Spotlight Interview with Casting Director, Tiffany Mak

by Kirsten Clarkson on November 23, 2011

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The lovely and talented Ms. Tiffany Mak was born in “Winterpeg”, Manitoba and moved to Vancouver in 1998. She achieved a degree in Criminology from Simon Fraser University and planned to pursue a career as a lawyer. Even though Criminology doesn’t seem to have anything in common with casting, she says it’s helped her a lot with the job and environment.

“You learn to be able to read people quickly, be analytical about everything and appreciate that nothing in life (or casting!) is black and white.”

Outside of Criminology, Tiffany’s had some pretty crazy life experiences – some she can’t reveal in writing! But she says the most challenging and rewarding life experiences happened when she allowed herself to be outside of her comfort zone and really tested her emotional and physical limits – some may think they were reckless decisions but she thinks of them as character?building adventures.

That’s as far as the fascinating Ms. Mak is willing to go with her history so on with the interview!

Why did you choose to go into casting and tell us a little about your journey so far.

I’ve always been obsessed with the film industry and actors in particular. I knew early on that I wouldn’t be a very good actor, but that I had an eye and an appreciation for good acting. I worked in a variety of other positions (production assistant, background actor, extras wrangler, sandwich getter) and continued to read books and scripts and create my dream casts in my head. (This was a tip given to me by Lauren Schuler?Donner when I was a production assistant, and she remains one of my producer idolsto this day, even though she probably doesn’t remember me!)

As luck and hard work would have it, I had the privilege of assisting for two of the top casting directors in Vancouver for a couple of years and it was during this time that I opted to stay in casting instead of going to law school. The journey so far has had a lot of ups and downs but I still think it’s the greatest job in the world – the downs make the ups that much more rewarding!

There is a bit of mystique about casting directors amongst new actors. Could you explain what exactly it is that a casting director does and how much of a role they play in an actor booking a role?

You can simplify a casting director’s job by saying we’re basically glorified HR directors! We’re the gatekeepers who showcase actors to directors and producers. A lot of my job is getting the best performances possible from the actors I consider and really sell the ones I believe in to the powers that be…ultimately the final say lies with the producers but a casting director can make or break who gets considered and who doesn’t. At the same time, I want everyone to have the best audition they can so I try to keep my audition room relaxed and comfortable.

What are some common mistakes that actors make in the audition room that could easily be avoided?

Actors shouldn’t come in unprepared – know your lines, the script and the tone of the project and make clear choices about the character – and appear confident and ready to roll! I think actors are sometimes too scared to make strong choices because they want to seem malleable but it comes off like they don’t have a solid understanding of the role. Also, always bring your headshot and resume! I don’t understand the actors who don’t. An audition is basically a job interview, and you wouldn’t go to a job interview without your business card and resume!

What are some of the more impressive things you have seen in a casting room in terms of choices actors make?

Actors who take a role and completely make it their own always stand out – we see so many actors for the same role, so someone who makes us feel like we’re seeing the character for the first time always jump to the top of the heap. I still view those old auditions from time to time. But it’s important to make choices that are still true to the character you’re playing! Don’t be different just for the sake of being different.

Do you have PET PEEVES?

People who say “for all intensive purposes” and “I would of/should of…”

In the audition room, people who make excuses, whether it be actors, directors, producers, my staff or myself.  Also, I had an actor ask once if he could take off his pants for an audition that had nothing to do with him being sans pants. What’s that about??

Who are some of your favourite actors?

I don’t want to name any Vancouver actors but there are certain performers I audition and book consistently on my projects because they always impress me with their talent and charisma, and they’re fun to work with in the audition room. My favourite Hollywood actors are Jeremy Renner, Kate Winslet and the cast of Breaking Bad. I’ll watch them in anything.

What challenges do you face in your work? Anything: from Actors to Director/Producer sessions or the scarcity of work from time to time.

There are a lot of challenges but the one I’m constantly faced with is trying to keep all parties happy – directors, producers, agents and actors. Even though the casting process requires a lot of actors to be considered and rejected, I hate hurting people’s feelings. And there are a lot of egos to deal with all around. No one has it easy and we’re all just trying to get the job done so I try to make it as painless as possible. And there’s constantly the fear of when I’ll be getting my next job. I’ve been very lucky this year, but who knows what next year will bring??

Where do you hope to go in your career?

I hope to continue casting projects that inspire and excite me, and discovering new talent. Writing and producing is in the back of my mind but I’ve yet to find a story that inspires me enough. If I spent the rest of my life casting amazing projects and discovering the next big thing (and traveling the world in my down time)… I’d be as a happy as a clam.

Kirsten Clarkson is the Founder and Senior Education Advisor at Young Screen Actors Academy. For over 20 years, she has been coaching Vancouver’s top young actors who have book everything from actor to leading roles on films and TV shows. Kirsten has experience as an actor, writer, director, development executive, casting director and talent agent.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Judd July 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I typed Tiffany’s name in google and this is what came up. I belive I grew up with her when she was young and I just wanted to say that i am vary happy for her. I would like to get a hold of her but do not know how. well i send this out if you get to read this Tiffany way to go.

Michele November 13, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Awesome interview! Enough said.

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