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Network: The Four Letter Word

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Network: The Four Letter Word

From pre-read to network, what we must endure when the lucky day finally arrives... Actress Camille Mana describes her unexpected trip (and near fall) through the first step in the TV process: the network test. And you thought you were neurotic.

Ohmigod, they want to test me for the role!!

June 23rd, 2005. 2:22 p.m.

A piercing shriek pervades the apartment walls. And it's mine. "They what?" My body stiffens as it quickly processes this batch of information.

"Yes, they want to test you for the role," cooed my agent.

The most awe-inspiring words an agent had uttered to date in my as-of-yet short life. I had arrived home from my producers' session for a series regular role on UPN's long-running sitcom One on One only seven minutes prior to the call, and already their people had called my people!

They like me! They really, really like me!

Life was good. Real good. It was one of those moments that reminds me why I entered this crazy, befuddling business to begin with. Behind me were tracks laid with tenacity; but now there was a cloud of confusion and struggle. And in front of me there was possibility. Heck, a world of it.

And isn't possibility the reason we get out of bed each morning?

Ohmigod. They want to test me for the role??

June 23rd, 2005. 7:46 p.m.

A few short hours later. The awe and giddiness begin to subside. The panic monster has started to knead its pruney little claws into my small, stiffening shoulders. All of a sudden, I am venturing into unknown territory. I've pre-read and gone to producers on series regular roles before — well, okay I've gone to producers on one series regular role before (Asian-American series regular roles are a scarce commodity!) — but never beyond.

The pace of my inner monologue quickens. The maternal voice tries to take the reigns.

Stay calm, Camille. Keep focused. You are just happy to make it to this level and you're not going to think about the job or anything crazy like that, right? Right. Right? It is just like any other pilot audition: Even if you are hired, it is not likely to see the light of day.

The cantankerous, goal-oriented little monster in me exercises its authority a bit.

But then again, it is a successful half-hour sitcom that has been running for four seasons and even has its own spinoff! The character is a SERIES REGULAR opposite established young actors. This could be big. Big! You could be...

Okay! Stop. Focus. Regroup. Perhaps it is time to seek out advice from the outside world.

I should do what?

June 24th, 2006. 9:08 a.m.

The word was out. Advice started to fly my way from all angles. It seemed that everyone who had ever believed in me somehow felt validated, and everyone who had never believed in me... well, who cares? They aren't part of this story. Move along, now. Move along.

Entertainment consultant and writing guru Bonnie Gillespie encouraged, "Own it, baby. You have been preparing for this your whole career. No nerves needed. It's already yours."

Gotcha. Good to hear! Better to believe. Hmph.

What now?

A working actress and big-sister figure, Jennifer Aquino, said to me, "Remember to just perform and have a good time. I know it's easy to say and hard to do, but don't let the pressure get to you. It's all about the work." (It's nice to have such support from friends.)

Jennifer advised further, "You'll probably see the other actors up for the same role in the waiting room. Don't let them affect you. There's also a chance you're the only actor going to network for that role, which is great! But don't take that for granted. In the waiting room, focus on your preparation, and don't fill your mind with unhealthy thoughts."

She confirmed the frightening rumors I had heard of large rooms of 'suits.'

"There is a good chance that there will be a lot of people in the room. It could be twenty! Don't let that throw you off. Be your professional self. Say 'hello' when you enter the room, find out who you're reading with (probably the CD), and focus on the work. After you perform, they may or may not have adjustments for you. If not, say 'thank you' and get out. Don't linger, or comment how nervous you are. It's just like giving a live performance of a play."

An offer you couldn't refuse.

June 27th, 2006. 9:16 a.m.

Next, the test deal was interesting.

Like most actors early in their careers, I had no quote. I was advised not to dream big, as my team had little leverage to work from. However, both my agent and manager were quite surprised at what was negotiated. Supposedly, it was one of the easiest negotiations they had executed.

To my excitement, they commented that the amount was higher than what they have seen as the norm for a first-time series contract, especially considering the program was not on a big-three network.

Very flattering! Or perhaps just a fluke. Hmm. I think I prefer the former assessment. Yes. Let's stick with that one.

Test deals are scary, because they are a binding contract you sign off on before you are even hired. Everything — from your rate to your travel accommodations to your ability to do guest appearances on conflicting networks or commercials with conflicting sponsors — is determined in your test deal. So is your billing, so is your pay increase for each subsequent season (should there be any). Essentially, it is your contract from start to finish, unless it is re-negotiated in the future.

All this is negotiated, agreed upon, and signed prior to entering your test. The contract only goes into effect if you are the person hired for the role. In this way, the buyers know that among Actor A, Actor B, and Actor C that A is the cheapest, B is much more expensive, C is a name and is worth more, and so on.

In my case, I am not testing for any conflicting project, I don't have a lot of credits, I don't have powerhouse representation. And thus, my agent was shocked when the business affairs office offered $A (very low), so she was hoping to get it to $B or maybe $C, and thus asked for $D...

To which they replied, "Yeah. Okay, I think we can do that."

Phew! Again, life is good.

Work with me.

July 11th, 2005. 6:43 p.m.

Today was my studio test. Apparently I am still in the game, and will be going to network next week!

The long wait from session to session is atypical. Pilot casting usually moves much more swiftly. This is also weird situation in which four new series regulars are being added to the same show — and one to its already-on-the-air spinoff. In total, more than twenty actors were testing for five roles:

The morning started off with all of us going to a work session.

A longtime sitcom star was in the room (he is a director on the show) and the supervising producer/one of the writers, plus the two casting directors. I got somewhat thrown when they gave me a major adjustment — not to a couple jokes here or there, but to the entire read and character throughout.

I guess they had something completely different in mind for this role, but for some reason no one had previously given any notes to indicate this. I asked for a few minutes (and took as many as I could) before I came back in and attempted to tweak sitcom material I had known backwards and forwards for over two weeks.

Luckily, they thought I pulled off the adjustment successfully and I think that's what got them even more enthused about me!

Onwards.

The waiting room was teeming with roughly twenty stressed and sweaty actors. Yikes. I signed and sealed my test deal contract. Six years of my life potentially just promised away. And I'm lovin' it. Finally, my turn.

Both the producer and the director who had ran the work session were present in the studio test. Yes! I felt like I had allies.

A few moments prior to entering the room, we were asked only to read the second scene. I thought this was to our disadvantage as it is so short.

After all four of the actresses for my role stepped out, they asked us to wait in the hallway but none of us was asked to return. Fortunately, that meant there was no room for would-be self doubt: "I wonder why I didn't get to go back in! Is that good or bad?" They informed us that they would talk for ten minutes, and then they sent us home.

I left the lovely Paramount lot and tried as best I could to forget about it. An hour or two later I got the call — I was going to network!!

I remember these words reverberating in my brain. It is very strange that in under two days my life could change significantly. Or it might very much remain the same.

Clothing crisis...

July 11th, 2005. 7:24 p.m.

There were notes from Casting that I need to change my outfit.

I spent the good part of my week trying to find an outfit that is more suitable. The casting director had a long phone call with my manager suggesting choices. I am excited they seem to be supporting me. Strange that it could come down to wardrobe in this arduous process. I mean, don't they have entire departments that handle this after you get hired?

Apparently, this is not an uncommon occurrence. My friend Noureen DeWulf shared a similar experience of wardrobe crisis.

For a pilot earlier this year, Noureen's producer session and studio test were scheduled for the same day. She was asked to make a fast adjustment.

"After I read, they asked me to come back looking a lot older and dressed in office attire. I hurried home to put on more lipstick, eye liner, and change clothes."

For the selection process on a studio feature, filming had already begun and Noureen was a strong contender for the character, but they thought that the character might be "more dorky and less of an ingĂŠnue." So they had her go on tape with the casting director a second time, and send FedEx tape of a "less attractive" version of the character, with glasses and no makeup.

The Big Day

July 19th, 2005 4:11 p.m.

Eeeny-Meany-Miney... Oh?

I arrived at the network test to find that one of my former competitors at the studio test level had been eliminated.

Dun-dun dun!

Of all the actresses they had seen in New York and Los Angeles, I had made the final trio. Despite the eliminations, the waiting room seemed more crowded than last time. The network was also testing the entire would-be cast of South Beach simultaneously. Beauty and nerves abounded.

Nearly two and a half hours later, my role was up for review. I was third out of three. The order in which each actor is read is rumored to mean something, but I had no idea what in this case.

What I did know is that as soon as the first actress was finished, I began to feel light-headed. No, this is not written for dramatic effect — my mouth actually went dry. I started to realize that fainting in the next minute or two was more than just in the realm of possibility. It was about to be a serious reality. I had a choice to make.

Pull it together, pull it together, or...

The door swung open. Somehow, I walked through it and, somehow, words did come out of my mouth. Jokes did land. And laughs did follow. The fact that only moments before, I had begun to lose control over my body really frightened me, though.

The waiting game. Oh, boy.

July 20th, 2005. 3:14 p.m.

My manager informed me that legally, they have up to five business days to notify those considered. Typically, you hear by the time you leave the room or arrive home. It was three full days in this case.

Casting informed my agent that there was positive feedback from my test. Nevertheless, I let go, figuring I had a two out of three chance of not getting it so I may as well already accept that.

Moving along...

They're kidding, right?

July 22nd, 2005. 1:14 p.m.

I got it. I got it! I got it?

I cried for the first twelve minutes, and the shock didn't subside for days. Even now, I still wonder how it all really transpired. I guess the "right" one just came along. And I could not be more thankful. It was truly one of the most memorable days of my life.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that I don't get fired or written out soon. Does that really happen? I've heard that it's pretty common practice...

Uh-oh. Here we go again.

This article is the latest entry for our weekly "First Person" column, which are stories written by actors about their personal experiences at all levels of the performing arts.

If you would like to submit a story idea to "First Person," please email backstage@backstage.com, and be sure to write "First Person" in the subject line. Include your phone number, and a website, if any.

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