Ah, pilot season. Love it or hate it, it’s a reality of pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles. It’s the three-month period when the stakes are high, the pressure is on, and the rewards can be unfathomably good. Of course — after six trips to producers — being told, “We went another way,” can be a crushing blow. As CD Patrick Baca once told me, “Pilot season is like Vegas. It’s the one time of year when all of a sudden, there are more slot machines available for you to play on. Anyone can hit it big. Even the little old lady sitting next to you can land a pilot. If you don’t hit the jackpot this time, you know there is always next year. Hopefully, you’ll be a more experienced player by then.”
To that end, I’d advise that actors go into pilot season hoping to get great at managing the stress of the season, because with that as the primary goal, you may find some wonderful opportunities to develop self-management skills that will pay off during all audition situations. Look, pilot season is intense and insane even for those who’ve lived and worked in LA for several years. It’s just tough. And that’s not the learning curve you want to be up against, if you’re only beginning to build your professional acting career. For LA actors and those out-of-towners who refuse to heed my advice from the Premature Moves column, I’ll say this: Spend as much time as you can in preparation for your auditions; really connect with your choices; allow plenty of extra time to commute, park, and find your way to the audition location; and be graciously patient. Remember that pilot season affects everyone in this town, and no one should take any of the stress personally.
Okay, so you’ve decided to “go for it” this pilot season. Good for you! But let me recommend that you shift focus and “go for” projects other than pilots. What?!? Trust me. You actually have a better shot at other projects during pilot season.
Pilot Season Timing
Before we get to those “other projects” and why I’m so sure those are your real pilot season opportunities, let’s look at the timing of pilot season. Pilot season starts up after Hollywood returns from the Sundance Film Festival (late-January) and goes through mid-April. This is when the majority of television pilots for the Fall TV Season are cast and shot, regardless of whether they are picked up and ever aired publicly.
Even those of us who do not regularly cast pilots feel the impact of pilot season. It is simply more complicated to do our jobs when everyone is slammed at pilot season, so we all tend to work longer hours, feel more frazzled at the end of the day, and do less scouting (whether it’s theatre, showcases, or CD workshops). We all find that it is more difficult to schedule actors for auditions during pilot season, as they are trying to see five or six different CDs a day sometimes.
How frantic is it? As Peter Golden — Executive Vice President of Talent and Casting for CBS — explained: “Within four to six weeks of getting the script, we’re shooting the pilot, so sometimes our casting directors hold auditions with just an outline and one scene. The actor will go from reading for the associate, to the casting director, to the producer, do a callback, maybe read for the director, get to the studio level, and then final choices go to the network, all just in a few weeks.”
The Real Opportunities
The biggest mistake newer actors make is thinking they’re going to be able to “get in” on pilots during pilot season. What you need to focus on is getting into the offices that are casting everything other than pilots, because they’re going to be having a hard time getting “bigger actors” in, since every agent wants to keep his or her top clients free for pilots. Many agents advise actors otherwise open to doing theatre, commercials, and indie feature films to hold off on auditioning for and even accepting other roles in the event that a pilot should come through. Heck, some will even advise against studio features and ongoing episodics, since the “pilot booking” is the biggie.
So, are you a name actor? Are you a working actor with many guest-star credits on your IMDb page? If not, you should focus your energy on getting seen for “old” episodics, commercials, stage plays, and feature films. When “bigger actors” are harder to get, these opportunities become YOURS! There are plenty of co-star and guest-star roles — that you wouldn’t normally be seen for — during pilot season. And if you focus not on getting seen for pilots but instead on “being there” for the offices that really need you right now, you actually can have a better pilot season than you may have expected. And, hey, if you do happen to go in on a couple of pilots… YAY! Just don’t plan to test for series regular roles on pilots unless you’ve already had a few pretty high-profile guest-star years under your belt. Remember, a pilot is a “maybe” until the Upfronts. Unless you can help “sell” the show to advertisers, you’re likely not at the top of producers’ list during pilot season.
Tips from Casting Directors
Once upon a time, I interviewed 200+ casting directors for Back Stage West and my first book Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews. A frequent topic was pilot season and how actors can best survive it. Here are the three main areas of pilot season advice among some of LA’s top CDs.
It seems that many actors have too many auditions during pilot season and, consequently, are overwhelmed, under-rehearsed, don’t have time to read the material, and are running around headless. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will end up unsatisfied at the end of the day. — Elisa Goodman
Many people have multiple appointments on busy days during pilot season. If you feel the need, ask for more time. Usually that will be an option. If you’re an actor who seems like you don’t care about giving a cold reading, you’ll be quickly dismissed during pilot season; a time when reading 100 actors a day is the norm. — Lisa Miller Katz
We get busy. I will add a casting director to our office for pilot season. The stakes are very high. Actors become overwhelmed and their priorities are skewed out of line. Be fully prepared. Your agent can help by not scheduling 12 appointments in one day. Don’t be so attached to the outcome that you are depleted and your energy is gone, and you’re not present for your auditions. That just adds tension. — April Webster
If you’re auditioning a lot — and a particular day’s schedule is just too jammed — tell your agent to ask if an appointment can be rescheduled. Sometimes they can. Believe me, we’ll let you know if they can’t. — Deborah Barylski
Limit how many auditions you attend in a day. Preparation for an audition is so important, because things can move very quickly. A preread in the morning can lead to a producer’s session, a studio session, and a network session within 24 hours. I don’t agree with the mindset that you can wing it for the preread and if you get a callback, [then] you’ll start preparing. If you connect with the material and confirm your audition, you should show your commitment from the very beginning of the process by preparing for the audition. So many times I’ve heard actors say, “I didn’t read the script because I had four other auditions today.” That’s like going on a first date and saying, “I would’ve showered but I had a couple of dates earlier.” — Mark Paladini
The hardest thing is to stay present. That’s a hard process. There’s whispering, there’s note-taking. Keep your focus. Connect to your reader. Remember who you are, not who they want you to be. Have integrity and fill the room with your energy. Take the space. Know you’re a contribution to the project. The right thing will happen. Know that casting directors are nervous at those meetings too. Be clear on your technique and focus on the task. It’s not about getting the job. — April Webster
Try to be as prepared as possible during pilot season. It is about the only time of year that a script should be readily available in the casting director’s office, so there’s no excuse for not having read and prepared the script as much as possible. Ask questions of your agent or of the assistant in the casting director’s office. Know the tone of the show. Is it similar to something already on the air? There’s no such thing as too much information. All of this will be helpful during an audition. — Lisa Miller Katz
Dealing with pilot season requires that you are present, centered, able to deal with the improvisational nature of the audition. What you prepared may change, go out the window, be altered by the space, the energy of the people, your energy of the day, your internal energy. You must be prepared to have anything happen and have fun. If you can’t handle that, best to figure out how to be in your body, relax and let go of the results or you will fall apart. — Elisa Goodman
Remember that — in casting a pilot — we are looking for someone that an audience will care about every week. Make your character special, someone we will want to care about and therefore want to see week after week. — Lori Cobe-Ross
[Getting a callback] is an indication of your talent. Be glad. You have to keep your own center and realize that getting a callback is an accomplishment. Every time I work on a pilot, I get thousands of envelopes. Piles and piles and piles! It blows my mind. — Jeanie Bacharach
Actors need to realize that [although] you may be the single best thing since sliced bread, the director loves you, the casting director wants to marry you, and the producer is about to call his real estate broker for that $11 million house in the hills [that sometimes] the creative executive doesn’t “get you” and the casting director has to start all over again. The lousiest actor in your acting class — the one with acne, bad hair, horrid breath, who won’t even make his own funeral on time — will get the job because the same creative executive thinks that he’s “it.” So, you go home and cry and want to move back to the city from which you came and become an assistant manger at your local Home Depot. But you can’t. Because as an actor, you have to keep trying. You have to understand that even if you didn’t get the job, the casting director will remember you and push you and insist that smart people hire you because you have talent. — Matthew Barry
While pilot season is a high-stress time for almost everyone in your network (fellow actors, agents, managers, casting directors, writers, producers, directors, even your acting coach), you can choose to keep your wits about you and make everyone’s experience more pleasant. Yeah, the odds are against you during pilot season, but as I’ve said before: If you play the odds, there is no reason to ever attempt a career in show business. If you live your dreams, there’s no excuse not to.
Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form prior to next pilot season? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
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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/000666.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.