the choice to watch. But, I think what happens is people start to step on people’s art and creativity because they do not agree, which stifles the segment or section of somebody’s art and creativity. I would like to see us grow tougher as a people, because that is where we have been. I grew up fighting Klansmen. Trauma? We eat trauma for breakfast! I am not going to let that stop me, nor am I going to say that somebody’s work is going to deter me from moving forward in life because I have the choice to turn on something and not. Do I agree with everything when I see it? Absolutely not! Because I have the choice not to watch it. We control what we ingest. There is also the aspect of taking responsibility for what you put out there for people to consume."

Finally, Kors shares he is working on some great stuff and has a multi-million-dollar distribution deal with a major studio. He is expected to make a debut project that he wrote and will produce and direct it, hopefully, mid-2022 with a very well-known Marvel Universe star. He will also do shows and pitches with professional athletes and work through sports agencies and will be working with Rick Ross, who has a sports agency and will be working with some people from his team. Finally, he shares that there may be a feature film he will shoot, and is finishing a feature film that we looped around during the pandemic, which will be finished in January, and will possibly shoot another feature in December. He will also shoot a short film, which he wants to turn into a feature, which is Ahmaud and will direct with his friend, Emmy Award winner, Dario Harris, which all of it is exciting!

Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you?

Kors Vandiver: "I’m not too big on social media, but on Instagram, it’s @koristaan1 on Facebook it’s Koristaan.Vandiver. On Twitter, I am Kors, and my website is "

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