Acting is confidence based. Doubt is useful, but when it comes time to performance, you need confidence, and you need to radiate it. It cannot be a false confidence, something you psych yourself up for. It has to come from preparation, experience, and an innate trust in yourself and the performers around you.
After my first audition, I had none of that. I was alive, I was back at it, but I was a wisp. It felt like I had been diminished and set adrift. The only solution I had was to get back to work.
By now, the world moved on, we were deep in pilot season.
Pilot season is approximately from late January through March. Networks and production companies film the first episode of their prospective shows during this time so they can present it to the buyers in April and May. At that time, the networks determine which shows they think will be good and pick them up to go to series. Pilot season is fucking ridiculous. Not only do you have people who have their dreams and hopes riding on the outcome of one episode, but having to deal with a cast and crew who have never worked with each other before, under a strict budget, and while competing with the shows shooting in New York that are already established. If you’re an extra, you can literally work every single day and make a killing if you’re SAG. In general, anything to do with the industry is frenzied.
Of course this being my first time going through any of this, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I was prevented from wallowing in my self-pity. Day-in and day-out I could sleepwalk to a set and be distracted from having to deal with my emotional fallout from my one and only audition. It wasn’t a great existence, but I was surviving.
Then I got an interesting email.
I got a message from this casting agency wondering if I was available to be core for a pilot that was shooting February through March. I had never been core before, but I had heard about it. Being a core extra essentially means that you’re going to be one of the pool of background where they would draw from for a series or a movie. You would be required to work multiple days and be matching if need be. This means that you would also need to make this your first priority. I didn’t think about it or look at what it actually entailed, all I knew is that it was work.
This of course turned out to ‘Manifest’ [Mondays 10pm, on NBC <— see that shameless plug]
They had us scheduled for the better part of a month, and I had no idea what I was in for. I thought that I had the whole extra thing figured out, but working on this pilot was a different beast. Like I said before, any crew has it’s own shorthand and their own experiences on the show with a calm familiarity. When you assemble a crew for the first time, there is none of that familiarity, and because it’s pilot season and everyone is being used, the quality of the crew can be suspect. The networks will bring in big names to helm the pilot because they need that first presentation to be stunning, but because there’s a huge demand at the bottom tiers of the workforce, it can be an absolute crapshoot.
Nearly every pilot you see is some variation of a cop/lawyer/hospital show. It’s super predictable and no matter how good the writing is, for extras it means next to nothing. However, when you are contacted for core work, they outline what role it’s going to be. In the email, it said “plane passenger”. Off the bat, that’s a novel one. It was the first posting of the kind that I’ve ever seen so when they asked if I was willing to be core, I said yes. I got a reply saying that I was booked for the pilot and had six days locked in, cool. The next line in the email was, please bring summer wardrobe. What the hell?
We go in day one and we are immediately placed in line with wardrobe. They picked through our summer clothes and picked an outfit and fitted us. Keep in mind this was in February, and there was snow on the ground outside. I was told that we’d only be indoors, so that was some small solace. That first day we were supposed to be shooting an airport scene, and let me tell you, this was incredible. In a day, they set dressed the interior of John Jay College to resemble a Jamaican airport, full with accurate signs, billboards, the works, a stunning job which I hadn’t seen before. This really gave me a sense of the scale that we were working here. The core group were shepherded off and used selectively. There were about 50-60 of us working as core and we couldn’t be seen too much before we were going to be featured on the plane. To give you the sense of scale, for the airport, there were between 150-200 extras there to populate the scene. We were slowly trying to unravel the plot of the series, but as it was day one, we had no clue.
During the meantime though, every few weeks I’d scrape another audition. Every time after the first, I learned to prepare, but not overprepare, and manage my expectations. I had to learn to control what I could, try to make a good impression, and realize that auditions are the job. Failure isn’t an indictment, but a part of the process. See, maturity in thirty days, it can happen.
The next booking day, we were put in a bus and shipped off to Long Island. No one really knew what was going on, until we showed up to the grounds of Northrop-Grumman. The minute we stepped off the bus we were put into two enormous hangars, one for holding, one housing an entire Boeing-727. We would be shooting in a real airplane, decommissioned, but with cut outs and moveable parts of the fuselage for the camera.
Super exciting, if not for the fact that the heat for the hangar wasn’t working. This would be the first time that I was submitted to an off-season shoot, faking summer during the middle of the fucking winter. We were literally freezing, the crew to their credit, went out to buy space heaters to place under some tables so we could huddle and keep warm, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone was miserable and there were multiple confrontations with the PAs on set. It was a terrible working environment, until we got to the plane. The jet was hard to be jaded in because none of us had ever experienced that before, and that energy was palpable. Add in the fact that the confined space made it about 10 degrees warmer and once we got to the actual work, everyone was surprisingly alert.
Then I got an email:
“Hey Terence, we’d like to book you for the shoot, can you hold these dates please?”