Filmmaking | Interviews

Knowing Talent

1 Aug , 2005  

Written by Sara Faith Alterman | Posted by:

What are casting directors really thinking when you go in for an audition? It's not as scary as you think as you'll learn in this interview with casting veteran Maura Tighe.

Established in 1994, Maura Tighe Casting (formerly Tighe & Doyle Casting) is one of the Boston-area heavyweights. With credits such as "Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events," "State and Main," and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" on her resume’, casting director Maura Tighe has certainly honed her talent for recognizing…talent. But not only is she interested in finding actors for opportunities; she’s dedicated to creating opportunities for actors. As a member of the recently founded Massachusetts Production Coalition, Tighe has joined forces with other members of the local film and television community in the hopes of rousing state legislature into taking an interest in what could be a fertile and profitable industry.

Sara Faith Alterman: What does it take to be a casting director? Any particular background?

Maura Tighe: I have a BFA from Emerson College. I did mostly theatre directing when I was younger — I moved to New York City. I worked in theatre, but still needed a job to keep the wolves away from the door, because theatre didn’t pay anything! So I actually met someone at a party who did this; they said it was really fun, that I’d get to work with actors, and that they knew someone who was hiring! So I went to that interview, got a job as an assistant, and just worked in New York doing casting, agenting, getting involved with commercials and films. I didn’t have any of that in my background, and I didn’t even know that much about it. It’s very specialized.

SFA: Do you remember any of those early film or commercial shoots?

Tighe: I can remember doing a lot of work right off the bat for Digital. I had no idea what I was doing! I would literally call actors out of a book, and I didn’t know if they were good or not; I would hold my breath when they walked through the door. I was horrified when I first moved back to Boston because there aren’t agents here. In New York, you work through agents, develop relationships with them. You trust them to send you good actors. And there are lots of opportunities in New York to go see actors, in showcases, etc. Here, there were theatre actors who don’t really do on-camera stuff. So it was a challenge to try and find actors. I was horrified at how hard it was; they weren’t readily available.

SFA: How has the industry changed since your early days as a casting director?

Tighe: You still have to do a lot more work here [in Boston] than you do in New York. There’s still no good agent system here, unless you’re looking for models or kids. There’s nobody representing talent. A lot of the talent here try to represent themselves, but often they don’t really understand how to do that, and keep track of their schedules, so as a casting director you really have to go out and see a lot of theatre, and beg those theatre people to come to commercial auditions. There’s still a divide here of people who do theatre who don’t ever come in the door to my office.

SFA: Why do you think that is?

Tighe: I think they think it’s not for them. They don’t understand that it’s still acting. There are a handful of really good theatre actors here that also do commercials and industrials and film. But there is still a large group of theatre actors in town who don’t. You can only ask them once or twice.

SFA: Why is there no agency system in Massachusetts?

Tighe: I’ve been told that there’s a Blue Law on the Massachusetts books that prohibits anyone from taking a percentage of someone’s scale wage. So, if you were to work as an agent, you’d have to ask for "plus ten" on top of everything, and they don’t do that in all of the other major markets; Chicago, New York and L.A. So a producer that comes here would ask why it costs them more to cast here in Massachusetts. So the bigger the job, the higher the pay, and the harder it is for them to justify paying that additional percentage.

SFA: What are some of the other things keeping producers and filmmakers away from the Massachusetts market?

Tighe: It’s so difficult here to get permits and licensing, and locations. There’s no tax incentive. It’s so difficult to get cooperation from the state. It’s getting a little bit better.

SFA: Tell me about your agency.

Tighe: I started it in 1994. I wanted to be a casting director, and there were only one or two people casting in Boston. So I called them up and asked if they were hiring. They laughed! There were really no job opportunities, so I had to create my own.

SFA: How has the business changed since you started here?

Tighe: It used to be much busier. When I first started, the SAG commercial business in this area was just phenomenal. We were busy all the time. Probably around 2000, it started to die with the economy. September 11th killed even it more. There was a SAG actor’s strike right before September 11th that really changed the nature of the business, I think. I look back to that, five years ago, when that strike happened. It forced a lot of local producers to think outside the box. So the business has changed. I used to do about 90 percent union — now it’s more like 30 percent union. Which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of actors here who are in the union.

SFA: What advice would you offer to any aspiring actors who want to walk into your office for an audition?

Tighe: I think actors should realize that a casting audition is just work. They should think of auditions as a way to try and get work for five minutes. I think people get too worried about whether they’re going to get hired or not. In New York or L.A., actors go on five, 10 auditions a day; it’s just their day’s work. It’s a little bit more ‘life or death’ here, and that’s definitely a bad thing, to be so invested in one interview, because it comes across that you really need it. And then I’m not enjoying your performance.

SFA: What do you want to see from actors?

Tighe: I want them to be creative! I want them to solve my problem. I want them to come in with an idea, I want them to have read the script in the hallway, instead of socializing with their friends. It’s incredible; some people come in, and they’re outside my office with a script for fifteen minutes, just yapping away, and then they come in for their audition and they have no idea what they’re reading. They have to take another few minutes going over the script in front of me, when they should be all prepared! I want actors to bring something to table. To be creative. As an actor, that’s who you are; you’re an artist. Be an artist.

SFA: As a member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition, how would you like to see the local market change?

Tighe: I hate to sound so old school, but it used to be that people respected looking locally first. If an advertiser is based in Boston and conducts all of their business in Boston, can’t they look in Boston first [for talent]? Now they’re starting to do more shooting here, but they still don’t really cast here. It’s the ‘homegrown’ mentality that I’d like to see change a little. And one of the things we’re trying to do is have that happen eventually.

And also have the state, and the governor’s office, and the legislature understand that they can do things that would support the growth of film and television production. It’s being done in other states — the government knows that it’s an industry that brings money to the state and to local businesses. We need to foster a legislature that would make it easier for people to shoot here. The MPC is a group of professionals in Boston whose main goal is to foster more work in the industry of film and television. It’s a coalition of professionals who all have the same goal — that is, to make it easier for people to work here and to create more work. One of the things that we were just working on was the O’Brien bill, which just passed. We really worked hard to get lobbying for that and to make sure people were informed. We’re hoping to once again establish a solid, state-run film office and a legislature that will pass incentives for big movies to come here. The coalition is open to any and all members of the community, and there are three levels of membership; corporate, individual, and non-voting membership. Even students can be members. It’s structured so that anyone who’s involved in the film and television industry in Massachusetts can be a member.

Interested in becoming a member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition? Please contact John Rule (of Rule Broadcasting) at

Are you an actor? Check out for audition news and casting information.

Interested in becoming a member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition? Please contact John Rule (of Rule Broadcasting) at Are you an actor? Check out for audition news and casting information.