For casting directors, pilot season often means twice, if not three times, their regular work load. They may still be casting their current shows which haven't yet gone into hiatus. At the same time they're casting pilots which they hope will mean work for them next season, especially if their current shows are going off the air or may be one of the many shows cancelled every year. It often means working with new producers for the first time, trying to figure out what they want and how best to please them. It means seeing a lot of actors per role to find that needle in the haystack that producers hope to find. It means scrambling for those stars and name actors that everyone wants to grab this time of year.
For producers, it's a chance at putting together their first big hit (or their next big hit) that'll pay their bills and put their kids through college. Sometimes they have a strong idea of the kind of actor they're looking for for each role. Sometime they change their minds mid-way through the process. Other times, they just don't know and believe they'll know it when they see it. Producers want that magical cast that'll have just the right chemistry to make their series come to life and become a hit. It's the casting director's job to find those actors no matter how long it takes and how many actors they have to see.
For agents and managers, it means becoming familiar with and keeping track of many new projects, reading scripts, calling and emailing pitches, and staying on top of where casting is heading. There are many more breakdowns this time of year and casting goes on for longer. Casting often starts with the lead characters and then works its way down to the supporting regular characters and then to the guest stars and co-stars. The whole process can take days, weeks, or months. Every pilot is different. It's the rep's job to keep track of what has been cast and what's about to be cast and time their pitches for the right time.
For actors, it means if they're cast on a pilot that gets picked up, that airs, that finds an audience, that becomes a hit...they'll become rich and famous. At the very least, getting cast in a series regular role on a pilot can put an actor on the map or keep him/her on the map.
For everyone, it means high stakes, a lot of pressure, a potential jackpot, and a lot of hard work.
So what can the actor, especially the unknown actor, do during this time of year?
First, be aware that everyone is working very hard during pilot season, including your reps. We are spending long hours going over and over the breakdowns and deciding who has the qualities they're looking for and who to pitch. We're making many more phone calls and sending many more emails this time of year. If we're lucky, we're also spending time reading over series regular contracts which can be 20 pages or longer. This is a very stressful time of year and everyone is on edge. If a question about your photos, reel, or strategy can wait a few months, you'll get a lot more of your rep's attention then.
Even though your rep is doing what he or she can to give you a chance at that jackpot, the chances of an unknown actor booking a pilot are very small. Still, hope springs eternal and reps keep trying and often succeed at getting unknown actors seen for series regular roles. However, it's a daunting task since every rep is out there is also trying to get their clients in.
The main advice I can give is: know what you got and know how to sell it. Hopefully, you've already been doing that. If not, it's never too late. If you're hotter than hell, show us how hot you are. If you feel you can play a bad guy that can kill someone, have that scary look that'll make people fear for their lives. If the way you look and act is different, show off your uniqueness in your own special way. Maybe some interesting facial hair, a wild hairstyle, or glasses would help you stand out. If you're too cool for school, have a super hip look with hairstyle and clothes to match. If you've got a great bod, make sure you're in tip top shape and show it off. If your incredible acting is your selling point, have the credits, reviews, and awards to show it. If you don't have them, get them. At the very least, be prepared to be so great at your auditions that the fact that you're unknown doesn't matter. If you're funny, be showcasing that and perfecting it at the comedy and improv clubs.
Know what kinds of actors are being cast on TV and be aware of where you can best fit in. If they're looking for it, make sure everyone knows you got it and are proud of it!
The importance of the look and type can't be overestimated. Often if you've got that perfect something for what they're casting (and, of course, if there aren't that many other actors with better credits who also have that perfect something), they'll call you in and pray you can act. However, I do firmly believe that it's your acting and auditioning skill that will win out in the end and provide for a long-lasting career. The look comes first, the acting second.
Some of the comments I've received from casting when discussing actors have been:
Not hot enough!
She just doesn't have that MTV look...
They want someone who looks really charactery.
They want a name.
They want to go ethnic.
He's not ethnic enough!
Not hot enough!
We're looking to go into the stratosphere on this one (meaning they want a big star).
Must have strong comedy credits.
She looks too much like another series regular...
We're making an offer to a big star. Who have you got?
I love love LOVE her but she's just not right for this.
NOT HOT ENOUGH!
And as much as you try to convince them that your client can do it, if their bosses, the producers and the network, want someone drop dead gorgeous, it's difficult for casting directors to waste their bosses' time bringing them anything but....unless, of course, it's an actor with a NAME!
When you get a pilot audition, show them what you got instead of what you think they want. Show them that what you got can bring their show to life. Show them that you know the character better than they do, because you ARE the character.
Then it's out of your hands.
IF they decide you're not what they're looking for this time but they really liked what you did, they WILL remember you and bring you in when you are spot-on-the-money right. CDs remember the actors who, during pilot season, impressed them with their confidence, talent, and personality and they will bring them back during episodic season.
If you get called back to producers, and then test for the studio, and then for the network, and then get the job, congratulations!
Either way, enjoy the ride!