How to Survive Pilot Season
It’s a well known fact that Los Angeles is the mecca for television, and the birthplace of the majority of our favourite series, but the actors on those shows all have something in common; most of their careers skyrocketed because of pilot season.
Living in Los Angeles as an actor you quickly become accustomed to the fast-paced and demanding culture. If you don’t learn how to stay on top of it, you can soon find yourself being swallowed up. Now take that atmosphere, along with the approximate 108,640 local L.A. actors, throw several thousand more international actors in, and there you have pilot season. It typically begins in January to late April, where 70–100 pilots are produced, and all in hope of being picked up. Since I am experiencing my first pilot season, it has completely opened my eyes, and I wanted to share my experiences.
Know What You’re Going Into
I am not simply talking about knowing which audition you are attending with which casting director, I mean to make sure you fully comprehend that no audition will ever be a simple process, and pilot season is a whole different story. Before coming here I did not fully grasp the complete scale of how high the stakes were to be a big player in pilot season, and then I was enlightened about the Casting Pyramid. The majority of the time, network studios have a list of actors that they want to see first, as well as approaching an ‘offer only’ select few. These actors are well known, household names, that could well be film actors venturing into television. After the leads are cast, the featured supporting roles are usually panned over by said named actors. This is where the majority of actors with a strong credited résumé, a distinct look or great representation come in. If your name is not on the list in the first place, you need to fight to be seen in that casting room. For an actor who is just starting out, or does not have many credits as those initially wanted to be seen by the casting directors, late February to April are usually busiest than the beginning of the year once the named talent becomes sparse. If you want to be a part of pilot season or get any work in Los Angeles, it can of course be achieved without an agent or manager, but it helps to have one. Sending off résumés, headshots and demo-reels to agents should be done several months in advance before the early following year. Agents are so busy in the first four months of the year they barely have time to look over potential new talent, no matter how great your résumé looks. When I am not auditioning, I have taken to attending a lot of workshops where you get the opportunity to speak one on one with casting directors, have feedback on performances and headshots, and also receive experience of seeing how they like to audition. Although meeting them is not an audition, it is a great way to be seen and stay connected within the acting circle.
Know your sides back to front, even if you only received them the night before, but also be adaptable. You may have a certain expectation of what your audition is going to be like before you enter the room, but no auditions are the same. During pilot season the auditions seem to go even quicker, and ten more people are present in the waiting room than were there last year. One of my recent auditions for a well known day time drama involved a one-on-one meeting with the head casting director. No camera, no side reader, just direction to perform to him. It was the first audition I had been in without it being taped, however, it made me want to ensure I became even more memorable if there were no recordings to look back on. When you’re in the room, that is the time for you to take control. Have strong ideas of what you believe the character to be like. A casting director wants to support but not spoon-feed an actor. They want someone with a mind of their own. Be sure to ask questions though, as this audition is purely fresh – there are no past episodes to watch or fan opinions to go on, so get to know the character and the story as well as you can. Casting directors will be expecting to give answers, so make sure the questions you ask show your genuine interest. When you get the sides and/or script, decipher the tone as much as you can. Look into the past work of the directors, casting directors and producers to see what genre they usually work on. This will tell you a lot about the upcoming project. Finally, you are in the room for less than three minutes usually, so you need to use this time wisely. Make strong, bold and confident character choices that are believable. It is your time, use it effectively.
Make Sure to Breathe
One vital preparation aspect for surviving pilot season is to ensure your personal life is in check. Whether you are auditioning four times a day, every single day or because you are not auditioning at all, your mind will become tumultuous. Your social life, other than speaking to your agent or making small talk in casting waiting rooms, will decline. It’s therefore important to stay organised by constantly being on the look out for projects to submit yourself for, make new contacts, develop former connections, stay in the know with who is casting and directing what, and stay connected with your representation. At the same time you need to also find an outlet that works for you to be able to ‘switch off.’ Whether that is going to the gym, catching up with a friend, or simply reading a book. You need to give your body and your mind a moment to catch up, rest, and breathe. After all, you are the product that you are selling, so you need to ensure you are at your peak to be able to give what the buyers are looking for.
Don’t Spill Over on Social Media
It can be difficult to hide your excitement about perhaps being confirmed to be seen for an audition with a casting agency you have been dreaming about working for, or have come out of a meeting feeling ecstatic. You of course want to let the whole world know, but do not tweet or post about details of your audition, who you met with and especially any details about the show. This automatically will give you a tainted name of someone who is not professional and someone who cannot be trusted. The industry is a smaller community than people think - news and opinions travel fast.
Do Not Lose Hope
We have all been victim of self-doubt before, and living in the middle of pilot season can bring it out in even the most self-willed of us. If you do not get called to be seen for projects, you can start to question what it is about yourself that is stopping you from being seen and you can start to obsess over minute details like ‘which jacket will they like most?’ or ‘how can I get them to love me?’ All concerns which will tear you away from the most meaningful reason of why you are here in the first place - you love to act. As actors, we take work personally and emotionally, and because of that we’ve become tuned in to do the same about ourselves as people outside of acting. If the outcome of the audition is you didn’t get the role, it has most likely nothing to do with you, and overthinking an audition is killer. Just come out of that audition, throw the sides away, and work towards that next gig. When I do not get that phone call, I always recall a great piece of advice from accomplished casting director Kendra Castleberry from one of her workshops, ‘when we as casting directors say ‘it wasn’t something you did, you just weren’t right for the role’, we’re being truthful.’’ Casting directors are not there to hurt us or make our lives difficult, they are there to deliver to directors with a clear vision. Sometimes they may end up deciding to use an actor the furthest away from what they initially believed they wanted because they saw something in one actor that changed their mind. You just never know!
It is not the end of the world if you did not get that call saying you booked the part, nor was it a wasted journey if you used your time efficiently. With those contacts you made and contacts they have, I guarantee you will have a whole crew ready to work. So write, shoot, play and promote your own material, then come next year you’ll be even more prepared. This is the profession we chose and the best thing that we can take from this experience is to be humble and draw from it in the future. Every opportunity is a learning curve and dedication to the art form. You have worked hard to be where you are now, so keep up that passionate drive to the very end.
Domenique Fragale is a recent graduate of Arts Educational Schools, and holds both U.S. and U.K. citizenship. Domenique works as an actress in both L.A. and London, and you can read more posts from Domenique on her blog.
This article was first published on Spotlight in February 2016.
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