real life

"It can be psychologically brutal." An Aussie actor on what pilot season in LA is really like.

Iʼm writing this from the airport as I wait for my flight from Los Angeles back home to Australia. I have been in LA for Pilot Season but due to the measures being taken to halt the spread of coronavirus, the work that I had left to do has largely slowed down, prompting an early trip home.

Iʼm sure you know what coronavirus is by now but what is Pilot Season? And no, it has nothing to do with celebrating aviation heroes and more to do with television.

Advice for my five-year-old self with Tim Minchin. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Itʼs an intense period in LA that, spans from late January through to March where network pilots (a pilot is usually, the first episode of a television series) are ordered, made and then, either picked-up at the May Upfronts (made into a series) or scrapped and denied the realisation of a complete story-arc.

Generally, there are around 50 to 70 network pilots made at this time but only a fraction of them (20 or so) will be taken to series. You can thank Pilot Season for conceiving and birthing (Iʼll explain the birds and bees of television when youʼre older) successful series such as Scrubs, The Office, Friends, Lost, The Good Wife etc.

So, as you can imagine, this period becomes a feeding frenzy for actors looking to do what they love. Much like the Christmas holidays, some people over pilot season will be celebrating, some people will be depressed but everyone, will be stressed.

Whilst Iʼm grateful to be able to take part in this period, itʼs hardly glamorous. Due to the fast turnaround of pilots, when I land in LA, I generally hit the ground running. By running I mean, sitting alone in cheap digs on the other side of the world, battling jet lag, backed-up from aeroplane food, muttering words to myself in a foreign accent trying to memorise lines for the next dayʼs audition. Sometimes youʼre asked to send a tape in for the audition, rather than going into the casting office.


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In those instances, youʼll find me in my room trying to work out how Iʼm going to balance my camera on take-out boxes and film my audition scenes without a reader. If anyone walked in to see me like that, theyʼd surely assume I was making a solo ‘home videoʼ but instead of leather and whips, itʼd just be me crying in make-shift Victorian garb from waist up, pyjamas waist down replaying and examining my on-screen cry chin. Which by the way, remarkably resembles Claire Daneʼs cry face, all her uncontrollable chin wobbles and dimples. YouTube that, itʼs a good time!

Madness aside, I find this time of year to be exhilarating. Itʼs by far the busiest period to be an auditioning actor so for the most part, I feel energised by actively working towards my dreams every day. The beautiful (occasionally nauseating) thing about LA is that you tend to be surrounded by actors (or other creatives) honing their craft and working towards expanding their careers so thereʼs a real collective buzz in the air.


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On the flip side, there is also a shared understanding when things are challenging because it can be psychologically brutal. It can feel like doing six job interviews (albeit behind a character) per week, in a room full of people that look the same as you and then getting repeatedly rejected but rarely finding out why.

Sometimes you make it to the next stage of the audition process (there can be as many as five rounds) but you donʼt have the right VISA so youʼre dreams of that gig go flying off a cliff, plunging to the ocean floor where only the cries of the worldʼs Lime Green share bikes can be heard. Plus, the amount of preparation before each of those auditions is immense. God forbid you forget one word of that seven-page monologue you’ve had to memorise in a Scottish accent overnight plus, they want a Russian alternative because ‘theyʼre unsure of what theyʼre looking for’. Sometimes that level of all give and no take, can gnaw away at your confidence, creativity and sense of purpose.

I was having one of those days last week when Iʼd just missed out on a job I cared about a great deal and to get out of my head, I decided to walk myself to a cafe. When I looked up from my table to place my order, standing in front of me was Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara ordering falafel bowls. In that moment, my first thought was, ‘yum, good choiceʼ and secondly, the cruelty of Lady Los Angelesʼ, she was unashamedly rubbing two of the greats, (one of them, this yearʼs Oscar winner) in my face. The audacity! The timing!

However, after the caffeine hit and my dramatics subsided, I reasoned that perhaps, it was a reminder of what a remarkable city Los Angeles is. A city where you are surrounded by creatives, whether unemployed but so determinedly honouring their art every day or talents at the top of their game with a body of work to aspire to! Although… I do like the visual of Los Angeles personified as a conniving Cruella De Vile like character.

Iʼll let you decide.

Feature Image: Instagram/@pipnortheast.

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