Cody Dorkin sits down one on one with Nancy Hayes, founder of Nancy Hayes Casting; a full service casting agency that has operated in San Francisco for almost 30 years. They work with directors and producers to find the right talent for their projects including films, commercials, industrials, voice overs, and print. Nancy Hayes is also the casting director who booked Cody for his role in ‘Village of the Damned’ at the age of nine.
CD: What’s your favorite part of being a Casting Director?
NH: I love it when we can book the talent, that’s my favorite part. I feel like it just helps give someone a new life experience.
CD: What do you want actors to know before they come in for their auditions?
NH: They should know what they’re auditioning for and something about the product. If it’s a commercial they should know something about the director. Or film, if it’s a film. They should do some research rather than say “I don’t know what I’m here for” because so many people would do such a better job if they did just a little bit of research. There is no excuse these days for not knowing the product. Also, to know what time they’re coming in, as well as the shoot and callback dates. The worst thing an actor can do, well one of the worst things, is to get booked on a job or audition for a job and then say “Oh I’m not available.” Well then why did you come in? “Well I needed practice.” That’s just not professional.
CD: What do you wish actors did more of?
NH: Just prepare, constantly study, and make a professional resume. There’s so many resumes out there that are poorly done. Their resume should not consist of audition techniques, it should be real experience. If you’re auditioning for a film, directors don’t want to see print work on your resume. If this happened, I wouldn’t give it to the director. It doesn’t help them get other print work because if there is any work from any type of competitor, they’d say “No, we don’t want them” even though it was ten years ago. They shouldn’t list any commercials and no print, at all. Put “Commercials Upon Request.” I mean, that hasn’t changed for years. They wouldn’t need to know your conflicts, but if they put it down, there it is.
CD: On the flip side of that, what do you wish actors did less of?
NH: Don’t overthink the details. I remember one time, someone came in and brought me a couple different belts and a couple pairs of shoes. That’s not what it’s about. I always think, if you treat an audition as a cocktail party, where you come in and have a good time, that you’ll do a better job. And another thing they should never do, because we note it, is “Can I come in?” or just butt-in in front of the other actors. There are some who do it EVERY time. And we know them and we don’t call them back very often.
CD: When does a talent stand out? Whether that’s in the audition room or the waiting room?
NH: They have to come in and be polite, honor their time, not try to change it. There are certain actors who always want to change their time and there are some auditions where we can’t change the time. We have a set up, we have props, the director there and they’ve asked it to be a certain way. But, there is always a few people that always ask for it, no matter what. And they should just be professional. It’s a job, it’s not an ego contest. It’s like any other job. So, if they have a job and say “I can’t, I have something happening at work” well this is work too, so maybe you should quit this job.
CD: I’ve seen talent with their casting profiles online not being filled out correctly. Do you see common mistakes?
NH: Well it’s the same thing, they have too much. There was one agent in particular, that all their people just had special skills. Special skills are important, but that’s down at the bottom [of the resume]. And another thing that actors do many times, is say they speak a language. Well they don’t. It’s common when they say they speak the language and go “oh well you know I can’t really speak it.” The special skills are something you get paid to do.
CD: So if you can’t do something…?
NH: Don’t put it down. Don’t feel like you should be paid for it.
CD: Right, I see. So is there a way to judge that? If somebody has a skill do they have to be an expert at it or is there a happy medium?
NH: Yeah, they have to be experts at it, where they could spend the day doing it over and over and over. One time we hired someone who said they could ride a bike and they go “oooh, I didn’t know I had to go downhill.” If they have 30 specials skills, we go “hmm they really don’t have that many.
CD: As a casting director, you see an actor’s headshot thumbnail for their submission, how important is that image, essentially on that initial scan through for submissions.
NH: That’s their only submission. What we do, well there’s a couple agents that don’t have photos that are quite up to par, so we have to look at the photo on the casting network and then we have to look at what they really look like in our database. Some of the photos, with some of the agents, that have their talent on SF Casting, I’m sure they’ve never looked at the photos because if they did, they wouldn’t submit them. But, there are a couple photos where they aren’t even looking at the camera. Or they don’t have the “aha” look or whatever.
CD: They’re missing the mark on what it should be. So, what makes a great headshot?
NH: Looking into the camera. It needs to be frequently changed at least once a year. People grow their hair and that’s okay, but they should look like their photo. There was one guy recently who lost a whole bunch of weight. It took him a while to change his photo, which is understandable, but still there was no current photo. We called him in for a “heavy boy” but he wasn’t heavy.
CD: What specifically are you looking for? Experience? Training? Skills?
NH: Experience, training, but not audition techniques, some theatre training. Any degree in theater is good. If they work at it, and they still work at it, and keep working at it. That’s honorable.
CD: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
NH: It’s not that difficult to get a talent agent in San Francisco, so they just need to persevere. If no one is accepting them, there’s something wrong. Some people don’t have an agent because they just need a kick in the butt. They’re just lazy. We deal with certain types of people we have to look for. Maybe improv people, a lot of them just like the improv, so they just don’t have an agent, but you really need an agent.