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!
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson