Pilot Season Is Here. Part II

February 13th, 2012

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 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 Jason Earles was in his late 20s when he started as Hannah Montana’s brother, and most of the cast on the CW (and all their 2010 pilots, including Glee) are in their mid 20s playing teenagers). 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 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).

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 commercial strike in 2000.

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 union minimums as of 2009 (the next one takes effect on July 1, 2011 with a 2% raise) are:

-Commercials: $592.20/day plus residuals.

-Day Player on a Movie or network TV show: $782/day or $2,713/week

-Average kid series regular on a network one hour TV show:

avg. $20,000 for the pilot, $10,000 a week if it gets picked up to series.

-Many films are classified as low-budget, and make $100 day or even less.

That Disney or Nickelodeon series your child is dying to get on? Be careful! Many of these are AFTRA shows (the other actor union) and their pay is minimal. Sometimes as little as $341 for two days work for a speaking role! 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

10% agent

15% manager (if you have one)

2% union dues

30% state and federal taxes

72% GONE

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 Oakwood.

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

•bonding. You can instill in your child that you will support their dreams. Not a willy nilly

“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.

Edward/Edna & Joseph/Joyce

February 10th, 2012

Absent Friends

February 10th, 2012

Georgia

February 10th, 2012

The Dance

February 10th, 2012

Violet and Sandy are sitting in the cafeteria. Wondering why they don’t have dates to the Sadie Hawkins Dance.

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