What’s Working This Pilot Season

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This pilot season, it feels like there’s more pressure than ever before as an antiquated system desperately tries to remain relevant. Pilot season’s impossible mandate—make an amazing pilot episode that satisfies both the shareholders and artists—is made more impossible as it competes with an ever-edgier slate of cable and alternate-platform content. Network pilots need to please a wide demographic of broadcast viewers AND be as cool as an Amazon or HBO show, but without the sex, violence, and cursing. It’s a tall order.

And amidst all the chaos, anxiety, and expectations, you walk into a small room, face a camera, and are expected to shine your talent so brightly that it can be seen by people so sleep-deprived and punch-drunk that they’re watching you from the lightless cavern of a black hole.

More often than not, the task of rising above the room is too daunting for most actors—not just the wide-eyed newbies. Some veteran actors, who spend most of their years walking into auditions like champions, are shaken to the core during pilot season. Most of the time, the weight brings actors to their knees.

To unpack pilot season success, you have to step back from it all, to look at your power and responsibility as an actor. You’ll see that you’re a person who has sacrificed a lot to be an actor, that you want to do well, that the consequences of not doing well are scary as hell. What if you’re not talented? What if success never happens for you? Your job is to invest emotionally in every audition, but given the odds and the deafening indifference with which you’re investment is often met, that’s hard.

READ: Change the Way You Think About Pilot Season, Change Your Career

As a result, you go into defense mode. You walk into audition rooms with your guard up, hoping they don’t stab you in the heart with a look, a comment, any kind of behavior that makes you feel like you don’t matter. You enter already at odds with them, waiting for a sign that you can trust these people before you give them your talent. But you can’t do that.

Your value as an actor is your ability to connect with people, to offer your emotional truth so that they see their own humanity in you and in turn, emotionally invest in you. In an audition, on stage, or on set, it’s your job to move people on an emotional level, to make them feel in interesting and unique ways. But there’s another part of that which most actors forget—you have to be the first one to do so.

You can’t wait to feel safe. You can’t wait for permission. You can’t wait for laboratory conditions that allow you to control all the variables. You have to be a leader. In the game of “who will be vulnerable first?”, the actor must always be out front. Every time. It requires guts, a lot of work, and an understanding that by calling yourself an actor, you take on the responsibility of offering your emotional truth and talent without a safety net.

The showrunners, producers, director, casting director, executives, etc., need you. They are desperately trying to get their pilot on the air and they don’t have time to nurture you, make you feel safe, or see to your needs. That’s on you. That’s your job, your responsibility.

The actors we see booking pilots are the ones who know that. They walk in with no expectation of generosity from anyone in that audition room. If they get it, it’s a bonus. But they’ve done the work and they know that it’s their solemn duty as an actor to show up and affect the people in that room, to take them away from the ulcer-inducing anxiety they all have as a result of trying to birth their pilot, or from the grind of casting this beast of a show, and make them feel like human beings. They know that vulnerability is their super power and it is also their responsibility. And during pilot season, there’s no time for an actor to do anything else.

And make sure to exercise your artistic power in a New Spring BGB Class!

Inspired? Check out our audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Risa Bramon Garcia
Risa Bramon Garcia is partnered with Steve Braun in The BGB Studio, dedicated to revolutionary acting and audition training. Risa has worked consistently as a director, producer, casting director, writer, and teacher for over 30 years, collaborating with some of the most groundbreaking artists in the world.
Steve Braun
Steve Braun is an L.A.-based acting coach and communication consultant. Over his 15-year career, he has starred in movies and has been a series regular on television shows. He is also an acting teacher and coach.