I Wrote My Own Pilot!

I have been reading your column for four months since joining and becoming an active member of Breakdown Services. I have an addiction to the peer-to-peer board, and I can’t believe that such a wealth of information is offered for free. I have been in Los Angeles for one year now and I feel like I am accomplishing a lot. I joined the army right out of high school at 17 and came to Los Angeles at 19. My background was really in musical theatre and opera but when I got out of the army I started studying Meisner and moved to LA to pursue an acting career.

I did the normal “actor stuff,” read Judy Kerr’s book [Acting Is Everything] and treated it like a bible, subscribed to Back Stage West, and signed up for extra work. After six months, I was still doing extra work, submitting online, and getting nowhere. Not to mention I was not SAG yet.

I decided to take my career into my own hands and wrote a pilot starring myself. I started a production company to produce and film the pilot and recently hired a writer to help me perfect the script, as I am no professional writer. I will soon be pitching the pilot to networks.

I attribute a lot of my success to reading Judy’s book and Pitching Hollywood by [Jonathan] Koch and [Robert] Kosberg, as well as your column. Thank you. I now have a great idea for a show and I have recently been awarded the opportunity to have my pilot read. I have the Hollywood Creative Directory and I am setting meetings and making calls. I am so glad to have a starring role, but casting is very difficult as I am sure you are very well aware. Do you have any suggestions for amateurs who have to cast their own projects? I did not do so well casting the first time around and, although this is only a reading, we are filming the entire pilot in January as a part of network presentations. Our reading is in November so there is not much time. I have, of course, placed notices on all the sites and received a lot of submissions. How is it that CDs know what actor is the right actor, that they will show up and be great?

Also, in regards to the reading, is it a bad idea to invite agents and CDs? I have invited a producer for pitch purposes, but do agents and CDs even attend readings? The reason I thought of inviting producers is that the theatre will be having a champagne reception following the reading for discussion of the pilot. Would you consider this a waste of time for CDs?

I would be so very grateful to hear any of your opinions or suggestions. I would also love to have you in the audience and meet with you if at all possible. I look forward to hearing from you.

First, I commend you on taking your career in your own hands, doing research about the industry, and casting yourself. I actually recommended that actors do exactly that during a panel discussion for Judy’s newest edition of Acting Is Everything at Samuel French Bookstore a couple of weeks ago. If no one else is casting you in the role you were meant to play, cast yourself! Make a short film, put up a play, get yourself out there as you know you are meant to be seen! I really do admire you for hitting the ground running so soon after your arrival in LA (seriously, most folks don’t even know the freeway system within their first year here) and so very young! Kudos to you!

Next, remember that this business is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re working to build relationships and your reputation with every gig and every encounter. So, only if your pilot is absolutely ready should it be introduced to the heavy hitters in this industry. It can take a long time to undo a false start (and there’s that saying about how you only get one chance to make a first impression). So, the fact that you did your research and knew that you needed to actually form a production company and hire a professional writer to get your pilot industry-ready are both great indicators of your potential for success. Next, hire a professional director. No great show ever directs itself. That’s a given.

As for advice on casting, I actually do as many talks to film students and newbie professional filmmakers as I do to acting students and newbie professional actors. It’s the same talk, but from the other direction. There is a time when every producer must realize that it’s best to hire a professional to do certain jobs on a project. You may not yet need a professional casting director, but you certainly need another set of eyes on your team. (It’s like the rule of never choosing your own headshots. You’ll need another opinion on what sells.) Consider hiring a casting consultant (many of us will work for a couple of days on a small project, helping to guide or mentor a producer so that the big mistakes are avoided) or even working with a casting assistant who is looking to get a first “full” casting credit. There are all sorts of options (such as offering a back-end deal to a CD; meaning you pay a small amount up front for the consultation, but if the spec pilot you’re putting together actually “makes it,” you’d attach that CD at her full fee) and — just like actors — casting directors simply want to work. If the material is good, getting someone on board shouldn’t be an issue. Casting directors have a database of actors with whose work we’re familiar. It’s our job to know who brings what sort of energy and talent to the table. We keep tabs on the usual suspects as well as doing our best to scout for new talent at every opportunity. You will absolutely get help with the flake factor if you have a pro on board. We continue to get hired because of our ability to bring the best-matched actors to the material (and to weed out the flakes, the divas, and those who bring the cray-cray).

Should you choose to go it on your own, for casting, I recommend that you spend a lot of time with each actor you’re considering. Don’t just have them read lines but actually speak with them at length about the project, your goals for it, and the expectations you have for each participant. Also, be prepared to lose an actor or two to paying gigs even after you’ve put the final deals in place. It’s just the nature of the beast that actors are going to bail on non-paying gigs in order to work on bigger projects. Just like you, they’re looking for the opportunity that gets them in front of the most people. Unfortunately, that occasionally means having to back out of a commitment to a spec job (no matter how much the actors may believe in it) in order to do a week on a Top Ten primetime show.

As for whether you should invite agents and CDs to your first reading of this spec pilot in November, I have a couple of thoughts on that. First, 90% of the people you invite won’t make it. Yes, even if we say we will be there, we simply may not show up. It’s not personal. It’s business. If I’m scrambling to close a deal with an actor’s agent before the actor gets to set the following day and we have another three rounds of offers and counter-offers to fax back and forth, I am not going to leave to make sure I get to your spec pilot reading (and neither is the agent on the other end of that deal). We have to keep doing the job we’re paid to do, and only if there’s time (and energy, at the end of the day) will we head out to your show. Sure, the champagne reception and things like press kits, valet parking, and advance industry buzz can help get us there, but even if your show goes up on a weekend, that’s time away from the personal lives we may not get a lot of time to have. So, you just need to know that it’s going to be very tough to get industry out to your show. Even if it’s brilliant.

Now, once we’ve heard that it’s brilliant, you can bet we’ll be there the next time you put it up. This is why a lot of people will do small-scale read-thrus, test screenings, and other semi-private showcases of work before putting up the “big” show for producers and potential investors. Still, you should invite everyone (agents, managers, casting directors, producers, network execs) to your show, simply because it gets you on our radar as someone who is doing something. And this town loves the idea that actors aren’t waiting around to be discovered. Just the fact that you are so young and taking charge of your career in such a big way is going to be rewarded by people who are interested in what you might possibly have to say. And if it turns out that your voice is somehow unique and your material is outstanding, you’ll have a line around the corner for your next showcase. Let the bidding war begin!

More than anything, I want to be sure you have a realistic expectation of this first spec pilot reading. If you populate the audience with friends, fellow actors, enthusiastic potential backers, and it just so happens that a handful of agents, managers, and CDs show up too, rock on! It only takes one person to believe in you so very much that she snaps you up and puts you in front of every development person she has access to. Just make sure that your material is phenomenal, your work is flawless, and your expectations are realistic. Then go out there, kick ass, and enjoy the results. If the results turn out to be: “Hey, that was great. Fix these ten things and put it up again in six months,” be prepared for that too. And consider it a huge victory, since most folks with a year under their belts in Hollywood aren’t anywhere close to prepping their first pilot presentation. Way to go! Keep me posted and I’ll do my best to make it to your read-thru.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000460.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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