Tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Yancy Prosser, and I have worked at The Agency...since August of ‘99. The owner of the business—Sarah Tackett—she started the business in 1984. She was a makeup artist, and some of her clients kept asking her who the talent was on the last commercial they did. So she started keeping track and keeping contact information. So, that's kind of how the agency was born. I've been the Agency’s director probably for the last 10 years.
How many employees do you guys have and where are you based out of?
We're based out of Little Rock, Arkansas, and it's real funny—when I first came to the agency, we had four people in the office and just because of technology, it's down to me, me and Sarah. Back in the old days before there was Internet, we had to pull headshots, we had to FedEx headshots to L.A. We had to do it all the old fashioned way. And now I can put an actor on tape and the director can have it five minutes later. So it's changed a lot.
What are some of the other trends of how the business changed in the last 20 years?
You know, besides that it's really the technology aspect of it [that] has really been the biggest change. Like for instance, if it was for an L.A. movie, we would audition actors on a VHS camcorder. We would make copies of that VHS tape, which usually would take about four or five hours, then pull resumes and headshots and FedEx them to L.A. Now I'm submitting actors so much faster these days, you know, there's a service we use called Breakdown Express, and that's how I submit actors for movies. I had an actor last week audition for a TV series and his audition was in the director’s on his laptop 10 minutes later. So that has been the biggest change. Also, there's more opportunities in the South as well. You know, we saw Louisiana get a lot of action in the early 2000s, and now it's switched to Atlanta. Atlanta is really the hot spot of the country for movies and TV.
What areas do you cover?
I submit actors for regional projects every single day, and it depends on the project, but sometimes even a national project. As far as day to day work that we do, most of it's based right here in Little Rock.
Tell me all the services that The Agency provides.
I would describe it as wearing hats. We've got three hats. So, our first hat is casting. When a movie or TV series or even commercial work happens in the state, we help our clients find actors or models appropriate for their project. And we open that up to [...] all the agents in the state,. I will send out a breakdown of what we're looking for, and we let everybody submit. It's just not our actors. So that's the one hat. Then another hat is an agent. And for that, I'm only submitting actors who are under contract with The Agency. We have a roster of factors that have been with us, and those are the ones that I'm pushing for to get work. Then the third hat is extras casting. And we don't wear that hat very often. But we did do extras casting for True Detective, season three, which shot up in Northwest Arkansas...[T]hose are the three areas that we do a lot of work in. We also provide fashion models to some of our clients, print models for advertising agencies and production companies. So what would kind of have a saying here, “If you need it, we'll find it if we don't already have it.”
If someone wanted, was an actor or a model and wanted to work with The Agency, what's the process they would go through?
We have an online application that they fill out and then they submit it with that with either a snapshot or a headshot. And then we take a look and see if we think we can get them some work. You know, I can't have a roster full of 25 year old blonde blue-eyed females. You know, I got to have a variety of people so I can get people work. I mean, you don't want too many [people] in one demographic. So if we think we can get them some work, then we contact them and bring them in for an interview. And if we gel, we take it from there.
What are some of the big projects The Agency has worked on besides True Detective?
Oh, mercy. Well, the last couple of years, the biggest projects we worked on was the movie Mud with Jeff Nichols. [That] was a great experience. It's probably one of my favorites that we've got to be involved with. We were locations casting, and we also happened to find the boy who played Neckbone, Jacob Lofland. So that was the highlight of that show. We also worked on, as I said before, HBO's True Detective...It was very challenging, but we got an HBO credit. I'll always follow it up that I think we booked over 2,500 people for that show. And it's kind of funny. I'll watch the show and I'll go, “Where are all the people,” because everything was shot so tight. You can't see my extras. But those are the two biggest ones that we worked on. Another rewarding project was Antiquities. I kind of went from that when it was a short film and I kinda got to watch it grow into this full-length feature and work on it with Daniel and Graham. That was a good, rewarding experience. Lord, there's so many that Sarah has worked on, you know, Biloxi Blues was a huge project that she worked on back in the ‘80s. That was filmed at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith, a huge project for her when she was first starting out. So we've had some good luck here.
What are some of the kinds of challenges you guys face whenever you're doing your job?
For casting, we're not real deep. It's like for a specific role, if you would go to LA might have 50 shoe-in actors who could play that role. Here, because just population numbers, it's going to be much smaller. So you have a shallow pool. We've got some great actors here, but because we're a small state, we just don't have a huge amount.
As for being an agent with movies and TV before there was an Internet, when something was being shot in the South, we could get a lot of our actors on a show because that's why they were coming here. They wanted Southern actors. They really pulled from the area that they were shooting in. But now, because of technology, we're fighting for it like the rest of the country, like Atlanta. Atlanta is not that far away from, from Arkansas, but it's hard. We're pounding on the door every day, trying to open the door for one of our actors to get work there. It's just a lot more difficult because of the competition. So, those are the challenges.
Well, how do you go about developing these relationships with casting directors, whenever you're trying to get an actor on the show?
Unfortunately, because of technology, we don't have that personal relationship with casting directors like we did in the early 2000s. [Now] you just don't talk to them because you're emailing and you're going through other programs to submit. You don't get that one-on-one until you have booked one. But you're able to write little suggestions, please type a look at this actor, that kind of thing. And I do have some pre-existing relationships with casting directors, like from that shoot in Mississippi and Tennessee that I know from the early days before the internet. And so if there's someone that I think they really ought to say, I feel very comfortable in saying, “Hey, give this actor a shot.”
Why do you love what you do with The Agency?
I was an actor before I came on the other side of the desk. I love working with actors. They're crazy. I love them. And I can say that because I was one. [...] And I love the challenge of trying to find that character for a director. Just like when we found Jacob Loflin. It's a rush that we did it, you know, they had L.A. and New York casting directors looking for this kid. And we just said, “please give us a chance. I bet we can find him.” And sure enough, we did. Those are the rewards. And also as an agent, it's very rewarding when you get that phone call that you booked one of your actors. The movie True Grit was one that I kind of hunted down. They came into Little Rock for a casting call for the lead actress. And I said, “well, I've got some other character actors. I would love for you to see if you can and agreed.” And we ended up booking Candace Hinkle in True Grit. There were only three women's roles and she got one of them. That was probably the highlight as an agent in my career and my personal career because I was very aggressive. We'll just say that.
How did COVID and the quarantine affect The Agency?
It shut us down. You know, we provide a lot of models and makeup artists and hairstylists to Dillard's and because they couldn't fly our models in and they couldn't get their merchandise. It shut that down. It shut down all movies and TV. Now a couple of our advertising agencies started shooting COVID-related commercials, where everybody was masked. So, we got to work on those and some of our actors still got to work, but it's been a struggle. And the industry has taken the hit, especially smaller agencies like us. But we're hanging in there. We're going to make it. We're determined, feisty. So we'll be okay. We'll make it.
How did The Agency get involved with ACS’s Girls Film Lab?
Well, Kathryn Tucker's a friend of mine, and she just sent me an email asking you if we would mind helping the first year. And really it was really rewarding. It was fun getting those girls. We have a small casting studio. Sixteen girls came in and we had auditions and it was a blast. Now last year, we had to do it by Zoom because of the pandemic. And it was still fun, but there's nothing like for me having an actor in the room, auditioning them for a director. And it was fun watching the girls because, you know, they got to see some actors that have credits [...] They didn't see any beginners. They saw my really good actors. And they found that really entertaining too [...] That was fun. And it's a chance for us to give back, you know?
What are some tips you might have for an actor who is doing an audition?
Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. Also a lot of time, what I say with young actors and we had a lot of young actors that don't have a lot of film experience here—they try too hard. If you watch a good actor and you're watching a TV show on Netflix or whatever, HBO, and it's just effortless. And that's one of the things I try to get people to do is be so comfortable with it and get that acting out, quit acting. [...] They do too much. And, and with film, you know, you're talking a little bitty screen and less is more for sure.
[A] lot of our actors have so much theater experience and they'll be doing a show, so when they come in, they're real broad and it takes a couple of times for them to bring it down and not project to the background. So, they're good. They can do it. It just takes a little bit of warming up and getting ready, but just being comfortable with the dialogue. Know it forwards and backwards and upside down, because that's when a casting director or your agent can really work with you when you've got it down as pat as you can.
And then you're able to deal with the subtleties of things instead of doing Shakespeare in the Park or something.
It's usually, we're just given aside to use—we don't have the entire script. We really don't know what's happening before the scene or the same. So, you have to make your choices of what you want to do. But most of the things that we’re auditioning for are smaller characters with one or two lines. And I say it a lot, throw the line away, throw the line away. You're acting too much. You don't, but you're just to carry the scene just a little bit farther. It's not, you're not the main part of the scene, you know, so no acting.
So, now that we're so close to getting back to normal, what are you guys looking forward to doing in the next year?
Well, because I'm an optimist, I think all these screenwriters have been in their quarantine writing, all these wonderful scripts, and there's going to be a ton of work for everybody. That's what I hope for. It's still way too hard. We still don't know. I mean, it's gearing up a little, [but] it's still nowhere near what it was. The COVID protocol is very, very strict. And so a lot of production companies are saying, “okay, we're not going to shoot yet.” So I think it's going to get busier. We just want to bring it to Arkansas. That's what we want. Bring it to Arkansas.
[interview edited for clarity and length]
At the ACS, we believe that if we provide filmmakers an arena to exhibit their talents, and film enthusiasts a healthy diet of quality programming, we can inspire more Arkansans to make and watch more films. By supporting filmmakers, festivals, theaters and young people interested in filmmaking throughout the state, we hope to create statewide network, pool Arkansas’s resources and be an umbrella organization that feeds all things film. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.
To be a filmmaker, we have to connect to create. A painter needs a brush, paint and a canvas. A director needs a writer, a cinematographer, a sound mixer, production designer, editor, actors, distributors, and an audience. We cannot do it alone. This art form forces one to collaborate and thus, creates jobs. Filmmaking is unique in the arts in this way. It takes an army.