Practice Areas

Pilot Season

For decades, “pilot season” has been at the forefront of the television industry. Pilot season commences in January, when the networks order around 20 pilot episodes each from the hundreds of ideas for new shows previously pitched by writers and producers. Casting during pilot season is a very lengthy and competitive process. For each role in a pilot, a casting director may review head shots of hundreds of actors. But before an actor even auditions, or tests, for a role, networks require a signed contract for the actor’s services. Below is a breakdown of the nuances of a “Test Option Agreement,” and why it is important for an actor to consult an entertainment attorney to assist him or her in negotiations with the studios

Gearing Up For Pilot Season 2015

Test Option Agreements Generally

A television series contract for actors is called a “test option agreement” because it grants the studio the “option” to employ the actor. Test option agreements are structured as option contracts with a sequence of options the producer can exercise for the actor’s services in subsequent seasons. A test option agreement typically covers the pilot and up to seven seasons of the series. Because the life of the contract could span seven years, consulting an attorney at Boyd Law’s Los Angeles office is important to eliminate any risks unforeseen by the actor at the time he or she signs the agreement.

Specific Provisions Requiring An Attorney’s Services

Entertainment contracts are filled with very specific language that has evolved over a hundred years of negotiations and industry precedent. While many provisions in a test option agreement are standard, an actor’s failure to protect his or her self in certain provisions can have very big consequences for their career, as well as their bank account.

Money Provisions

The test option agreement will specify the amount the actor will be paid for the pilot, as well as the amount the actor will be paid for each episode of the series if the show is picked up by the network. Compensation in test option agreements is often characterized as “pay-or-play,” meaning the actor gets paid whether he appears in a particular episode or not. Not all “pay-or-play” clauses are created equally, so an experienced entertainment attorney will ensure that his or her client gets the most favorable terms possible.

Credit Position

The credit provision in a test option agreement dictates the order in which the actor’s name appears in the show’s credits. After compensation, an actor’s credit position is the most important negotiation point because it represents his or her stature in the industry.

Exclusivity Provisions

Generally, the test option agreement provides for an actor’s services on an exclusive basis. This means the actor will be barred from appearing in any other productions during the length of the contract. A complete exclusivity provision can prevent an actor from achieving his or her full career potential. However, a skilled attorney will be able to negotiate non-exclusivity so that the actor can take advantage of other opportunities, such as commercials, guest appearances, and movie roles.  If you are in need of an attorney, to see all of the Los Angeles Boyd Law firm’s client testimonials click here.

Because there are so many actors testing for each role, studios require test option agreements to be negotiated and signed within a few days. Eager to make it in Hollywood, actors too often fail to recognize the tremendous amount of bargaining power studios have as a result. Our Los Angeles legal team at Boyd Law will understand when an actor has leverage and will negotiate deal points to maximize those opportunities, while simultaneously minimizing the risk to the actor over the course of the contract’s life.

Having previously worked for major studios, the attorneys in our Entertainment Law Division have significant experience drafting and negotiating test option agreements on both sides of the table. If you or someone you know is testing in Hollywood this pilot season, be sure to contact Boyd Law in Los Angeles.