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Secret Agent Man

Becoming Pilot-Worthy

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Becoming Pilot-Worthy
Most of you know Steve Martin as the comedic actor who has starred in such films as "It's Complicated" and those awful "Pink Panther" remakes. Well, before he sold his soul to the devil by dancing on Peter Sellers' grave, Martin was a brilliant standup comedian, and one of his best routines has stayed with me for most of my adult life. I'd like to share it with you, because this terrific piece of writing makes a fantastic point about pilot season:

"I feel good tonight because I've finally got a goal in life. And the thing you have to learn in having a goal is not to set an impossible goal, something too high you can never reach. You need to have a series of smaller goals that you can accomplish and slowly work your way up. My goal is to be the master of time, space, and dimension. Then, I want to go to Europe."

That joke is a perfect description of the business plan most of you follow during pilot season. It amazes me how actors with few credits and no representation think they have a chance of booking the holy grail of acting jobs during this frantic time of year. And don't get me wrong: I'm all about aiming high, but you have to temper that attitude with some reality. Is it possible for an actor no one knows to get lucky and book a series-regular role on a pilot? Yes. Is it probable? Well, no. So put aside the big dream for a moment and let's focus on a few smaller goals that might help you become "pilot-worthy."

Goal One: Meet the people who cast pilots.

These casting directors are the gatekeepers to the magic kingdom, and you have to get them on your side. So make a list of who's casting what. With or without representation, you need to explore every possible way to get their attention. That means doing showcases, theater, live comedy, submissions, drop-offs, gift baskets, whatever. They cast the pilots, and if they don't know you, your odds of booking one go down dramatically.

Goal Two: Build up some credits.

Studios and networks spend a fortune on pilots, and they're not just going to trust anyone in those series-regular parts. Unless you're too young to drink, the powers that be are expecting you to have some experience. If you've been working, building up your résumé with guest-star roles, then everyone will think of you as a professional who isn't going to fold under the weekly pressure of starring on a series. The exception to this rule is a performer who brings something else to the table, such as a well-known comedian. But for the most part, if you want to be on television, you have to work in television.

Goal Three: Find representation.

Unless casting directors know and love you, you're not getting in the room unless an agent kicks the door down for you. Pilot season is a tough time of year to be without representation. I know you already know this, but very few actors get far in this business without some professionals in their corner. So if you don't have an agent, double your efforts to find one. And if that doesn't work, you can always settle for a manager.

Look, there's a reason everyone gets excited about pilot season, and that's money. Let's say you book a one-hour network pilot that goes to series. On the low end, you'll make $15,000 an episode, and that's for eight days of work. If the show stays alive for an entire year, that's 22 episodes total. You do the math.

The stakes are high during pilot season, and if you want to play, you need to raise your game. So start setting short-term goals now that will help you reach your long-term goal later. Good luck!   

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