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Learn The 4 Phases of TV Pilot Testing

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By Marci Liroff

In my Audition Bootcamp classes I take my students through what it’s like to test at the network level. It usually scares the crap out of them. They sit there, agog – their faces in a state of shock and fear. I’m one of those people that like to know everything about an upcoming situation before I jump into it – typical type-A personality. I figure if I have all the Intel, I can deal with it easier. It seems to take a lot of the “what if” anxiety out of the equation. I hope this exploration of what testing for a pilot helps you too when you get the opportunity.

The Preread
First, you read for me. No one meets the creative team (producers, director, studio and network executives) unless I know their work or I’ve auditioned them before. If I like what you did in this audition, I’ll bring you back to read for the producers and the director.

The Callback
If I like what you did in the preread, I’ll bring you in to read for the producers and director. First, though, I’ll have worked with you and given you notes based on my meetings with them (and with the network and studio) to ascertain what we’re looking for. If you do well in this audition, we’ll test you.

Testing for the Studio
Most pilots are produced by a production company (the studio) and aired on the network. First, you test for the studio. (Some studios are also networks, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.)

Since we want you to succeed we usually schedule a “work session” with our creative team to go through the scenes and make sure you’re ready.

Meanwhile, business affairs will be negotiating with your agent. For the test, the contract states that you are on “hold” with the studio and network for the next seven to 10 days until we either release you or pick up your option. This puts you in “first position” with our pilot; you can’t test for other projects because most networks won’t let you test in second position.

Speaking of signing a deal, when you get to the studio test location you’ll be met by a business affairs executive and about four pounds of paperwork (your contract) that you’ll need to sign before testing. You’ll be in a waiting area with three to four other people also testing for your role. It’s all nice and congenial and there’s a thick fog of tension in the air. While you’re meant to be prepping for your big opportunity you have to sign your life away (well, only the next five years!).

You’re asked to come into a small theater (think small screening room) or a conference room where the 20 or so executives are assembled to watch your audition. I’ll be sitting at the front of the room to read with you. Or, the actor you’re playing opposite will be there to read with you so we can see your chemistry. Even though these people want you to get the role, don’t expect a lot of warmth emanating from them.

At this point you’ll probably feel as if you’ve left your body and are looking down at your puny self. Resist this at all costs.

Remember what I told you about nervousness having the same physical sensation as excitement? Check out Jack Plotnick’s superb video on YouTube to get back on track.

You read, you say thank you, and you return to the waiting room and your fellow actors. At this point I may stick my head out of the room and say, “Hey, Johnny, we’d like you to come back in again. And you two can leave.” Yeah—it’s that blunt. But don’t overanalyze it. We might have loved what you did and want to see if Johnny can lighten up in the scene.

Testing for the Network
After your studio test, we narrow it down again. It’s a similar situation—a different room plus even more executives. You need to stay calm, not choke, and do exactly what you did for the studio test. From this point we have however many days your agent negotiated to pick up your option.

Some TV networks and studios are taping their tests, which I think is better and less stressful for all concerned. Instead of coming in and testing live in the room at the studio and network, we’ll tape your work session, get the perfect audition and take that in to the executives on a DVD. This way it’s comparing apples to apples. We tend to do this for single camera shows, and still do live auditions for multi-cam shows.

If you make it to any of these tests and don’t get the part, know you did your best and move on to your next audition. Pat yourself on the back that you got this far. It truly is amazing.

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My New Year Prayer For You

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By Marci Liroff

Here comes that time of year again. New Year’s Day brings with it a time of reflection on the past year. For many, it’s a time to restart programs, habits, exercise, and things we let slide during the last several months. It’s time to take stock of our lives and plan anew.

For an actor it’s a great time to reassess what’s working for you and what’s not. If you’ve been keeping a daily diary or spreadsheet of your auditions and meetings this year (as I suggested in my article “How Keeping a Diary Can Help You Book the Job”) you’ll be able to see your progress in black and white. This little trick will show you that this year you had 25–30 auditions and last year you had only 15. You’ll be able to track your callbacks and feedback.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of old precepts and thoughts and shift your mindset. I always come back to this. Your perception is the one thing you have control of in this business.

So much is out of your control (how you look, you’re too old or young, you remind the director of his ex-wife), but after you’ve sufficiently trained and prepped for the role you are the only one who can control how you’re going to let it affect you. You have the choice of how you’re going to view your audition and how you view it thereafter. Are you going to kick yourself time and time again after each audition when you didn’t do what you wanted to do? Or are you going to learn from it — specifically what went wrong or what sent you off the rails? Are you going to continue to let that voice inside your head say, “I’m not right for this. I always screw up in comedy — I’m no good,” or are you going to master that voice and banish it not only from the room, but your head forever? You have this choice.

You also learn from what you did right — those times when you feel comfortable in your own skin and you come ready to play. You’re prepared, you’re flexible in those moments when you get a director who wants to work with you in the room. You’re there to have fun and get the job done. You come in as a collaborator rather than someone who just needs to book a job. Once again, it’s your mindset. We pick up on the energy you bring into the room.

Reflection can also take another path. In my article “Why Do You Act?,” I talked about Will Smith being asked by Jimmy Fallon if fame can ever be scary. His reply was right on the money. Smith replied that it could be, especially now that his kids are coming into the business. “But I tell them…keep loving people. The thing is to make sure with your art that it is a gift to people to help their lives be better and brighter. What happens a lot of times when you see people fail in this business is that they’re in it for their ego, and they start doing it for them. It’s like, no, you’re trying to help people get through a day.”

As this new year begins, I urge you to keep loving, be mindful, be good to yourselves, and be of service to those around you. You are artists and you have a story to tell.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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My MUST SEE Films 1960-1990’s

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By Marci Liroff

I believe that you should become a student of the cinema. You should be a walking talking library of films. There are SO many films that you should see not only for reference, but to become a well-rounded actor.

It is crucial to you to become an actor with range by watching old movies. I’d like you to become a walking/talking film library . You may come across a director in an audition situation or on-set who, rather than being able to articulate what she is looking for, will give you an example of a character in a classic (or not so classic) film. Since you’re a student of cinema, you will know exactly what she’s referring to.

I’ve compiled a few lists of my favorite American Films from the Sixties to the Nineties.

I’m sure I’ve missed A LOT!

Let me know what I should add to the list!

SIXTIES

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

THE BIRDS

BONNIE & CLYDE

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID

BYE BYE BIRDIE

THE MUSIC MAN

WEST SIDE STORY

DR. ZHIVAGO

DR. STRANGELOVE

THE DIRTY DOZEN

EASY RIDER

FUNNY GIRL

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

LOLITA

MY FAIR LADY

PATTON

THE PINK PANTHER

PSYCHO

ROMEO & JULIET

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

WAIT UNTIL DARK

SEVENTIES

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

ALICE DOESN’T LIVER HERE ANYMORE

ALIEN

ALL THAT JAZZ

AMERICAN GRAFITTI

ANNIE HALL

ROSEMARY’S BABY

BREAKING AWAY

CARRIE

CATCH-22

CHINATOWN

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER

DAYS OF HEAVEN

THE DEER HUNTER

DELIVERANCE

DOG DAY AFTERNOON

DON’T LOOK NOW

THE ELEPHANT MAN

ERASERHEAD

FAME

FIVE EASY PIECES

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

THE FRONT

THE GODFATHER I & II

THE GRADUATE

THE GREAT SANTINI

THE STING

HAIR

HAROLD & MAUDE

THE HEARTBREAK KID

HEAVEN CAN WAIT

JAWS

KRAMER VS. KRAMER

LADY SINGS THE BLUES

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

THE LAST DETAIL

LENNY

MANHATTAN

MARATHON MAN

MASH

MCCABE & MRS. MILLER

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

MIDNIGHT COWBOY

NASHVILLE

NORMA RAE

NORTH DALLAS FORTY

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEXT

ORDINARY PEOPLE

PAPER MOON

PAPILLION

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

RAGING BULL

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

SERPICO

SHAMPOO

SLEEPER

A STAR IS BORN

STAR WARS

THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS

TAXI DRIVER

URBAN COWBOY

THE WAY WE WERE

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

EIGHTIES

AFTER HOURS

AGNES OF GOD

AMADEUS

ATLANTIC CITY

AVALON

BABY BOOM

THE BIG CHILL

THE BIG PICTURE

BLADE RUNNER

BLOOD SIMPLE

BODY HEAT

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

BULL DURHAM

DEAD CALM

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

DESERT BLOOM

DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN

DINER

DIRTY DANCING

DO THE RIGHT THING

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS

DRUGSTORE COWBOY

E.T.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

EMPIRE OF THE SUN

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

FATAL ATTRACTION

FERRIS BEULLER

A FISH CALLED WANDA

FIVE CORNERS

THE FLAMINGO KID

FLASHDANCE

THE FLY

FOXES

FRANCES

FULL METAL JACKET

GHOSTBUSTERS

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM

GOODFELLAS

THE GRIFTERS

HENRY & JUNE

HOOSIERS

KING OF COMEDY

MASK

MOONSTRUCK

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

OUT OF AFRICA

PLATOON

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

THE PRINCESS BRIDE

PRIZZI’S HONOR

RAINMAN

RAISING ARIZONA

THE RIVER’S EDGE

SCARFACE

SAY ANYTHING

SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPES

THE SHINING

SHOOT THE MOON

SILKWOOD

SIXTEEN CANDLES

SOMETHING WILD

SOPHIE’S CHOICE

STAND BY ME

THE SURE THING

TENDER MERCIES

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT

TESTAMENT

TOOTSIE

THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

VICTOR/VICTORIA

WORKING GIRL

ZELIG

NINETIES

A BRONX TALE

A BUG’S LIFE

A FEW GOOD MEN

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

A SIMPLE PLAN

A WALK ON THE MOON

ALADDIN

AMERICAN BEAUTY

AMERICAN HISTORY X

APOLLO 13

AUSTIN POWERS

BABE

BAD BOYS

BARTON FINK

BEFORE SUNRISE

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH

BENNY & JOON

BIG NIGHT

BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY

BOOGIE NIGHTS

BOTTLE ROCKET

BOYS DON’T CRY

BOYZ N THE HOOD

BRAVEHEART

CAPE FEAR

CARLITO’S WAY

CASINO

CHAPLIN

CLERKS

CRASH

DANCES WITH WOLVES

DAZED AND CONFUSED

DEAD MAN WALKING

ED WOOD

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

EL MARIACHI

ELECTION

FALLING DOWN

FARGO

FEARLESS

FIGHT CLUB

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER

FORREST GUMP

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

GHOST

GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI

GIRL, INTERRUPTED

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

GO

GOOD WILL HUNTING

GOODFELLAS

GROUNDHOG DAY

HEAVENLY CREATURES

HENRY & JUNE

HOME ALONE

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

JACOB’S LADDER

JERRY MAGUIRE

JUNGLE FEVER

JURASSIC PARK

KIDS

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL

LA FEMME NIKITA

LEAVING LAS VEGAS

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS

MAN ON THE MOON

MILLER’S CROSSING

MISERY

MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS

MRS. DOUBTFIRE

MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING

MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO

NATURAL BORN KILLERS

NOTTING HILL

ONCE WERE WARRIORS

OUT OF SIGHT

PHILADELPHIA

PLEASANTVILLE

POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE

PRETTY WOMAN

PRIMAL FEAR

PULP FICTION

PUMP UP THE VOLUME

QUIZ SHOW

REALITY BITES

RESEVOIR DOGS

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

ROMEO + JULIET

RUN LOLA RUN

RUSHMORE

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

SCHINDLER’S LIST

SCREAM

SE7EN

SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER

SECRETS & LIES

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

SET IT OFF

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

SHINE

SHORT CUTS

SINGLES

SISTER ACT

SLACKER

SLEEPERS

SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

SLING BLADE

SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS

SOAPDISH

SPEED

STRICTLY BALLROOM

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

SWINGERS

THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

THE BODYGUARD

THE COMMITMENTS

THE CRYING GAME

THE ENGLISH PATIENT

THE FISHER KING

THE FUGITIVE

THE FULL MONTY

THE GREEN MILE

THE GRIFTERS

THE HOUSE OF YES

THE ICE STORM

THE IRON GIANT

THE LION KING

THE MAN IN THE MOON

THE MASK

THE MATRX

THE MIGHTY DUCKS

THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT

THE PIANO

THE PLAYER

POINT BREAK

THE PROFESSIONAL

THE RIVER WILD

THE SHAWSHANK REDEPMPTION

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

THE SIXTH SENSE

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

THE THIN RED LINE

THE TRUMAN SHOW

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES

THELMA & LOUISE

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

THIS BOY’S LIFE

THREE KINGS

TITANIC

TO DIE FOR

TOY STORY

TRAINSPOTTING

TREMORS

TRULY MADLY DEEPLY

UNFORGIVEN

WAG THE DOG

WAITING FOR GUFFMAN

WAYNE’S WORLD

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE

WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE

WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP

YOU’VE GOT MAIL

Please let me know what I’m missing. I think this list will be ever-growing! (I haven’t even touched all the foreign films yet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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