Pilot season is here. It is a nutty time of year when hoards of child and adult actors invade Southern California in the hopes of getting a big break on television. Traffic is crazy, managers and agents don’t have time to breathe, and temporary housing becomes scarce. Although many television shows are cast throughout the year these days, pilot season, running roughly January through April, remains busy with 100-150 broadcast and cable pilots cast and filmed.
If you feel prepared and ready to take your chance when the director says “action,” here are a few tips to make your pilot season a success:
1. Call a team meeting. Now is the time for you and your parents to meet with your agent and manager to seek their advice. Make sure they will actively promote you if you decide to pursue auditions during the season. If your rep is on the East Coast and you will be heading out west, find out if they have a West Coast office to serve you. I do not recommend that unsigned actors head out for pilot season in the hopes of landing an agent when they arrive. Many agents are too busy to schedule meetings with new actors at this time.
2. Choose East or West. Decide where you will be based. According to FilmL.A., roughly half of the pilots made during the season are shot in L.A. New York comes in second and may be a viable option if you live on the East Coast. There are also pilots produced in smaller cities, though the number in any one outside New York and Los Angeles may be limited.
3. Define your goals. There is no guarantee of landing a role in a pilot. It is a competitive business. Be prepared to consider your season a success having only gained audition experience, new skills, and a better appreciation for the business of show biz. It is often the perspective and skills you develop early in your career that lead to success in the future.
4. Put thought into relocating. Temporarily relocating for pilot season requires a significant financial and organizational commitment. It is necessary to secure temporary housing convenient enough to deal with last-minute callback auditions and a rental car to navigate the traffic getting there. School-eligible children will need to continue their education in a way that is acceptable to their local school if they are to work as an actor in either California or New York. Before relocating, it is also best to obtain the required state work permit and trust account for a child actor.
5. Keep healthy. If you head out to chase your dream, take care to exercise common sense, patience, good humor, and self care. Maintain good health and find effective ways to deal with stress. Without good planning, it’s not easy to eat right or keep your sanity when dealing with traffic in an unfamiliar city, while on your way to the third audition of the day.
6. Sharpen your skills. Don’t wait until the day before your audition to meet with your acting coach. Work with your coach to help you develop the best approach for different show formats such as one-hour dramas, half-hour situation comedies, animated productions, Nickelodeon/Disney, and sketch comedy. For example, child actors will want to understand what the casting director wants when he calls for “big” and “over the top” while auditioning for Disney or Nickelodeon, or what pacing and timing is all about. In addition, enroll in workshops and ongoing classes. On-camera and improvisation workshops are solid training for whatever auditions are thrown your way.
7. Have the proper materials and equipment. Quality electronic and hardcopy headshots and resumes are required materials for any working actor. Have them ready before the season starts. In addition, be prepared to submit video auditions with little notice. Adequate video for audition purposes can be taken on most high quality smartphones or consumer cameras mounted on a tripod. Shoot the video in a quiet room with a blank wall and sufficient lighting. Open a Hightail account, formerly YouSendIt, or DropBox to submit the video files; most videos are too large to email. Make sure not to post your audition on your public website or YouTube channel unless it is password protected. Many projects are not meant to be viewed by the public in the preproduction stage. Violating that policy is likely to cost you the part.
8. Look for other opportunities. Projects such as commercials, films, episodic television, voice-overs, and theater are cast during pilot season and year round. While seeking roles on a pilot, look for these opportunities too. They can provide valuable experience, exposure, and compensation.
9. Remember that it’s OK for kids to pass, sometimes. Pilot season is a wonderful adventure, but it is also hard work. I advise young actors to follow-through on every commitment they make and every callback they get. However, there are times when it is best to let an opportunity go by and head to the zoo, Disneyland, or the beach instead. Avoid exhausting young actors by scheduling downtime with the same commitment as you give to following through on acting opportunities.
This pilot season appears to be getting underway a bit early; my clients have already had some auditions and are preparing for what promises to be a busy and productive season. With the proper preparation, support, and attitude, your season will have the best opportunity to be busy and productive too.
Master your craft, empower yourself, enjoy the journey.
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. For 10 years, she was an associate with Fox Albert Management, one of the leading talent management companies in New York, where she managed such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), and Judy Reyes (NBC’s “Scrubs”). Denise has coached hundreds of children and young adults appearing regularly on Broadway, and in television and film, as well as educating parents on the business of show business.