WRITTEN BY ANNA LEWKOWSKA
I’m assuming you already know what pilot season is. But do you know how your agents and managers work during this time? You probably hear about the long office hours and crazy days. You may have even been told that smaller matters will be put to the side for the time being. Yes, it’s true that this is a season of work overload.
So what does that work actually entail?
I’ll start here. This year there were over 80 pilots casting. These pilot breakdowns typically start in January and by mid-February most pilots have released their breakdowns. Each pilot casts an average of 4 to 8 series regular roles. Because producers want to do everything in their power to higher the chances of their pilot being picked up to series, they strive to attach ‘star names’ to these roles, and with the film market trending in the direction it is, more and more of these big name actors are happily signing on.
If these ‘name actors’ aren’t interested or they aren’t able to negotiate to terms everyone can agree on, the casting directors move on to their next list of potential actors (A list, B list, and so on). Eventually, when casting and producers are content with the name actors they have attached, they move on to the rest of the submissions from agents and managers.
Each time a pilot breakdown is released, I print it out. I do some quick research about the writers and producers and any information that is out about the project. I then try to read the pilot script. I used to read every pilot script from beginning to end, but when I found out that most agents don’t do this, I also stopped the tom-foolery. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So I usually read half, unless it’s so good that I can’t put it down, which only happened 8 times this year.
Then, I call the casting office to discuss.
We talk about which roles in the pilot are ‘offer only’ roles and which other roles they will start auditioning (because often times they do not go in the order of the roles posted in the breakdown). Since I read the pilot (or enough of it), I can have a semi-smart conversation with the casting director. They tell me more details about the ideal look and energy of the actor they want for the role. Hopefully, I have someone that sounds like what they want so I squeeze in a quick pitch of one of my actors (two if things are going well) and then say that I’ll be sending their materials shortly.
And that’s what I do. I compose an email to that casting director with my actor’s pitch which includes information on recent projects they’ve worked on, a headshot, and a reel. Usually the casting director gets back to me saying that they’ll schedule my actor for an audition or that they’re just ‘not right’ for the role. Sometimes, I have to check back in if I haven’t heard a response and perhaps offer that my actor can send a self-tape if that casting director seems on the fence about him or her.
This process sounds easy enough, right?
Technically, it is. But now imagine that 5 or 6 pilot breakdowns are coming out per day. You have a binder full of 80+ of these breakdowns (about 500+ series regular roles). You have to submit your actors, research the project, and quickly read a portion of the script. You have to call the casting directors to find out which roles are auditioning and gauge which of your actors are most right for those roles. Then you send emails with actors’ materials and keep track of necessary follow-ups. All of this requires serious organizational and tracking skills! Because if you skip a beat, that oh-so-perfect role for your actor will be cast.
For the sake of efficiency (and sanity), most agents ‘split the town,’ meaning they divvy up casting offices among the agents within their department. Therefore, one agent is in charge of keeping tabs on projects by a certain group of casting directors and other agents are in charge of keeping tabs on the projects by a different group of casting directors. Makes sense?
But wait, there’s more!
If you have actors that do get straight offers for roles, or if several actors are testing for roles, then you’re suddenly knee-deep in long email threads between the casting directors, business affairs, agents, and lawyers about the negotiations. You have contracts to read and lengthy conference calls to attend, all while managing not to miss getting appointments for your other actors.
And, of course, the rest of the non-pilot projects are still casting so agents and managers have to work the episodics and feature films, too. Add in the day-to-day tasks of answering emails and the slew of other actor-related-possibilities that need attention, and things are definitely turnt up, you guys.
This is why it is crucial that, as an actor, you have everything ready to go before the holiday break.
Meaning headshots, new reels, updates to your websites, resume, etc. Your reps count on you to have your materials in top shape and provided to them in whatever organized manner they prefer. They expect your schedule to be open (or as open as possible) and your head in the game. January is not the time to ask for a meeting to ‘plan pilot season’ (whatever that means). It is not the time to get headshots or decide to change your hair color or go on vacation. It’s time to focus and be ready to work.
But remember, although pilot season is a jam-packed time for many pilots to be cast, it’s not the only time of year to book a pilot. There are pilots casting year-round so your career isn’t ‘over’ if pilot season didn’t go by whatever expectations you had. The goal is to keep working so that you’re always ready when the opportunity appears. Just keep loving the hustle.