ATC Student & Intern recounts his experience assisting & learning from L.A. Casting Director, Deborah Maxwell Dion.
Preface: If you’re short on time, scroll down to find my list of lessons learned.
The first thing you notice about Deb Dion, is that when she looks at you, you feel understood. It must come from years of seeing thousands of actors in the audition room, but it’s still heartwarming to experience.
The second thing you notice, is that she means business!
I became acquainted with the Actor’s Training Center when they opened in 2007. By then, I’d already acted in various films, performed at the Marriott Theatre, and had a full run as an orphan in the Chicago showing of the US Tour of Evita. Performing was something that I felt (and still feel) was in my blood. It wasn’t until I began my training at ATC, however, that I really began to hone my craft.
I was asked to assist for the LA Film Intensive Workshop three weeks before the first day of class and I quickly said yes! I’d heard nothing but great things about Deb, and I knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to refresh the basics of on-camera acting. Boy, was I right!
Before the workshop even begins, there was a lot to prepare and get ready for the students.
Email students their scripts - In order to truly assess and critique a student's work, Deb assigns a mock audition and one partner scene for each day. Everyone prepares the same character for the mock audition and one-by-one they come in and read as if it were a true LA audition.
Print out those scripts to have ready for the students and Deb.
Sort out the scripts by which day certain scripts were being read and file them in folders specific to the class.
And finally, room and camera set-up!
After all this preparation, my anticipation was running wild. At last, the first day of class arrived....
Putting into words how much knowledge Deb offers her students is impossible.
Not only does she speak about the ways to audition and the manner in which to conduct oneself in partner scenes, she also gives numerous stories from her life in the industry.
These stories alone provided a lesson well worth listening to. To simply share the room with such a prominent casting director and hear her stories would have been enough, but as I mentioned before, she means business and was there to make us work.
My position in the workshop was an interesting one: the first two days of the class, my job was solely to be an assistant. That meant:
Keeping track of time—it’s amazing how quickly four hours flies by.
Providing Deb with the correct copies of scripts.
Working the camera and TV.
Taking note of everything she said in class.
Emailing those notes to the students after the workshop so everyone knew what to work on for the next class.
Taking notes was a learning experience for me as each night, I got to look at all the notes and apply them to myself and my training.
The biggest thing I learned as an assistant? The job of a casting director is tough!
Casting directors spend their days watching audition after audition and it isn’t until you step into those shoes yourself that you realize how quickly it can wear you out.
Which is why it’s important to always be nice and friendly to your casting director - they've earned it.
I’ll follow this by saying that in no way do I mean to suggest casting directors are tired of seeing you, merely that after seeing a string of actors come into the room and give the same audition as the past eight actors before, the scene becomes monotonous.
The last two days of the workshop, my job was to not only be an assistant, but to also be a student. I was given my own scripts to memorize and I too was put through the mock audition process…
Which leads me to what I learned as a student: an actors job in the audition room is to BE DIFFERENT FROM THE NUMEROUS ACTORS THAT JUST WENT BEFORE YOU.
Every actor has a way they think the role should be played and that’s great, that’s called individuality. The issue is when actors fail to make strong choices because they’re afraid that they might not perform perfectly.
Deb made a point of stating in class more than once, “Perfection takes the life out of everything!”.
When it comes to auditions, most directors only have a small idea of what they want to see, in reality they’re waiting on the actors to make the bold choices that make their performance stand out:
They want actors who find the humor in every scene, actors who choose love in their relationships—because “love opens doors”. Actors who aren’t afraid to try something risky. “Perfect” auditions are, in fact, quite boring. They may be the safest route to take when auditioning, but they won’t result in you being remembered. Deb would assure you, the first step to booking the role, is to be memorable.
From everything I took away from my Deb Dion experience, these are the most important:
Never be afraid of taking risks! It’s easier said than done, but it’s the first step at booking roles. Once you start risking, you’ll begin to stand out from the crowd!
I tend to be a perfectionist, so if you can relate, work on being more open to change and being imperfect!
Whenever you get the opportunity, intern for a casting director! I can’t stress this point enough, you’ll learn more from watching others audition and observing how casting directors think, than from you actually auditioning!
Above all: NEVER STOP USING YOUR IMAGINATION! Remember why you got into this business in the first place. Find the love again, find the joy, find the fun, and never let go of it!
I'll leave you with one last quote from Deb during her workshop:
"Even if everything goes terribly wrong, does it really matter? This is just acting, not surgery. You got it!”
Go forth and book those roles, my friends! Love and peace!
-ATC Student & Intern,
Based on your interest in this article, we recommend the following workshops:
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