Surviving Pilot Season

It is a well known fact that Los Angeles is the mecca for television and the birthplace to the majority of our favourite series’ we’re hooked on and religiously watch every week but those actors on said 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, one that if don’t learn how to stay on top of, can soon find yourself being swallowed up by. Now take that atmosphere, along with the approximate 108,640 local LA actors, throw several thousand more international actors 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 In To

I am not simply talking about knowing which audition you are attending with which casting director, I essentially mean to make sure you fully comprehend that of course no audition will ever be a simple process but 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 until 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 in to 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 resume, 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 getting any work in Los Angeles, it can of course be achieved without an agent or manager, but it helps to have one, so sending off resumes, 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 resume 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, head shots and also receive experience of seeing how they like to audition. Although meeting them is not an audition, is a great way to be seen and stay connected within the acting circle.

Be Prepared

When I say be prepared I of course mean 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 trust me 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 there was 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 that said 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 now 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 fans opinions to go on – so get to know the character and the story as well as you can. Plus casting directors will be expecting to give answers, so make them worthwhile questions that show your genuine interest. When you get the sides and/or script, decipher the tone as much as you can. Look in to 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, therefore as important as it is to stay organised by constantly being on the look out for projects to submit yourself for, making new contacts, developing former connections, staying in the know with who is casting and directing what and staying 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 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 in front of 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 out 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 in tuned 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 (or sometimes 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 entire beliefs.) 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, therefore 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 art form and you have worked hard to be where you are now, so keep up that passionate drive to the very end.


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