Traci Hays: Director with a Passion for Dynamic Women in Genre-Blending Narratives and My Bloody Galentine

Please introduce yourself, what you do, why you do it, and what you want people to know about you.

Hello everyone, I’m Traci Hays, a film and television director from Northern California, and I’m passionate about telling genre-blending stories with flawed, dynamic women at the center of the narrative.

What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?

With over a decade of experience as a union production designer on 30 feature films, I approach my craft as a storyteller so I am very hands-on, collaborative, and visually driven. Growing up as a dyslexic homeschooled tomboy with a congenital heart defect, I never saw myself on screen. As an adult, I became a director to change that.

Photo credit: Adam Hendershott

Describe THAT moment when you realized you wanted to do what you do now. Who did you tell first? What has it been like since that moment?

I was born with a rare heart defect and rushed to the hospital via helicopter for emergency open-heart surgery. The second surgery came at four years old when my portable EKG detected cardiac arrhythmia, and the third came after passing out while playing in a high school soccer game.

Bedridden for months, I escaped physical pain by watching films and television like The Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables. The moment Dorothy stepped from her sepia-tone world into technicolor, I saw the power of visual storytelling for the first time which lifted me from depression and ignited my imagination as a storyteller.

Six months later, I was back on my feet fully recovered, and hellbent on living to the fullest. No one was ever going to take my voice away again. I began writing, directing, and editing my own home movies with my three younger siblings.

Being a filmmaker has given me my voice back and I’m thriving telling stories that resonate with me such as fear of being an outsider, female empowerment, and the fragility of life.

Your latest project, the horror thriller My Bloody Galentine, was released in February. What made you want to sign on to direct this particular project?

After reading the script for the first time, I knew I had something special on my hands. The writer, Eliza Maher, beautifully weaved together a laugh-out-loud wild dark comedy full of twists and turns with female friendship at the core of the story. As a die-hard Hitchcockian, I saw My Bloody Galentine as an opportunity to draw on my influences within the thriller/comedy space from films such as Vertigo, Clue, and Scream.

What was the best part of directing My Bloody Galentine and what aspects did you find to be the most challenging?

I LOVE traveling and have visited London more than any other city/country so when I found out the film was going to be shot there, I was so excited! I couldn’t think of a better place to set an American fish out of water story.

When it came time to hire a cast and crew, we sourced local British talent where I had the pleasure of collaborating with cinematographer, Vince Knight, along with a star-studded cast.

You’re also very involved in helping to cast the projects you direct. What qualities do you look for when casting a role?

Yes! I work closely with my casting director(s) and rely on their insights and recommendations as we assemble our talent lists. I’m looking for a balance of grounded, believable performances mixed with THAT special ingredient you can’t put your finger on – it’s just a gut feeling I have when watching an actor.

I love being surprised by something I didn’t think about for a character that an actor brings to their interpretation of the role. In the end, there must be a mix of talent, collaboration, and flexible positive energy.

What do you hope the audience takes away from watching My Bloody Galentine?

I hope they are able to escape on an over-the-top campy ride that leaves them laughing out loud, smiling until it hurts, and gives them all the feel-good moments of a female friendship bonding experience while being scared all at the same time!

You are a graduate of Chapman University’s Film & Television Program. Can you tell us the Top 5 things you learned there that have helped you in your career thus far?

Great question! The top five things that come to mind are:

  • Never be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone
  • It’s okay if you don’t know the answer
  • I took an acting class and understood the process an actor goes through to break down their character
  • To trust my gut instinct
  • Formed lasting relationships with peers whom I’m collaborating with to this day

Can you share a favorite piece of advice/guidance that you received from your mentors Randal Klesier, Martha Coolidge, and John Badham?

They have all been instrumental in my development as an artist and, more importantly, a human being! Martha Coolidge taught me the importance of only saying yes to projects that spark my creativity and willingness to see it through to the end. “You will never stop having to prove yourself in this industry so be as prepared as possible – do your homework.”

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve directed thus far? Why is it your favorite?

Nope – every film brings its own sets of challenges and rewards.

You’ve been honored with many awards for directing. Is there one award you’ve received that is most meaningful to you?

While I feel very honored to be recognized for my work, I find the most meaning and satisfaction in sitting in a movie theatre with an audience connecting to my work through a shared experience.

Photo credit: Adam Hendershott

Where do you see your directing career in five years?

In five years I will be supporting myself by directing full-time on features for companies such as Focus Features, Annapurna Pictures Films, Searchlight Pictures, A24, and Hello Sunshine as well as television series with companies like HBO Max, Sony Pictures Television, Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Hulu. These projects will creatively fulfill me while working alongside like-minded people who support and encourage one another.

What would be your dream project to direct?

My coming-of-age 90s feature in a similar vein of Bend It Like Beckham meets Lady Bird.

If you had to make a list of films that, in your opinion, were masterfully directed, what would they be?

Back to the Future
Lord of the Rings
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
To Leslie

What is one piece of wisdom that you would share with someone who wants to pursue a career in directing and is just getting their start in the industry?

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young or you’re not experienced enough. You have a unique voice with a unique point of view that no one else in the world has and your voice matters.

Are there any current or previous projects you’ve worked on that you’d like to tell our readers more about so they can check them out?

I’m currently in post-production on my next feature, a thriller in a similar vein of No Country For Old Men meets Hell or High Water, and it is set to release later this year on Tubi.

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Sarrah Sanchez
Sarrah Sanchez
Sarrah brings the perfect blend of creativity and analytical flair to every project. Passionate about storytelling and a true entertainment aficionado.


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