Well-meaning coaches everywhere are telling actors to treat their careers like a business. We’re told to be the “CEO of our own Company”. We’re expected to spend a minimum number of hours working hard at our business. But working towards a bottom line “at all costs” is a prescription for anxiety and depression.
It’s what happens when a person finds themself to be the only person who’s survived a tragic event. This past year, in spite of the pandemic, my auditions have surprisingly increased. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty about this, so I try keep it to myself. Are you keeping the good things in your life a secret?
As soon as I came back from my family vacation, I was hit hard with non-stop auditions. In July, I had fifteen of ’em in nineteen days, including two callbacks (see video above). Some say it’s not cool to mention this when so many actors are suffering dry spells, but attempting to control other people’s feelings is a losing game.
Last year December 26th, I hosted a FaceBook Live event titled, What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?. Today I noticed that my talk not only still hits the mark, but I am now living proof of it. In the video, I said that Pilot Season had become artificially hyped up, and so I challenged viewers to take on the rest of the year just as seriously. I pointed out that being proactive can be as simple as just showing up.
Back in March, I was on a treadmill of episodic callbacks but no bookings. (I know, I know, a good problem to have.) As I was allowing self-doubt, anger, and fear to rule my mental health, I got another audition. This one fueled my anger. After all of the great auditions I had, I couldn’t believe I was being asked to go in for a “one-liner”. I couldn’t believe that after auditioning for educated, professional roles, I was being asked to go in for a Latina housekeeper.
Piss off, I’m not going!
Today’s topic: “What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?” Ask yer questions!
Posted by Doreen Calderon on Tuesday, December 26, 2017
As soon as I had expressed that thought, I knew it wasn’t practical, but I also knew I needed to change my attitude. I reached out to a friend, and asked her to remind me why I should show up for this one. Very simply, she pointed out that I needed to meet the casting director, and that I needed a job. Practical and impersonal. That’s all I needed to hear.
I was so busy, that I didn’t notice that this was a pilot audition. When I booked it, I forgot that this was my first pilot! Long story short, my story beat the odds. The series got picked up, and I’ve been called back three times (so far). It’s exciting for me to be a part – regardless how small – of a successful new show.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t go through pilot season wanting to book one. I just focused on booking a job. There’s a saying, “Shoot for the stars, and you’ll land on the moon.” In my case, I shot for the moon and landed on a star.
And the only thing I did was show up.
Booking a pilot doesn’t have to be your goal, but you must have a goal. Your choice will determine your actions. No choice, no action. Where you end up can be a very pleasant surprise!
This tree was the only thing left standing at ground zero. It defied logic, yet made so much sense. When I arrived in L.A., I only had theatre credits and two co-star roles – I had neither connections nor representation. I did, however, acclimate very quickly. The weather, the driving – I never owned a car before – and the possibilities! Unlike Chicago, I could meet dozens of casting directors face to face and no one had a preconceived idea of who I was or who I should be. That first year I booked three network TV shows and a national commercial with no agent. It defied logic.
I have always loved living on the edge, not knowing how things will turn out. I love it, because deep in my soul I know everything will always turn out fine. And now I am determined to love my way of living more than others fear it.
“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul
So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?
An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.
When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.
Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.
BRING YOUR OPINIONS/QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC TO MY TUESDAY FACEBOOK LIVE, 12PM PST
There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)
At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible. Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.
Get a jar – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:
- You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
- You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
- Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.
So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.
- New Headshots!
- Acting Classes!
- Image Makeovers!
- New Representation! etc. etc. etc.
Many actors hold a misconception that pilot season is only for those who have top representation or who are series regular material. (Whatever that means.) There’s this idea that booking a pilot is better than any other acting job. People move cross country every winter, spending a year’s savings on a three month gamble.
It’s time to demystify pilot season. Companies use the tantalizing prospect of booking a pilot as bait to sell their product. Look, either you need new headshots, classes, an agent or not. Ask yourself, What do I need to support my career right now?
Booking a pilot as a co-star or guest star can be just like any other acting gig. Yes, it’s fun to be on the ground floor of something new – something that could be the nation’s next big hit – but at the end of the day, it’s just solid work. So if your goal is to book solid work, then forget about the term, “pilot season”, collect what you need, and do what you need to do – now. If you can’t figure out what that is, then ask yourself, What do I really want? Your answer will guide yo