CD Sheila Jaffe on Pilot Season and Finding Fresh Faces

Photo Source: Kevin Parry

Over the course of a career spanning more than two decades, casting director Sheila Jaffe has cast a variety of independent films, big-budget studio movies, cable television pilots, and even Broadway plays. Her credits include the HBO series "Entourage," "The Sopranos," and "How to Make It In America," along with more than 100 feature films, from "The Daytrippers" and "Basquiat" to "City Island" and "The Fighter."

But this year gave Jaffe her first experience casting a network TV pilot, when she brought Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Jason O'Mara together for CBS's "Untitled Ralph Lamb Project." A drama set in 1960s Las Vegas, the series is based on the true story of Ralph Lamb, a former cowboy who became a longtime Las Vegas sheriff and made enemies of the mob and Hells Angels. Jaffe says she was shocked at the frenetic pace of her first pilot season and the challenges it presented.

"When you're doing a network show, they all cast at the same time," she explains. "So the actors are really at a disadvantage, because sometimes they have to go in on four or five different auditions a day. They have no time to prepare. They're going from one audition to the next, so one minute they're a cowboy and the next minute they're a New York City cop. It's schizophrenic for them, and it doesn't give them a chance to really put their best foot forward. I honestly don't know how they do it. I was in awe and amazed at how many auditions they went on each day. Pilot season is a really crazy system, because it's like an auction for people. 'I want that one!' 'No, he's in second position!' 'We've got him in first position!' "

Jaffe says that she never faced the pilot season problem when casting shows for HBO, where actors were given time to review the sides and properly prepare for their audition. "HBO is television, but their shows go at different times of the year," she says. "Cable is a bit more like film in that it's not casting at the same time as every other show."

To find new talent for each new project, Jaffe maintains relationships with schools, acting teachers, agents, and managers who let her know when an exciting face catches their attention. She also attends showcases, watches independent films, and scours online videos for reels and short films.

"You just have to pay attention and look," she says. "It's a lot of working with other people and doing homework on your own."

Read more about Sheila Jaffe online at

Daniel Lehman is a staff writer for Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman