A kinder, gentler approach to pilot season

We are in the middle of pilot season.  What does this mean to you?  Amongst developmental actors, I believe there are generally two schools of thought:  First, there are those who feel despondent and think series regular auditions are a waste of time because (they say bitterly), “They’re going to cast a name, anyway.”  Secondly, there are those who see each pilot audition as their ticket to stardom, and therefore the stakes become much higher than those of a “normal” audition.

I offer a third way to look at pilot season.  In fact, it’s the way I like to think of all auditions:  as a chance to build relationships with casting offices, and your opportunity to play this part how you envision it being played.

For those of you in the “why bother” school of thought regarding series regular auditions…

You should bother because this is a chance to chew on a nice, meaty role and really show your stuff.  If you got into acting for the right reasons, you should revel in the fact that you get to create a full, multi-dimensional character.  Many casting directors use pilot auditions as a chance to see new actors.  This is your chance to begin a relationship with a potential fan!  That’s worth the bother.

For those in the “ticket to stardom” school of thought…

Is it possible that you will book a series regular role with no significant TV or film credits on your resume?  Sure.  Dreams do come true and there are exceptions to every rule.  Is it likely?  No.  But knowing these odds is a good thing–it takes the pressure off!  Again, look at this as your chance to play the part.  Enjoy the process of discovering and developing a character, which is hopefully one of the things that brought you to acting in the first place.  If you do your work and let go of the end result, you are more likely to find yourself in that office again.  It might be for this role, or it might be for something else down the road.

One final thought…

Actors often see auditions as a Sisyphean task, i.e., they feel like they are pushing a boulder to the top of a large hill with each audition, only to see it roll all the way back down when they don’t book the job.  That’s simply not true.  Each time you  have an audition, you are pushing the boulder a little further up the hill.  It may not get all the way to the top on the first push, but know that it’s also not going to roll back down.  As you develop  your casting relationships with each audition, you are pushing that boulder a little further up that hill.  If you keep at it, you will eventually–or even suddenly–find yourself at the top.

“I’m just starting out (and/or just got my theatre degree)–how do I find an agent?”

The first thing I will say is, you’re asking the wrong question.  The first question to ask is, “Am I ready for an agent?”  Here are some additional questions that may help you find the answer to that one:

1)Do you have any on-camera performance experience?

2)Do you have any on-camera training?

3)Do you have extensive audition experience? (theatre auditions count)

4)Do you have excellent, well-produced footage for a reel?

Ari-Gold-a5)Do you have amazing headshots that look like you AND show your personality?

If you answered ‘no’ to ANY of these questions, I ask you to reconsider looking for an agent right now.  You are putting the cart before the horse.  Even if you are able to find an agent and start getting auditions, you risk the possibility of being written off as “green.”  As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

“But I played Lady MacBeth and Roxy Hart in the same year!  I’m brilliant!”  That may be absolutely true.  And, in the long run, your theatre training will serve you well in this business.  However, I urge you to get your on-camera tools and skills together, and get some on-camera auditioning and performance experience under your belt BEFORE you pursue representation, at least theatrically.*

My advice is to get into an on-camera audition technique class and start auditioning for projects on your own.  Get excellent headshots that look like you.  Get your Actors Access, LA Casting and Now Casting accounts up and running, and start submitting yourself for projects…anything that you think might be right for that doesn’t seem shady, whether there’s pay or not.  This way you get practice auditioning and maybe even some footage for your reel.  Keep an audition log (I will write an entry about this at some point, but for now just write down the particulars of the audition as well as your thoughts and feelings about how it went).

At some point when you feel ready, take a commercial audition technique class (mine, Killian McHugh’s,…ask around, there are several good ones).  AFTER you’ve taken a good class, have an honest conversation with your teacher about whether or not you’re ready to pursue commercial representation.  If you are, then by all means, get those great headshots and pursue commercial representation.  Auditioning for commercials will give you some great on-camera audition experience.

Theatrically, give yourself at least 100 auditions.  100 auditions to practice failing and succeeding.  100 auditions to get your feet wet.  If you haven’t booked any jobs after that 100 auditions, you are not ready for a theatrical (TV & film) agent.  If you booked a few unpaid gigs but still feel awkward and/or nervous before or during those low-stakes auditions, you are not ready for an agent.  Go on another
50 auditions and reassess.  Rinse and repeat.

As always, this is just my 2 cents.

*In Los Angeles, “Theatrical” refers to TV and film work, not theatre.  “Commercial” refers to commercials, industrials, etc.

“My agent never sends me out!”

images-1An agent friend of mine puts it like this: Stop asking yourself, “Why isn’t my agent sending me out?” Do you really think that if your agent had the power to just ‘send you out’ that they wouldn’t? The real question is, “Why aren’t casting directors calling me in?”

Let me expand on that: With the online submission system, you are coming up in searches and your agent is looking at your photo EVERY SINGLE DAY. It’s even possible that you are getting submitted EVERY SINGLE DAY. And it is absolutely certain that if it were up to your agent, you would have auditions EVERY SINGLE DAY. Just because you don’t talk to them every day doesn’t mean they are not thinking of you, submitting you, even fighting for you. Your agents might believe you are the most talented person on their roster and submit you for every single thing you are right for, but the reality is that casting offices get thousands of submissions FOR EACH ROLE and can only see a handful of people.

Let’s say a casting office got 2,000 submission and they are calling in 12 people. Your agent submitted you so you are one of the 2,000…but how do you get to be one of the 12? What makes you so special?  Sure, there’s credits. Yes, it’s a Catch-22. Too bad. So is getting into SAG and many of you have managed to do that, right? Get over thinking that this is unfair. Remember that all those people with credits (well, 99.999% of them) had to struggle for that first one…and the second one…and the third… Someday when you’re the one with credits you’ll be glad that your hard work has paid off in more auditions. Actors often forget that experience is a giant factor for getting job interviews IN ANY BUSINESS!

So if you don’t have credits, then what CAN you do? Well, you need to have something tangible for your agent to pitch, and it starts with good materials.  Do you expect your agent to call people and say, “I know his pictures are grainy and out of date, and he doesn’t have credits or a reel but just trust me, he’s really good”?

Try this experiment: Look at your Actors Access profile (which, if you don’t know, is the site where you upload the information that your agent uses to submit you through Breakdown Services). Imagine that you just found out that a casting director is going to call in 12 people and right now you’re #13 on the list.  What could you do to bump yourself up into that top 12? Are your pictures amazing? Are they current? Do you have a good assortment of them? Are the clips/reels you have up helping or hurting? Is your resume up to date? Have you filled in your special skills, including the unique ones that are not included in the checklist form? (There are blank spaces for those.) Is your age range accurate? Do you even have one listed? (If you don’t have an age range in your profile, you are not coming up in searches when your agent narrows the field using an age range…which is how most agents do most breakdowns.)

And materials are just one factor. I could go on and on, and hopefully will in future blogs…cultivate your relationship with your agent, keep working on your craft (theatre, classes, etc.), keep your casting fans informed of your actor activity, blah, blah…

Of course there are times when we need to move on in our relationships, whether business or personal. But often actors are too quick to blame their agents and managers when they aren’t getting auditions, unaware of just how hard those reps are working for them.

In closing: Ask not what your agent can do for your career, but what YOU can do for your career. 😉

My advice for actors…for what it’s worth

imagesAs a working actor and teacher, I get a lot of emails and calls from people asking for my advice.  I find that I am re-typing/retelling the same advice over and over again, so I’ve started a blog so that I can just direct people to the subject of interest and be done with it.  So it’s really for selfish reasons.  Hahaha!  Anyway, I am just one person and can only share what has worked for me and the people I know.  There are lots of people with different opinions that might work better for you–but this is just my 2 cents. I hope it helps.

Love and luck to you all.

-Porter Kelly