We had the good fortune of connecting with Traci Hays and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Traci, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
To me, work-life balance is about carving out quality time to invest in myself, the people, and things that make me happiest and fulfilled as a human being.

I’ve always been driven and set high goals for myself. I live, eat and breathe filmmaking and subsequently pushed myself to the detriment of my own mental and physical health. I spent many years in and out of the doctors’ office for various health issues, all stemming from the stress of taking on countless projects simultaneously as a director and designer. I reached a breaking point where I realized I needed to make drastic changes. From hiring a career coach, to finally moving out of an apartment into a home, and to saying “no” to work on the weekends, I have refocused my priorities and time management. To put it simply, I am learning to only say “yes” to the aspects of work-life that align with my long-term vision.

Now with the support of my career coach, I’m able to set massive, seemingly impossible goals and work towards them leaving a wake of accomplishments along the way. I’m now strategic in how I elevate my career, expand my network, and create my own opportunities. This led to agency representation with Culture Creative Entertainment.

The other substantial life change this past year was moving from an apartment to a home. Every morning I wake up to a quiet, peaceful environment in the middle of nature which I appreciate its calm even on the busiest of days! I also finally have a home office – a designated space to create, invent, and dream, which I’ve decorated with lots of indoor plants, warm wood-tone furniture, and a diffuser with wild orange. The clutter-free space reduces distractions, improves productivity, and mitigates my stress.

The Conductor with Dayo Okeniyi
Private screening at William Morris Endeavor (WME) with Nicole Steinwedell and Dayo Okeniyi.

I spend my days off enjoying quality time with friends, family, and hobbies such as gardening (unsuccessfully thus far), hiking, and making cheese boards. In the end, I’ve found a healthier and more sustainable work-life balance by being self-aware of when I need to slow down, breathe, and make positive adjustments. It has made me better at my art and happier in my life. Some days are better than others but I always try to put my best foot forward and remember that I can achieve anything I set my mind to…it just takes a little bit more patience than I have but that’s ok because it will happen in time!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others: As a director and production designer, I’ve had the pleasure of working on film and television projects coast to coast. My films target strong female leads, supernatural elements, with underlying mystery throughout. From a female stowaway disguised as a man shipwrecked on an island in the 1800s, to a jealous son of his father’s affection towards his employee on parole, to a cursed man who’s repeatedly struck by lightning, my films focus on diverse characters at a crossroad. I’m naturally drawn to period pieces because I love learning about history and showcasing underrepresented cultures. I’m interested in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, fully exposed and vulnerable, telling authentic stories that speak to the core of who we are as human beings.

What you are most proud of or excited about:
I’m most excited about my feature film directorial debut, The Zipper Club, currently in development. It’s based on my true story of overcoming a third open-heart surgery as a teenager growing up in the 90s. The story addresses core issues with body image, finding new dreams, letting go of control, and the fragility of human life. The project is being fiscally sponsored by From the Heart Productions, a 501(c)3 non-profit, helping indie filmmakers secure funding.

How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges?:
As a child, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and a congenital heart defect. In addition to being homeschooled, I had specialized tutoring and struggled to read until the age of ten. Outfitted with rose-colored glasses to alleviate my eye strain, I was self-conscious of my slow reading pace and constant misspelling of words. I would sit in a corner of the library with stacks of mystery novels looking at the illustrations to piece the story together. This laid the foundation for why I am such a visually stimulated filmmaker.

I applied to my first-choice film school at Chapman University and was accepted as a transfer student. I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to study filmmaking with talented peers and mentors. Through this network, it opened doors to work opportunities and provided a foundation of support in my career. There have been numerous false starts with projects, as the saying goes, “hurry up and wait.” There’s no one path to success in this industry, but I’ve discovered that patience and perseverance are key.

What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?:
Filmmaking in its natural state is all about problem-solving. I’ve learned to always listen to my gut instincts about any given situation or individual. For me, it’s all about the spirit and vibe of a person and building trust with them. I pride myself on working with people who are better at their job than I am, filling in my weaknesses with their strengths.

What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?:
Over the years, so many people gave me opportunities that I feel compelled to give back the same respect that’s been shown to me in my career. I’m all about taking risks and giving people the opportunity to prove themselves. I’ve been collaborating with many of the same people I met in film school who have become my support network and family of like-minded artists. Most importantly, they make me laugh! Life is too short to be too serious all the time.

Ultimately, my work focuses on bringing imperfect characters to life who connect with an underserved audience — people with learning difficulties, people with life-threatening obstacles to overcome, and anyone who sees each day as a fight to survive. I want to craft art that gives hope and maybe even changes the world…


Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The city of angels is overflowing with culture, community, and cuisine. Below is my itinerary to some of my favorite places to visit throughout the city based on my love of food, wine, and being outdoors.

Studio City

Every Sunday, Studio City has a beautiful farmer’s market. After buying fresh produce and a cup of joe at Alfred’s Coffee, we would head to Firefly for brunch then shopping along Ventura Blvd, stopping in for a pick-me-up at Salt and Straw. Late afternoon movie on the IMAX screen at City Walk and wrap our evening dinner at Mercado with a jalapeno margarita.


We would begin our morning eating the best french toast at The Griddle. Then we would make our way to the shops on Melrose, including my favorite, Rolling Greens. Then to Osteria Mozza for delicious pizza. For small bites, we would stop in at The Running Goose. For dinner, we would go to Yamashiro with a stunning view of the city before heading to the historic Magic Castle.


We would set out to the once-a-month Pasadena City Flea Market, then fill our stomachs with lunch at Urth Caffe. As a Back to the Future fan, I would take them to Doc Brown’s House then to the gardens at The Huntington Library, and finish the evening with an epic cheese board and wine at The Cellar.


We would begin at the Grand Central Market snagging a meal or two from one of the many delicious vendors, then walk across the street to board the famous Angels Flight Railway. Can’t forget to walk in Harrison Ford’s footsteps at the Bradbury Building where the iconic Blade Runner was filmed. Then off to The Last BookStore, the contemporary art museum, The Broad, and a pit stop at Union Station and historic Olvera St. Dinner at the New American restaurant Otium then finish the evening by seeing a play at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. For a nightcap, we would head to Death & Co for a fancy cocktail.


Tucked away in the Malibu mountains is The Getty Villa. After touring the stunning grounds, we would head to lunch on the pier at the Malibu Farm Restaurant. Then dip our toes in the ocean at Point Dume, a horseback ride through the lush Malibu Creek State Park, and finish the day off with drinks at The Sunset Restaurant and dinner overlooking the ocean at Moon Shadows.

Los Feliz & Larchmont Village

Begin with a sunrise hike through Griffith Park to the top of the Griffith Observatory, then breakfast at Little Doms (gotta try their ricotta blueberry pancakes!). Afterwards, we would explore the cute shops on Hillhurst Ave, lunch at Figaro Bistrot, and a tour of the famous Hollyhock House.  Then we would make our way to Larchmont Village for a massage at Larchmont Spa and spend the afternoon walking around the quaint street before having dinner at Louise’s Trattoria. We would walk off our pasta to Pour Vous for a cocktail and live music.

Hooked streaming now on Passionflix
Home office
Lions Among Men with Johanna Watts

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am dedicating my Shoutout to director Matha Coolidge, a woman of great strength, passion, and vision for telling stories. The first woman to become the president of the Director’s Guild of America, Martha paved the way for other women, like myself, to achieve success in our careers through leading by example.

I met Martha over a weekly filmmaker-in-residence dinner while attending Chapman University’s film school. Through this, we developed a friendship. She voluntarily became my mentor, overseeing my senior thesis 1800s period-piece, Lions Among Men, which was nominated for a student DGA award.

A decade later, Martha continues to be a sounding board, offering advice about the most crucial decisions I’ve made in my career thus far. I greatly admire her persistence and dedication to her craft and how she stands up for her vision amidst many male counterparts in classrooms and on film sets. Her matter-of-fact way of thinking about the business has given me insight into navigating my own career effectively.

She 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 the homework.” Martha’s passion and competitiveness bleed into every aspect of her life, including horse racing!

Website: www.TraciHays.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tracishays

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