Aaaand I’m back in Los Angeles. After spending a month eating lotsa Doritos, mayonaise and chocolate, being surrounded by family and friends and cold weather I’m back in my own little apartment in the Hollywood heat. This was the first time I returned to LA -as in went home- instead of returning to the Netherlands, and it’s been a little strange readjusting. There’s just zero overlap between my life in Holland and my life in Hollywood, like they’re two different universes that only exist when I’m there.
It’s also the first time I’m in LA for pilot season. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term: Pilot season is the season when all TV show pilots get cast and produced. And that’s an infinite amount more than what you end up seeing on TV. I’m a newbie to pilot season myself, but got a very helpful breakdown in my acting class at Lesly Kahn. So here’s a what happens to actors during pilot season in Los Angeles…
LA’s weather is always the same, but if there’s any indication of seasons, it’s in the TV production schedules. January to March is pilot season, May is everybody’s-exhausted-from-pilot-season-and-does-nothing month, June and July is pilot recasting season, and August to December is Episodic Season for networks, aka when episodic shows get cast. Cable (HBO etc.) episodics kind of cast all year but traditionally most in November and December.
The Holy Pyramid of TV Power
This describes who has the power in TV land, starting from the top:
At the top is the showrunner, the dude (or dudette) who often created the show and is in charge of the world in it, the look and feel of the show.
Next up are the producers, the suits. They tend to be business majors that minored in theatre. They also tend to love their smartphones more than your acting during auditions, but only because they’re important & busy people dammit!
Then we have the writers. You can presumably spot writers by their T-shirts with ironic texts and them sitting in the corner silently and awkwardly.
In TV shows every episode usually has a different director so although they look really important on set, they’re not really important in the big picture (no pun intended).
They may seem like Gods in pre-reads (I’ll get to that later) but I’m told they’re mere mortals in the grand scheme of TV hierarchy.
Steps To Booking A Pilot
Here are the steps actors go through before booking a series regular on a pilot. I’m told these are just approximations, since every case is unique.
- The pre-read: This is a taping with the casting associate and assistant. The casting director will see the tape, but is too busy hustling for work at this time.
- The producer session: A callback audition with the casting director, director, writer, producer and showrunner present. Casting directors usually alter their behaviour to reflect the ambiance (or lack thereof) on set during these.
- The work session: The casting director, director and writer are usually present here, but this step isn’t always part of the process. Anything goes during this session.
- The studio test: A test for the studio executives at the lot where the show will be filmed. This is usually done in overcrowded conference rooms or oversized theatres. About five other people come in for your role at this time. If you’re an adrenaline junkie or ride a motorcycle now is not the time to mention that, because studios want safe and reliable products. Also, at this stage you get to view the contract that mentions the crazy salary you’ll make every week if you book the show. This is certainly over $10,000, but often way more. Imagine how that fucks with a broke actor’s head.
- The chemistry test: If you survived the studio test, sometimes there will be a chemistry test (aka mix & match session) to see how you fit in with the rest of the actors.
- The network test: The last step is a test for the network that’s going to air the TV show (or intends to maybe do so anyway.) Networks make their money by selling advertisements during commercial breaks, so really the most important thing assessed during this test is your fuckability. Here’s WikiPedia’s definition of that: fuckability (vulgar) The abstract quality of being desirable as a lover, especially by virtue of physical beauty.
Ways to Get Fired After Booking a Pilot
If an actor survived all these steps they booked the job. But they’re not safe yet, they could still be fired during:
- The table read: This is where actors come together, sit at a table, and read the script. Actually no, you have to act. I’m told people get fired if they just read. The same goes for when you book a guest-star on a show. Series regulars might sit back and relax at that point, but you can not.
- The shoot: Yeah. Obviously.
- The upfronts: The upfonts are a big event in New York where mostly sleazeballs of the marketing world unite to see which shows they want to buy advertising space for. Apparently prostitutes in NY make a lot of money this time a year. If some slick advertising person says they want to buy advertising slots but only if they change the lead to a redhead, you could be fired. Yes, despite the fact you could just dye your hair.
But if you’ve survived all this too: Hooray! Or maybe not…Out of the 160 pilots produced each year, only about 20 stay on air. But you know what? Only about 1% of SAG actors is employed, and despite those odds we’re still all here to go for it, so get on the plane anyway!
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