Pilot Season: A Shift In Perspective
Yayyy! It’s pilot season…kind of…I mean technically yes but let’s be real. Pilot season can sometimes feel non-existent. I used to call pilot season “unicorn land” because for too long it was this mythical place that, despite my years in LA and whatever reps I had, I never found the secret magic key to.
Looking back, there were a few things I wish I knew that would have made a huge difference in my expectations and experience of pilot season… whether I auditioned for a single pilot or not.
MINDSETThe more we can measure our success by growth and not by results the more we can enjoy the journey. Measure your success during pilot season by how much you’re growing and learning and you’ll be on track to having a great time instead of becoming a ball of stress.
BRANDINGGet super clear and specific on what you sell and create a marketing package that supports that niche branding message. Ideally, this process should be completed before pilot season. If you’re not there yet, consider enrolling in our Branding and Marketing Course to really hone in on the characters and qualities that make you irresistible to casting. Either way, keep reading…major revelations ahead.
TRADESJust because pilot auditions aren’t rolling in doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. As a professional, you need to know what’s happening in your industry. Read them! Deadline, Variety and Hollywood Reporter. I find Deadline to be the best at delivering information quickly and efficiently. Use the trades to track pilot orders and pick-ups.
WARNING!Pilots are all works in progress and therefore kept tightly under wraps. If someone trusts you enough to share their access to a pilot with you, it is your job to protect that pilot. Never share a pilot that is given to you by a friend or contact and NEVER publicly post a pilot or a self-tape for a pilot online. Pilots are often watermarked with the original source’s name and can be traced back to them if the pilot gets out.
Now that we are prepped for pilot season let’s talk numbers 🙂
WHY YOU’RE NOT GOING OUT
THERE ARE NO ROLES FOR YOURead the pilots. Do everything you can to get a hold of pilot scripts and read them. How do I get a hold of scripts? Ask your actor friends who are going out on pilots to send you their scripts. Ask your writer friends if they can dig any up for you. Ask any friends that are assistants at agencies if they are open to sending you scripts available to the agency. Often actors are not going out for pilots because none of the pilots have a role they are right for. Availing yourself of this information can save you 3-months of anxiety about all the imaginary pilots that you aren’t going out on.
EPISODIC SEASONPilot season is a reflection of your episodic season. These days casting directors have less and less time to cast a pilot. So they truly rely on relationships they have built with actors whose work they’ve seen time and time again. Even if you didn’t book during episodic season, if you went into the same casting offices multiple times and laid down solid work you can expect them to call you in. If you haven’t established a relationship with the casting office casting the role you are perfect for preceding pilot season it might be challenging to get an appointment.
OFFERSThe timeline for pilot season has truly evolved with the increase in scripted series from streaming services and cable. Traditionally, pilot season doesn’t start until after Sundance. Mid February casting typically begins the process of putting out offers. As the process of the industry vying for the same celebrity actors gets underway and offers are accepted or passed. Casting begins a trickle-down process. The roles hit seasoned working actors with series under the belt already, solid guest star and recurring credits. Lastly, newer actors with mostly co-star and small guest credits are usually put in the mix, around early March. However, these days pilots begin casting as early as late October and offers can begin going out in December to get ahead of the busy season. Pilots typically shoot the third week of March. If the role or roles you are perfect for this season are cast before they hit your level credits you might not get an opportunity to read for them. However, more and more networks are breaking away from the traditional pilot season timeline and casting year-round. This is particularly true for streaming and cable networks.
Caveat:Oftentimes, casting will hold sessions even when an offer is out, so as to give themselves back-up options. It’s important actors go into every casting with their eyes open about the business so the focus is placed on the work. An actor’s career is bigger than any one job or booking. Emotional sustainability is key to staying in the game. Each opportunity is about creating a long-term relationship with the casting office and the actor can only do that if they are not setting themselves up for an emotional let down when the phone doesn’t ring.
REPSIn-person sessions offer casting a limited number of slots so casting prioritizes seeing actors in-person from well-known top tier agencies and management companies. Actors repped at newer or lower-tiered agencies are typically given self-tapes. Self-tape actors may only be called into casting if they’re not finding the right fit for the role with in-person sessions.
Caveat:People are called in and booked from self-tapes all the time. So it’s important to treat them like a real opportunity and do your best work. Often casting will watch them just to get to know a new actors’ work.
OFF-SEASON PILOTSWith the onset of increased original programming from streaming and cable, pilots are casting more and more outside of the typical January-to-March pilot season. Cable pilots can begin casting as early as October and streaming pilots cast year-round. In my personal experience I’ve found that streaming pilots cast particularly in the summer.
REGIONALISM & INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTIONIf you haven’t noticed, a lot of television production has moved out of the state of California. Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico are few of the largest markets. On top of the long-time established alternate markets of Canada and New York. Plus, with the expansion of investment into scripted television by titans like Netflix and Amazon, television production often has the resources to create epic and expansive worlds and shoot on location overseas, so often American television is shot in the UK and Europe. It used to be that production would cast series regulars and major guest stars out of LA or New York and use local actors only for small guest stars and co-stars. Over the last 5 years, these markets have developed and production is often casting series regulars directly out of local markets.
If you find a role that you are right for that is scheduled to shoot in a market outside of LA, depending on your credits, it may be more challenging to be seen for that role because production will have to pay to travel or move you. Production can typically find a right fit locally and save themselves the travel costs.
Now that we’ve cleared up all the reasons that might limit an actor’s opportunities, we can approach pilot season informed, empowered and without unreasonable pressure or FOMO. AND if you do find a role that you are perfect for GO FOR IT with completely open eyes and the joy of the journey.
Happy Pilot Season!
— Coach Alysia