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Pilot Lights; SAG, WGA and ATA

LETTER FROM L.A.: Pilot lights; SAG, WGA and ATA
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


                And so another pilot season (WAS there a pilot season?) comes to an end. Or does it come to an end? To the degree that it does end, more and more it just peters out. And it's been said for a while now that there is no pilot season anymore, that pilots are made all year around.

                Still, this moment in LA is about as quiet as it gets. It's not a bad time to start looking for an agent - a lot are jettisoning the clients who didn't catch this time around - but even that activity's less visible about now (with the usual exceptions - several people have queries about this or that specific agent lately, in anticipation of meetings.) It used to be that part of the quiet in L.A. was due to activity elsewhere - notably the Cannes Film Festival, which drained off a good part of the town's players at all levels. Having been to Cannes last year, I have to wonder how true that is now. Certainly, on that end, the L.A. presence was far less obvious than it used to be.

                On the other hand, if you're planning on 'making the big move' this year, now's not a bad time. I don't follow the housing market that closely, but at a guess between students ending their year and actors disappointed in pilot season, this would be when the most apartments are opening up (and those leaving selling the most good stuff off cheap.) While we 'old hands' will never convince all newcomers that they WON'T be living off acting anytime soon, for those who want to get their ducks in a row before hitting the town hard, now's a good time to focus on all the practical issues - finding a place, finding a job, getting to know the town - that underlie the more exciting process of getting a career in gear.


Pilot season, it should be pointed out, can sometimes be treacherous for those who do work. Kathryn Joosten, the wonderful character actress who played President Bartlett's secretary on "West Wing", had a pilot in the works last year. I'm not sure if this was directly related to Mrs. Landingham's sudden demise on the show, but certainly that event was a disappointment to many of us. Kathy - who's also quite vocal on a number of issues out here - continues to get her share of TV work, and also does stage work around town. I can vouch for the fact that she's every bit as vivid live as she is on-camera. And her being a woman "of a certain age" who kicked off her career late in life makes one root for her all the more. Now word comes that Lily Tomlin will be playing Jed Bartlett's next secretary. Normally this would thrill me - Tomlin puts a unique stamp on any character she plays. But the fact that an established star is filling a spot that first introduced many of us to a lesser-known talent is emblematic of how much harder things have gotten for the "middle class" actors out here.


                The hesitant chilly weather we've had lately echoes the uncertainty that lingers since SAG members voted down the ATA agreement. Now the WGA has come out and said, basically, "Whew!" It seems that writers feel even more threatened than actors by the idea of agents also becoming their employers. And there's been no rush to drop franchises so far. Still, until some sort of agreement is cobbled together and accepted, the specter of SAG-less agents hovers.