Photo by Debra Lopez
By Dufflyn Lammers
ARE YOU READY? Educate yourself and prepare so you can be a step ahead of the rest! Here are 5 things you should now, updated for 2015, about this year’s pilot season!
1. WHAT IS PILOT SEASON? Yeah, I’m starting with that. Because let’s face it. You never knew there was something called “awards season” (now through the Oscars) until you moved to Los Angeles. If you are an actor you should know what the process is. So, here is your cheat sheet.
Over the summer the major networks all received short pitches for new shows from writers and producers. Then in the fall, each network requested scripts from about seventy of those pitches. By January, the network has chosen twenty of those scripts from which to make pilots. Pilot season is the annual high-pressure race to the finish line. The race generally happens between January and April, culminating at The Upfronts in May. With more and more cable networks producing original content the start and end times of pilot season as blurred a bit (for example, TNT and TBS started working on their pilot casting in October this year!!), but the majority remains within the January through April time frame. During these four months, studios battle it out to cast, produce, and test the best new series. The Pilot itself is a stand-alone episode of a series that is used to sell the series and will usually run as the first episode of the series, if picked up. Once they have been produced, those pilots are presented to studio and network executives (and sometimes to test audiences). Each network then chooses between 4 and 8 pilots to present at The Upfronts where they are added to network schedules for the following season. Between January and April studios duke it out to cast, produce, and test the best new series. Need to know more? Look here.
2. HOW ARE PILOTS CAST? Most pilots have about 6 weeks to cast anywhere from 5-25 roles. In the TV world where you have 2 days to cast 12 roles, 6 weeks is A LOT of time, meaning A LOT of actors can get seen. However, because producers want to sell their idea, they usually jam pack that pilot with well known actors if they can. First, lists are made up of first choice actors – the A-List – then second choice – the B list- (hence the term A-List, B-List etc.) Later in the season casting will pull from agent submissions. Often actors on the aforementioned lists will opt out of auditions for already-established TV programs during this time. The reasoning behind this strategy is that most actors (and their agents) would rather bet on booking a pilot that gets picked up, where they sign a multiple year contract, than take a week’s worth of work on a current show. Less money upfront, but it could pay off with more money and work in the future if the pilot goes to series.
3. HOW CAN AN ACTOR PREPARE? If you have representation, follow up with them now and figure out a game plan. This should include your own marketing plan of drop-offs, postcards and networking. Consider doing Casting Director Workshops with new casting offices, but also re-meets of people who like you (they have called you in before or booked you). You most likely will be auditioning in late February/March for pilots, as this is the time that they will be casting all non-leads. Additionally, don’t focus solely on pilots. Even with great training, reps, some credits and business relationships, you might not get any pilot auditions. Keep in mind, pilot season is also the second half of 2014/2015 episodic season. Shows that have a full season pick-up order are still very, very active in casting!!
-Make sure that you are audition-ready no matter what stage you are at! Luck + preparation = opportunity!
-If you do not have representation, you REALLY need to make sure you have a marketing plan in place for drop-offs, postcards, other updates (Mail Chimp anyone?) and networking. Actors without reps should not rely on pilot auditions. Most of the time casting goes to their industry list and then agent submissions.
-If you are non-union, your first priority should be getting at least SAG/AFTRA-Eligible. No matter the season, your focus should be on commercials, films and a very, few, specific tv casting directors who are open to seeing non-union actors. But, you want to be informed and audition ready!
4. HOW ARE THINGS CHANGING? On the heels of their Golden Globe for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” last August, FOX opted out of Pilot Season last year. Fox is also ahead of the curve on how to handle pilots, and since 2011 have decided to have all auditions for studio/network on tape and NOT in front of 40 execs. And now they have followed in the tradition of cable networks and ordered shows straight to series far in advance of the premiere date. Cable networks operate that way because they have fewer hours of original programming than their broadcast counterparts so they can be more painstaking in the production process. To read more click here. Cable networks, while they have fewer shows and hence, fewer roles to cast, are effectively casting year-round.Fox is also ahead of the curve on how to handle pilots, where (I believe in 2011) decided to have all auditions for studio/network on tape and NOT in front of 40 execs. Meanwhile in 2015 Amazon opted IN for the first time ever! read more here.
Above and beyond that, some pilots start casting early. (Say QUEEN OF THE SOUTH casting by Junie Lowry Johnson right now, or FATRICK last season, cast by Lisa Miller Katz). These pilots, because they are casting earlier, don’t have the frenzy surrounding them, so they like to pull from their files. Pilots that start casting late like to pull from their files for untapped talent mainly because everything else has been tapped.
People get discovered! It happens, rarely, but it does. Last year, one of our Act Now clients Gregory Marcel was cast as a series regular in the pilot of “Mind Games” by a Casting Director he met at a workshop. Keep in mind Marcel had met that Casting Director over 3 years before and had been cast by him previously. He had years of training behind him and was in tip-top shape. He had networked RELENTLESSLY and was cast as a very specific type. Also, fellow consultant, Mackenzie Marsh, who in addition to being extremely talented and business savvy, also has a very specific look (if you don’t know Mackenzie, her log line is Melissa McCarthy meets Jenny McCarthy; funny, heavy-set, pretty, blond!), auditioned for lead roles in 9 pilots and tested on 3 last year!!! That is BIG news for someone that, at the time, had indie films on her resume. So, take what you can from that.
5. WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE? You MUST be doing research about pilots if you hope to capitalize on this frenzy of activity. TVLine writes super informational articles about each season, but it’s released late Janurary. Be on the look out for 2015. You MUST be doing research about pilots if you hope to capitalize on this frenzy of activity. Variety has a list of up-to-the-minute series and pilot orders. Deadline Hollywood is another great resource. There is also The Hollywood Reporter. As things get moving and shaking, www.thefutoncritic and www.castingabout.com. are great ways to keep up with developments in addition to who the casting office is attached to each project.
So now that you know, go get ’em! May this be your best Pilot season ever. Onwards and upfront!
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April Yvette Thompson