By Steve Braun + Risa Bramon Garcia
It feels like there’s even more pressure this Pilot Season. This Pilot Season, more than most, it feels like this antiquated system trying desperately to remain relevant. Pilot Season’s impossible mandate- make an amazing Pilot episode of television that satisfies both the shareholders and the artists- is made more impossible as it competes with an ever-edgier slate of cable and alternate-platform content. Network pilots are supposed 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, the anxiety, and the expectations, you walk into a small room with a camera in it 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. And most of the time the task of rising above the room is too daunting to most actors. And not just wide-eyed newbies. Some of our veteran actors, who most other months of the year walk into an audition like champions, are shaken to the core during Pilot Season. Most of the time the weight brings actors to their knees. But not always.
Here’s what’s working.
To unpack Pilot Season success we have to step way back from it all. We have to look at your power and your responsibility as an actor. When we step back and look deeply at you, we find that you’re a sensitive person who has sacrificed a lot to be an actor. You want to do really well and the consequence of doing poorly is 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. So you want to protect. You walk into the audition rooms with your guards 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 walk in 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 emotionally invest in you in turn. In your 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 do it first.
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, your 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 have zero 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 is 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 more than any other time, there is no time for an actor to do anything else.
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