by Paul Russell
Getting a Pilot in Pilot Season
It’s Pilot Season!
Yes it’s that time of year when the entertainment industry is tossed into a tail spin as hundreds of pilots are sought and fought for (and no I’m not talking about the sometimes handsome navigators of cramped cockpits).
Pilots: Small screen’s answer to “Let’s see what sh*t sticks to the screen and succeeds.” An actor getting a pilot audition and then the project getting green-lighted for a ‘go’ is a herculean feat in itself. The actor and project getting broadcast and then possibly picked-up for more than several episodes has as slim a possibility for success as does Glenn Beck winning a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. The average journeyman actor (with or without representation) getting cast in a pilot is about as possible as Honey Boo Boo playing Ophelia opposite Stewie Griffin’s Lear. But all is not totally impossible or improbable… but let us pray we never have to endure the tiara toddler tripping her tongue upon the Bard.
So how does the journeyman actor get the near-impossible pilot audition and subsequent series?
The Represented Actor
Your agent submits you for a pilot and then you and your rep hope for the best.
The Unrepresented Actor:
You doggedly pursue an agent to represent you. Hope to get a meeting. Pray to be signed. Then patiently wait to be submitted on a pilot whereupon you hope for the best.
I can virtually hear angry actor voices grumbling, “Thanks Paul, you’re a lot of f-ing help.” Well, I never promised you a prose garden.
In a discussion I recently had with Jack Menashe, the former President of Independent Artists Agency who is also one of the four agents who gives candid actor career advice in ACTING: Make It Your Business, I asked Menashe for insightful measures for his clients and the non-represented actor to get into the Fort Knox of screen employ that is pilot season.
“Actors have to understand that getting an audition for a pilot is not going to happen because the actor has an agent or just a picture, resume and a smile,” Menashe began. “Casting directors who work on television pilots are extremely picky about who gets in because the casting director’s reputation is on the line with the producer.”
I pushed Menashe on then how best to get past the picky gate-keepers like me.
“Two ways,” Menashe offered. “The unrepresented actor would do him or herself a huge service by going to paid [workshops]. But not the typical run-of-the-mill paid auditions. During pilot season they should be going to places that screen the actors first before those actors are allowed to meet with talent agents and casting directors who work on television projects. L.A. and New York are loaded with them. Years ago when I had first launched Independent Artists, I discovered a high caliber of talent had channeled into this resource.”
Upon signing those exceptional actors Menashe then prodded casting directors to seeing the newly minted clients for pilots. But he was not alone in his championing of actors. Menashe spoke of how a casting director assisted both him and an actor to getting quickly into pilot and film auditions.
“A casting director took me to a show that included an actor who she had seen the night prior at one of your seminars. He was incredible. I signed him and in his first year with me he booked his first major supporting feature film role, his first television pilot, several low-budget features and theater gigs.”
Having struck success once, Menashe went back to the source of finding untapped talent.
“In the years to come, I would sign several actors through these venues,” Menashe continued, “all of whom have landed notable work in film, television and theater.”
But success is sometimes soured.
“Unfortunately some of the actors,” Menashe continued, “who are screened by the staff of these audition venues are far from what I and my colleagues are looking for either as talent or as business-people, or in many cases both.”
And oh how true that is, as I’ve witnessed in my own Access to Agents and similar seminars I attend, actors can pay out precious paper repeatedly to acting studios but if the actors don’t have the talent to match their deep pockets, there’s no way in hell they’ll move forward.
Menashe extolled another path to pilots. One not as immediate but none-the-less a route well-traveled by others that brought lasting rewards: comedy clubs.
“If an actor has a great sense of humor,” Menashe suggested, “along with a unique comic perspective, then he or she as an actor needs to get on stage at comedy clubs. Do the open mic nights. Push into the industry evenings. Casting directors for half-hour comedies mine comedy clubs. That’s how many unknown actors suddenly land a TV show.”
“You mean the actors from bum-fart Kansas or Lodi, New Jersey never heard of?” I added.
“Exactly,” Menashe responded. “It’s not the quickest route, but it gets you in front of the major players of gate-keeping for TV.”
Represented or not, an actor should be heeding Menashe’s words by making an active attack in seeking to book on-camera work for pilot season. One such avenue is to be an informed actor.
Pilots for 2014 and Beyond:
hollywoodreporter.com/topic/tv-pilots (A wonderful resource for what’s coming up, what studio is doing which pilot and possibly who is casting.)
If as you began this read, you were looking for a quick, sure-fire Rubik’s Cube solution to getting an audition for a pilot, then you really don’t understand this business. If angered or frustrated by that statement, you need to reconsider your chosen profession. Nothing comes easily for anyone on either side of the audition table. If you have read the chapters on film and pilot auditions in ACTING: Make It Your Business; then you’re several steps ahead of those who haven’t picked up that tome dedicated to advancing an actor’s career.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.