The Real Truth About Pilot Season
A cottage industry has developed in Los Angeles in the last 30 years or so, an industry that exists to serve something called “pilot season”. But in the last 10 years, pilot season has changed drastically. So what’s the real skinny? Is it real? Is it worth it? We’re here to tell you the cold hard truth. But before we begin, a couple of disclaimers:
- This information is likely to be different than the advice you are getting from your hometown agent/manager/teacher/fellow parents. Like all information you get on the internet, we encourage you to scrutinize and weigh the source carefully. Keep in mind that people back home may have ulterior motives. It may be money, or it may be just as simple as saving face in regard to their own pilot season experience. In contrast, we have nothing to lose by being honest with you, but we also have no specific knowledge of your personal situation.
- There is an exception to every rule. Yes, it happens that lightning strikes and a kid comes to pilot season without an agent and gets “discovered”. Hollywood is crazy that way. BUT we say what we do because we are aiming this advice toward MOST people who are considering a pilot season trip. Not the day lightening strikes (that would happen without our advice).
- Please read the whole article. It will start out a tad scary, and more than a little negative. Please know that we DO believe in supporting kids dreams. We are not against people coming to Los Angeles for pilot season! We just want them to have the greatest chance of success. So please continue on to the end of the article, where we offer you some tips for success if you decide to brave the odds.
THE BASICS OF THE BUSINESS
What is pilot season?
Traditional pilot season is the period of time between January and April (give or take) when the studios create samples of new shows. A pilot is one episode of a show that is ordered by the network as a test. They will cast it, produce it, test it with audiences and studio executives and decide whether to pick it up as a regular series. That series will be shown in the fall. Casting for the test episodes used to be done in a frenzy during pilot season. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_Pilot
A “series regular” is a full-time job where the actor is expected to be in most of the episodes. There are lesser roles in pilots too, but they are “day players” or “co-stars” where you are paid for one day’s work. When a series regular is cast in a network TV show, they are typically bound to their contract for 6 or 7 years (unless the series is not picked up, cancelled or they are fired). For cable or streaming shows, the contract period is shorter, but is also measured in years, not months.
Why during spring?
Pilot season used to exist on this timeline because it was built around advertising schedules. A little Hollywood Television 101: network television shows (ABC, CBS, NBC, CW and Fox) only exist to draw advertisers. Those commercials you see between shows are the bread and butter of the entertainment industry. Each network show is competing for the advertiser’s money. Advertisers buy time on each show and that is what keeps the show (and the network) afloat. With the advent of ad-supported streaming tiers in 2023, ads have become important to the survival of streamers like Netflix and Disney+ as well.
Traditionally, the networks hold an event in New York in May called the upfronts. Upfronts are basically big parties where each network announces their fall lineup on primetime and gives the advertisers (the party guests) a taste of the new shows, hoping to get them to buy ad time in the fall. The pilot season schedule is built around the deadline of upfronts in mid-May. Traditionally, pilot season is planned to conceive, cast, produce the test episode (pilot), and make program decisions by May.
Why do you keep saying “traditionally” and “used to be”? Does pilot season really exist anymore?
We say “traditionally” because pilot season has changed. Here’s why: Pay cable channels (ie. Disney, Nickelodeon, HBO, Showtime, etc) were never really on the traditional pilot season schedule since they aren’t dependent on advertising. Ditto the streamers (Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, etc). Instead, they relied on subscriber memberships.They produce the lion’s share of new shows. Even the other networks have moved increasingly toward using mid-season replacements, which are new series that are put into the TV schedule in January, when their first team of series fails. These mid-season replacements are often on alternative schedules as well. In 2022 and 2023 some of those subscription streaming services started to offer a lower-priced, ad-supported option, meaning advertising will be in play again. Disney+ announced their version in March 2022, for example.Today, upfronts still exist in mid-May, but many more outlets have joined the party including YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon. That’s because they are all competing for the same dollars from the same advertisers.
See how the calendar is getting a little murky?
Add to that significant industry events such as the Writer’s Guild (WGA) strike and the SAG strike in 2008 and the WGA in 2023 which put the industry at a standstill and showed investors that content could be produced outside the studio system. The rapid decline of DVD sales and the uptick in streaming have also affected the industry. Most striking has been the rise of Amazon, Disney+ and most importantly Netflix, because they are creating new content faster than anyone has done before, and most of their series are created with the intent of going to series — they don’t follow the business model of investing in a pilot and testing it first. They have enough data in their subscriber algorithm to predict the success of a series without doing a pilot. For more on Netflix’s business model, read 500 Scripted Shows?! How Netflix and Amazon are Sending Originals to All-Time Highs and Inside the Binge Factory:Netflix is hiring everybody in and out of Hollywood to make more TV shows than any network ever has, and it already knows which ones you’ll like.
Then, the cherry on the cake: the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/2021 which hit the United States during pilot season. More on COVID pilot season here
So the answer is that pilot season sure isn’t what it used to be.That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad time to come to LA, but those investing significant time and money should know that it is no longer the be-all-end-all it once was.
How many pilots are made?
Traditionally, about 100 pilots are made each year, but the number varies each year. Here’s a look:
2010 — the number of pilots inched up to 110 including all of cable. Almost all were under AFTRA (not SAG) contracts. Only 50 of those got picked up, and only 10 had series regular roles for children.
2011 — 132 pilots were produced, including all cable channels like Disney and Nickelodeon. 83 were done by the major 4 networks. Of the 132 total, 63 of them got picked up, but 6 were quickly cancelled. That’s 57 new shows left on TV as of January 2012. Of those, only 11 shows had series regular roles for children–including the new Disney and Nick shows.
2012 — 87 network pilots produced. SAG-AFTRA merger.
2013 — 98 network pilots produced.
2014 — 95 network pilots produced.
2015 — 85 network pilots produced.
2016 — 88 network pilots produced.
2017 — 74 network pilots produced. Seeing a pattern here? But then…
2018 — 119 TOTAL pilots produced. 76 network pilots produced, including 45 dramas and 30 comedies, with a rise in multi-cam comedies, and retro reboots of classic series. In addition there were about 7 pilots happening at Disney Channel/XD and Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite. Amazon had about 12. Netflix had 24, more than any of the traditional networks. All told, we tallied 74 series orders, the large majority from Amazon and Netflix. Total series new series regular roles for children: 15.
2019 — 66 live action pilots produced at the networks, not counting Disney Channel/XD, Nickelodeon or streaming services. Of those 66 network pilots, only 27 got picked up. Within those, there were 12 series regular roles for children. Netflix had a whopping 65 pilots, with majority being ordered straight to series (so not really a pilot at all). Netfix does not follow a pilot season calendar.
2020 — COVID-19 pandemic disrupts pilot season. It appeared taht 55 pilots could go straight to series, but that was before COVID hit production and most of the pilots were never produced at all.. ABC and Fox (both owned by Disney) had already announced they would be doing off-season (aka 2nd season) casting, but then announced in April 2020 that this would likely mean a permanent end to “expensive pilots and upfront advertiser presentations”.
2021 — This pilot season didn’t really exist at all. A few pilots shot in fall 2020 and winter 2021, but most bypassed the pilot stage completely and went straight to series. According to Deadline, all of the major broadcast networks ordered off-cycle pilots in 2021, but only a couple of them included children. Since children couldn’t get vaccinated for COVID until late 2021, no studio was willing to create content that might be put kids at risk on set.
2022 — According to Deadline, 2022 pilot season is expected to be well below pre-pandemic level, with a total volume of pilots being only 30 – 40. .
That sounds like a lot, but remember: on cable shows, where most of the kids’ opportunities are, the money is far less. Additionally, keep in mind that a pilot is only a test. Most never see the light of your television screen. Even among those that get picked up, most don’t get to produce a whole season because they are cancelled. Lesson: the numbers were pretty consistent for many years (and the odds weren’t pretty). Now we are looking a big shift in the way Hollywood does business — streamers are king and they don’t do pilots the same way.
What are the odds of a NEW kid getting cast as a series regular in a pilot?
Almost zip. It is like the Lottery
There will likely be less than 20 children getting series regular roles this year, including the Disney, Nick, Amazon and Netflix shows. Almost all those children will have significant credits and many years in the business prior to booking the pilot. That has been the case consistently since 2006, when BizParentz first started keeping track. Usually, just one new child beats the odds and makes it through to a full time job.
By our estimate, about 95% of kids coming for pilot season go home empty handed. They don’t book anything while they are in Los Angeles. The other 5% book something, but it is usually a commercial, a student film or a low-budget independent film. They should consider this a great success, but it won’t be enough to pay for their trip. And it won’t be the star in a new television series.
The trend for the last 10 years has been to hire established actors, often hiring actors who were already working on another series. This is called “second position” casting, meaning they will hire the actor if their first commitment doesn’t work out (their current series is cancelled or their first position pilot isn’t picked up to series). Deadline Hollywood did an article about this here. It’s a trend that isn’t good for new actors, although it is safer bet for producers.
How many kids are in LA for pilot season?
Here are some stats: The state of California Department of Labor says that they issue approximately 50,000 entertainment work permits in California every six months, and the majority are working in the Los Angeles area.
According to Casting Networks (aka CNI or LA Casting), the commercial casting service used by Los Angeles agents, there are more than 30,000 kids under 18, with agents, auditioning in LA, or sending tapes to LA, year round. The number swells about 1,000 in pilot season. That means approximately 1,000 other children will join you in the pilgrimage to Hollywood this year, either in person, or virtually. In general, you can assume there are about 1,500 children in your child’s age range (ex. Boys 8-10 years old) that you will be competing against every day.
Your agent? There are about 40 agents in Los Angeles who handle children. The biggest ones have over 1,000 children on their roster. So even within your agency it is not unusual to be competing with 5-12 kids who are the same age and ethnicity as your child. It’s always good to ask how many kids are in your child’s category in the agency’s roster before you sign.
THE CASTING PROCESS ONCE YOU ARE HERE
But those 1,000 competitors aren’t showing up to every audition, right?
Right. Here’s the 411 on casting: All those kids are submitted by their agents electronically for a role. Of the 1,000 kids (or more!) submitted for each role in a show, the casting director will choose a much smaller number to submit a first audition, and even less for a callback. For a television show, they may only see 20 children in person. For a commercial, they will typically audition 100 at a first audition, if they do in-person auditions at all. Films and pilots have a longer time frame to cast, so they will often see 50-100 for each role. Of those only a few will get a “callback”. Only one will get the job. As you can see, it is quite an accomplishment just to get an audition!
For a television pilot specifically, the process can be as many as six auditions to get a role. Something like this:
- Pre-Read (usually viewed by the CD’s assistant or intern, not the actual CD) by taped audition sent via agents or submitted directly by actors.
- Callback Audition with the CD (usually taped or Zoom, and with just the Casting Director and a reader)
- Director/Producer call (an audition where as many as 10 people are in the room including various people from the production company making the show, and the casting director you met earlier)
- Sometimes a work session or mix-and-match where the choices are narrowed further
- Studio Test (audition for the studio executives, sometimes combined with the network audition if the production studio and distributing network are the same)
- Negotiation and signing of contracts (note this happens before the last audition, so your salary negotiation is part of the hiring process)
- Network Test (usually the top few choices are brought before the network executives)
Is there other stuff going on during pilot season?
Of course! Hollywood is made up of more than pilots, and realistically, your odds are better elsewhere anyway. Commercials shoot year round, the episodics (television series that are already on TV) are still shooting episodes, and feature films tend to cast in the spring for shoots in the summer. So there are still lots of opportunities.
SO IF THE ODDS ARE SO DISMAL, WHY…
Why are all those people still flocking to LA from out of state?
Because someone back home told them it was a good idea to come to California. It’s kinda like the gold rush: everyone wants to take a chance at stardom. It’s the great American lottery. And every scammer wants to make a buck while they can.
An entire cottage industry has now been built around kids and pilot season. Short term apartment complexes such as AVA Toluca Hills (fka Oakwood) advertise “child actor programs”. Acting teachers offer “boot camps” and “pilot season intensives”. Competitions such as iPop, Premiere, Applause, IMTA and Industry Showcase time their events so that kids might be “found” by an agent, and then encouraged to come to Los Angeles immediately for pilot season. Out of town agents arrange kick-backs with Los Angeles agents if they will represent their client for just a few months. It seems every cockroach comes out of the woodwork during pilot season. For a look at that, see this article by Bonnie Gillespie: Scam Season
Lots of people have hidden agendas when they encourage kids to come to pilot season. That said, it IS true that there are usually more auditions available during pilot season. So that is a good reason to come to LA in that time period. It’s just that you have to consider that there are also many more kids competing for that audition, so your odds aren’t so great.
Why would my agent take us on for pilot season if they already have so many kids?
Please be aware that many (if not most) agents will not sign kids just for a few months. They just don’t play this pilot season game because they realize that it takes time to get a new face out there, and they have plenty of qualified clients already. It is not normal for agents to take kids on just for pilot season. Still, there are a few possible reasons why a reputable agent may choose to represent a child from out of town for the pilot season:
- Why not? With electronic casting, the agents do not have to invest a lot of time or money in new clients. They aren’t paying out a lot, so if you are willing to take the financial risk to come here, why not take you on? It’s really no skin off their nose, no money out of their pocket. YOU are taking all the risk.
- They truly believe in your child’s talent and think they can be successful.
- They have a hole in their roster than your child can fill. Every agent wants to have a wide variety of kids available for the roles that might come up (and no one really knows what those might be). For instance, in the 10-12 yr old boy category, an agent may want to have 5 Caucasian boys (a couple of hero boys, a character kid or two, etc), 2-3 African American boys, 2 Asian boys, 2 Hispanic boys, a couple of mixed ethnicity kids, one Middle Eastern boy. If they are missing that Middle Eastern boy, and your child just happens to look like he could play that, you’re in.
But I thought my child was special! Are you telling me they are just a dime a dozen?
No, your child IS special. But the competition is insanely stiff in Los Angeles. There are lots of really incredible kids with professional experience. It doesn’t mean you should stay home, but it DOES mean you should adjust your expectations for your own sanity.
How do I know my child is ready?
We advise young actors to “bloom where you are planted”. In other words, take classes locally, get some local jobs, exhaust all the opportunities where you live. Get a local agent. Try to become SAG eligible since California is a union state (the importance of this varies by age).
Basically, if your child has a healthy resume and is consistently booking in a smaller market, you MAY be ready for a trip to Los Angeles. To see if your instincts are right, we suggest taking a vacation to California to test the waters. Come for a well planned week: see if you can meet agents and managers, check out housing options, take a class or two, get L.A. style headshots taken. Most importantly, get an evaluation or two from respected L.A. acting coaches who can assess your child’s readiness to compete in the L.A. market. Then go to Disneyland! Making a pre-pilot season trip can be the key to a successful pilot season later!
How much local experience is “enough” to make the trip?
That’s a toughie, and it depends on your child’s age and type. In general, the older the child, the more professional experience you must have to compete. In Los Angeles, we do not put commercials, extra work, or print work on professional acting resumes. Take that off, and what do you have? Ideally, kids over the age of 8 should have some theatre, a film credit or two (even if it is a student film), good training, and at least one RECOGNIZABLE credit: a film shown in theatres or television show that can be seen nationwide.
It also helps if they are SAG-AFTRA eligible. It helps if they have something really unique to offer: an unusual look or ethnicity, or a level of skill that is uncommon (a martial arts champion for example). It is true that everybody starts somewhere. But kids starting out with nothing on the resume will have a tough time competing in Los Angeles. It is not unusual for a 10 year old here to already have a series regular, a couple of major feature films, and 5 or 6 guest star roles on their resume. That is your competition.
Does age/size matter?
Yes. The labor laws in California dictate some optimal ages for working in the industry. Kids can work longer hours at certain ages: 6, 9, 16, and 18. A different set of rules exist for those who have graduated high school or have taken a high school proficiency test (such as the CHSPE test). Here is a grid of the work hours in California.
Size is an issue as well, or rather, the appearance of looking younger. Kids who are short, and appear younger have a great advantage. The kids you see playing teens on television rarely are teens. Consider that the all but one of the cast of 13 Reasons Why were in their 20s, playing high schoolers. The characters on Stranger Things are meant to be 14, but they are played by actors who are 5 – 10 years older than their character. The period of time between 14 and 18 is affectionately known as the “Dead Zone” to parents in the industry since there is very little work that isn’t snatched up by adults who can play younger. Even kids as young as 6 can “cheat” younger if they are small and still have baby teeth. Since they can often read and have longer attention spans, producers will hire them over a true 4 or 5 year old.
What does this meant to you? It means that Hollywood producers will hire a child who is 6 years old but is small and looks 4. It is simply a business decision for them: they get more work hours and time is money. You increase your odds greatly if you plan your pilot season trip at the right age. Wrong age? It may not be a deal breaker, but you might want to consider waiting a year. If you have a teenager, encourage them to work ahead in high school so that they can graduate and work as an adult.
FINANCES: CAN YOU AFFORD THIS TRIP?
How much Does Pilot Season Cost?
This can vary widely, especially considering housing arrangements have a big variance, the need to rent a car, etc. But generally, you can plan to spend about $5,000 a month if you are being very, very conservative. Your budget should include housing, car (you can’t do LA without a car!), food, acting classes, clothing for auditions, etc. There are several apartment complexes that cater to short term renters for pilot season, but many parents have reported better living conditions, less expense, and more sanity when renting a house (sometimes with another pilot season family). Here’s an article about actor expenses in general.
My agent back home says that just one commercial will pay for my trip…. true?
False. Sorry, but the average UNION commercial (and you will have to compete with thousands of young union actors to get it) pays approximately $6,000. The days of the $50,000 national commercial are gone, and they have been gone since the SAG-AFTRA commercial strike in 2000. Really.
What CAN I expect my child to make if they are lucky enough to book a job?
Most child actors get union scale for the work they do. Just to give you an idea, SAG-AFTRA union minimums as of are:
Commercials: $712.00/day plus residuals.
Day Player on a Movie or network TV show: $1,009/day or $3,505/week
Background actors in TV/film: $174/day
Many films are classified as SAG-AFTRA Ultra Low-Budget, and make $125/day.
That Disney or Nickelodeon series your child is dying to get on? Be careful! Many of these are shows produced under legacy AFTRA contracts (negotiated pre-merger) and their pay is minimal. Many of these contracts effectively do not pay residuals. Don’t assume you will be cashing in — make sure to ASK your agent what the pay rate is!
Keep in mind that out of that gross amount the following percentages are deducted before you ever see a paycheck:
15% Coogan withholding
15% manager (if you have one)
2% union dues
30% state and federal taxes
That leaves just 28% left to pay for acting classes, transportation, headshots, housing in LA, etc. Even if your child has a PHENOMENAL pilot season, and books a commercial, a week on a television series, and a couple of days on a feature film , you would be clearing around $3000—not enough to pay for your apartment at AVA Toluca Hills.
We are thinking we can take a second mortgage/line of credit/credit cards/using their college fund to pay for the trip. Then my child can pay it back later when they make money.
We strongly advise against this. Why?
- Because the odds are that your child WON’T be able to pay it back.
- Because it creates an unbalanced, pressure filled environment for your child. If they know the family made significant sacrifices, and they fail in LA (no fault of their own), they may have serious psychological issues later.
- If you are successful (say they book a feature film), things don’t get easier, money-wise. It gets far more complicated, and bills increase.
- Your child’s odds of being successful with a college education (which they will still need if they are a professional actor, btw), are FAR, FAR better than any success in Hollywood. Is dipping into the college fund worth it?
- Hollywood is a business. Every business needs capital to begin operations. There is nothing wrong with investing in your child’s business (giving them the capital to get started) but it should be money you can afford to give. If you can’t afford it without borrowing, consider waiting a year so that your child’s business can be on solid financial footing.
BENEFITS of COMING TO PILOT SEASON
“But”, you say, “this isn’t all about money!”
We know. There are other great benefits to coming to pilot season, aside of money or even getting a real job. The trick is to choose to seek them out. Los Angeles offers:
- the opportunity for real auditions in a competitive market
- assessment of your child’s ability to play with the big dogs, and get opinions from the actual people who cast feature films and network television.
- quality training you can’t get elsewhere
- you can instill in your child that you will support their dreams. Not a vague “we-always-love-you-no-matter-what” statement, but a tangible lesson in helping them set goals, and make a plans to reach them.
- exposure to high level casting directors, producers and directors that you might never meet in your home town.
- skills increased so that when you return to your home market, you can be MORE successful than you were when you left.
How Long Should I Stay?
This varies from year to year, depending on how casting is going. The best idea is to ask your agent, but in general, it isn’t worth it to come for less than 8 weeks. It takes a couple of weeks just to get your child’s pictures and resumes in to the online casting systems, have agents submit and get the first auditions.
Keep in mind though: a showbiz career is a marathon, not a sprint. One pilot season probably isn’t enough. Many families have told us that while they saw some success (a booking or two) their first pilot seasons, it took 3 years to really feel like they were competing in this market and booking fairly often.
Casting Director Mark Sikes says it takes 5 years of full time living in LA to really understand the town, long time kid’s agent Judy Savage said it often takes 7 pilot seasons for kids to book a pilot.
BEWARE (The “Don’t” List)
As we stated earlier, there is an industry that has built itself around the concept of “pilot season”. Those involved in this sub-culture of Hollywood range from the regular business owner who just knows an opportunity when they see one, to the lowest level scammer in town. Here are some tips to help you steer clear of the bad experiences:
- Do not send your kid alone. Do not send them to any manager that offers to house them. Kids need their parents in this tough industry. The number one rule (and actually a law in California on sets) is to always be within sight and sound of your child. It is not the time to farm them out to a so-called “expert”. Trust us, no high quality manager houses their clients.
- Beware of Talent Services who charge up front fees. Legit agents and managers get paid a percentage when your child works. Legit acting coaches and photographers get paid a flat fee for the actual serves performed. Do not mix them. There were so many scams in this area that the State of California passed a law called the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. Bottom line: avoid people who claim to be multi-hyphenates, and want to charge you money before your child works.
- Don’t get sucked into Ugly Stagemomland. You’ve probably heard about it: evil stage mothers who spend every waking moment looking for auditions for Baby June. Sadly, it does exist, but it is by FAR the minority! Most stagemoms are helpful, kind, and friendly. More experienced, knowledgeable moms don’t engage in gossip or even discussions about auditions. They’ve outgrown it. The bad apples are easy to avoid. Choose your friends carefully, don’t trust online personas, and stay away from social areas at the kid actor apartment complexes.
- Don’t market so aggressively that you compromise your child’s safety. Be very careful about personal websites, the use of TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, working with unknown “producers”, etc. Child predators abound in Hollywood and being a pilot season newbie practically puts a scarlet letter on your forehead. We are seeing everyone under the sun referring to their projects as “pilots”. See the definition of a pilot at the beginning of this article. These are not the “coveted” opportunities that everyone is seeking. Please read every article in the New to the Biz section of this site.
- Don’t sacrifice your family. Divorce is very common in pilot season families! Around half of the marriages in the United States fail, and in the entertainment industry the percentage is far higher. Add in the separation, the financial pressure, the balancing of two households, the single parenting required since you are separated, and you have a recipe for disaster. Really consider whether a shot at this lottery is worth your marriage and the stability of your home. Make sure that both spouses support this idea. Make sure you have an exit plan where you define when you are coming home and under what circumstances you will stay or return. Consider when your family will be reunited (will dad get a job transfer and join you if little Emma is successful?).
- Finances can get ugly. Many parents run out of money and have to return home before they are ready. In California, ALL the money your child makes (not just the Coogan 15%) belongs to the child. It is not yours. It is not supposed to be used for basic living expenses — that is your job. As a parent, you must still provide housing, food and education for your child. Make sure that when you come for pilot season, you have enough “capital” to run your child’s business and enough cash to stay here short term. Then consider what job YOU will have to support your child if they are successful and need to stay longer. Most showbiz moms with working kids DO have their own job. Certain occupations are more conducive to showbiz because they are more flexible (nurses, kindergarten teachers, lawyers, internet businesses, accounting, medical transcription, writers, etc.).
- Don’t think that influencer activity can bridge the money gap. It is exceedingly rare for children and families to be successful enough at monetizing their social media to be profitable influencers. And btw, influencers must abide by child labor laws in California, which makes it very difficult to do legally.
14 TIPS for SUCCESS (the “Do” List)
If you have read up to this point and you are still thinking you want to brave the odds and make a trip for pilot season, there are ways to increase your odds of having a GREAT experience, and being successful:
- Define success for your family. Will you feel good about the trip if they get a few auditions and take some great classes? Or will you only be satisfied if they book a job (any job)? Or do you need to make this trip financially break even? Is this just a really big adventure and you can deal with WHATEVER comes of it (even if it is nothing)? Having no goal in mind is a recipe for hurt feelings, lost dreams, and a lifetime of regret.
- Consider making a pre-pilot season trip to LA for planning (see below).
- Set up agent/manager ahead of time.
- Get headshots ahead of time.
- Take good classes: improvisation, scene study, character development, dance, etc. Try the stuff you can’t get at home! Make sure to check for their CPS permits.
- Plan school and make a regular time each day to accomplish that.
- Master self-taping. Even if you are physically here, 90% of your first auditions will be via self-tape. Get a good phone camera, editing software and a backdrop/tripod/light kid set up. More here.
- Get legal and get organized. This might have been a hobby before, but in L.A. it is a business. Get your paperwork (Coogan accounts, work permits, etc) together and set up a filing system for jobs, audition information, etc. Keep logs of all your expenses and travel details (for possible tax deductions, and legally required reporting to your child later). Consider getting a planner or software made for actors, such as Performer Track.
- “DO” Los Angeles. Go to museums, beaches, Disneyland, the Disney Concert Hall, and Universal Studios Themepark. Take a studio backlot tour (Warner Brothers and Paramount offer them), see art house films and learn about the history of Hollywood. Go to free tapings of television shows, and if you are SAG-AFTRA take advantage of the screenings and classes at the SAG Foundation
- Spend time with your child sans video games.
- Plan for success. Be careful of your child’s safety and guard their privacy. If they become famous, they will thank you.
- Do build a real relationship with your child’s agent, even if you have a manager.
- Think about the future, and about making this a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, you will probably have to come back again, so pace your emotions for the long haul.
- Consider the end: what happens AFTER pilot season is over? When you go back home, how will life be? Can you child jump right back into school? If they don’t book, like MOST people, will they be able to face friends and family? Talk about this out loud. Think about what you say to friends and family.
MAKING A PRE-SEASON TRIP
Is there some strategy to planning our pilot season?
YES! Planning is everything! Time is money, but sitting around can also do damage to a kid’s motivation and self-esteem. For this reason, you want to be as efficient as possible
Pro Tip: Video highlighting neighborhood vibes, traffic and rent prices: 6 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Los Angeles by Shelby Church
Here are some things to take care of BEFORE you arrive in L.A.:
- First, become familiar with labor laws in California because they dictate what age children will be likely to work. For example, a five year old won’t work much in California because the labor laws allow a six year old (who looks 4 or 5) to work an hour longer. So if you have a five year old, you might be wise to postpone your trip until they are six. Your odds will be better next year! Same idea goes for teenagers who are not high school graduates. WHEN you choose to come may be key.
- Do NOT ever come to pilot season without securing agency representation first. Legally, you cannot procure work in California without a licensed talent agent. Not to mention, it just isn’t done. You really do need an agent. And the reputable ones are too busy once pilot season starts to interview new clients.
- Get L.A. style headshots before coming here. Photographers are booked several weeks ahead of time, and by the time you take pictures, get the proofs back, have your agent and manager look at them, and upload them to casting sites, you have wasted more than a month of your trip. Do this in advance! This is a perfect task for the pre-trip.
- Get work permits and Coogan accounts in advance. California is very strict about the work permits and you simply will not be allowed to work without one. Currently, the wait time is more than a month to get one, so start now! Note: California does have a temporary online permit option, for those who are getting their first ever permit. While there is a $50 fee, this is an option that alleviates those in other states from playing a guessing game of when they may need a California permit, if ever. Although there is no cost to get a full permit by mail, the unnecessary permit applications are taxing the system. Later, when you need the DLSE to be able to process your renewal in a timely manner, you will appreciate that the system is not clogged up every January unnecessarily. Read here for more information about temporary permits.
- Plan your schooling. It is illegal in California to simply “be on vacation” during pilot season, regardless of what your school back home tells you. If you want to work here, you must go to school here in some manner. Check out the Education section of our website for lots of resources.
- For more planning tips, here is an expert from Bonnie Gillespie’s book, Casting Qs. She asks 15 casting directors “What’s the First Thing An Actor Should Do Upon Arrival in Los Angeles?“
ALTERNATIVES TO COMING FOR PILOT SEASON
There is no magic formula for success in Hollywood. There is no one “right” way. Pilot season is no exception. It is not the silver bullet that will make you a star, nor is it even the normal path. But if you live outside of Los Angeles, it may feel like a pilgrimage to Hollywood is the only way to make it. It isn’t! Lots of successful families have found alternatives to pilot season. They suggest:
- Come for episodic season instead. This period of time is generally August through early December, when the regular television series are casting, and when holiday commercials are casting. A bit more opportunity, a little less competition, and a less frenzied schedule. A good chunk of pilots are cast during this time as well, especially the kid-heavy Disney and Nickelodeon shows.
- Get a local agent who will submit on LA jobs and be prepared to fly on a dime. Many smaller market agents get Los Angeles breakdowns and can submit and send taped auditions to LA casting directors. Most first auditions are via self-tape anyway. You’ll miss the rush castings, the commercials and the smaller TV roles, but you will still get opportunities on pilots, major features and other big stuff that has more time to cast. Then you can plan to fly in for callbacks or bookings.
- Ask your local agent to make a LA connection if you are willing to fly on a dime. Many local agents are friends with Los Angeles agents. With a referral, a LA agent may consider repping you WITHOUT a move to LA, if you can jump on a plane and be in Los Angeles within 24 hours or so. This works for families with tons of frequent flyer miles, and airline connection or some other way to drop everything and go. It is often FAR less expensive than moving to Los Angeles for a few months.
- Wait till next year, and get your ducks in a row. Get a few local jobs and save the money for the pilot season trip and/or take on a part-time job to save. Build the resume locally. Take more classes. Do some theater. Work on academics. Be ready so you can hit the ground running next year.
- Consider obtaining representation in a bigger market, but not as big as L.A. Consider Atlanta, NY, Chicago, or Dallas. Many successful kids we know moved to a medium sized market first and worked there before coming to Los Angeles a year or two later. They gained recognizable credits, bi-coastal agents and big-market audition experience.
Great articles about pilot season stories:
Great first hand experiences– Discussions with pilot season parents on PARF (Professional Actors Resource Forum):
If you are successful:
Life as a Series Regular by Bonnie Gillespie
Websites to Research Pilots in Development
TV by the Numbers Site
Casting About (lists by Casting Director with contact info)
Futon Critic Dev Watch Pages
Variety Pilot and Development Scorecard
Deadline Primetime Pilot Panic (searchable by channel, including Disney, Nick, Netflix and Amazon)