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Pilot Season for the Foreign Actor (Get These Documents Ready!)

Are you Pilot Season Visa ready?

In America Pilot Season auditions previously began casting from January to April. The television industry kicked into its annual high-gear to cast hundreds of TV Pilots, those finished Pilot episodes then whittled down in May during ‘Upfronts’ before a precious few went onto series and premiered across America and then world later in the year. And with that glut of opportunity came a wave of fresh talent from all over the world to the US vying for chance at becoming a series regular. COVID-19 put a serious dampener to all of this!

The aftermath of this pandemic hit world means a huge shift in how projects are cast – it is rare now that an actor will physically get into a room with casting. Most projects are first cast from self-tapes, from this the top selection are chosen and talent is interviewed on video conference call. Just as in the ‘Producer Session’ of the past this video call may have the Showrunner, Director of episodes and Producers along with the Casting Director tuning in.

This is a door of opportunity opening to the world, you don’t need to be in LA or NYC to get cast. Productions may ask to know you current location before auditioning. They will ask this as there might be a requirement that you are currently in the filming area before casting you e.g. if the production is local hire in Atlanta, Georgia, casting might insist that you be in Atlanta already to qualify as safe to work on the production. Production may also insist that you have not traveled out of state within the last 10-14 days (this is less an issue as of 2022).

If you are not in the US at this time and have the O1B Visa in your passport already or a US green card there should be no issue with you returning to the US to work. It is imperative that you arrive in the US allowing for isolation time if required before physical meetings or arriving on set. If your O visa has been approved by USCIS there should not be issues currently with getting visa meetings at your local US Consulate or Embassy.

NOTE: O1 visa holders – it is wise to have printed documentation to prove you are coming to the US to work.
O1 holders coming from countries under a current pandemic travel ban we have heard of many actors isolating in Mexico first before entering US border.
If your O visa is about to expire you can easily extend it –USCIS information. We have a ‘How to’ included in our O1 Visa guide.
Check here for your local Consulate/Embassy status

Check out this map from IATA for up to date information

Another door opener that the pandemic crisis brought has been that the holdup of production in the USA has meant that there has been a rise in production in countries that had a better hold on the virus. Look locally for US productions and do your best to get cast in them.

Another interesting development has been that filming of television pilots are being commissioned straight to series. Many studios are shooting all of their season one and two concurrently!

There were many USCIS policy changes brought in over the last four years including fee increases. The actual applications themselves have been largely unchanged. If you are abroad and see your career moving to the USA now is the time to work through the criteria and consider how your career fits within them.

In the meantime we recommend that you read the below advice, keep an eye out for local production and continue to prepare your application to be ready to apply when the sun shines again.

Stay safe everyone!
Rachel & Kevin

If you are among that number of adventurous foreign artists, then now is the time to ensure that you are prepared for success.

You have dedicated your life to honing your talents and you are ready to give it your all, but have you thought about what happens after you book that coveted US role? The trend for hiring foreign artists in Hollywood is notably up and well reported upon trades such as Variety and TV Guide. The dream is real, but so are the hurdles – not least of which is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS).

Let’s jump forward to late March – You are in Los Angeles and have had a great pilot season so far, been seen for a slew of exciting projects, and one is looking mouth-wateringly close… You can practically feel the glow of your name in bright letters up there on the TV screen. This freewheel may have started back in your home country when you did that self-tape, now you have been in and out of the studio office: pre-read, callback, producer session, your agent has hammered out the details of your contract should you book and you are focused and prepared to read for the execs and test for the network. There is just one other piece of paperwork that has got to be taken care of – your IMMIGRATION WORK PAPERS.

Once you book this job, you will then need to be cleared by USCIS as an artist of extraordinary achievement to work in the United States. The network will sponsor you for the production, but their attorney needs your evidence – the pilot begins shooting in 20 days and they need to have your case submitted with premium processing as soon as you are given the thumbs-up by the studio execs.

Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.

Getting approval from the Hollywood Studio is not the time to call home and ask Mom to dig up old newspaper articles, contracts and reviews. Your O-1B Extraordinary Achievement visa application can be anywhere from fifty to hundreds of pages long and you need to have it ready to go. Proving your extraordinary achievement while a few thousand miles from home is no mean feat. So before you pack your yoga gear for LA, or your thermals for New York, take some time to get your paperwork in order. Please note that when a foreign actor is cast in a production without their working papers in hand, the network always keeps their “No.2 Choice” on standby just in case the O-1B visa doesn’t come through in time. Don’t be the “No.1 Choice” who is sent packing.

You have two options open to you. Option 1 come to the USA with no visa and have your visa package ready to file so that a production company or network studio will be your sponsor. Option 2 come to the USA with an agent/manager blanket sponsored visa. Both options need this “work” done in advance.

  • The “work” – start by collecting these list of items
  • – Full Professional Resume
  • – List of Awards and Accolades
  • – Press Clippings from major and trade media
  • – Prior contracts
  • – Evidence of commercial success
  • – Evidence of high salary
  • – Letters of Recommendation from established industry professionals

Note: O-1B applications to the USCIS are comprised of photocopies so if traveling to the USA you don’t need to bundle everything up to bring with you, you just need to make sure you have your paperwork scanned, upload to the cloud or save on a portable harddrive and compiled in such a way that your petitioner sponsor can follow and understand.

In these coming weeks before setting off on this epic adventure, take the time to be truly prepared. If you believe it’s possible, you know it’s time to act.

If you are prepared with a “blanket O-1 visa” with an agent or a manager as your sponsor then BRAVO!! Don’t rest on your laurels just yet. You may have heard that there are restrictions on some O-1B artists which are imposed, not by the USCIS, but within the studio system.  The Department of Justice states that no persons cleared for work by the USCIS should be discriminated against due to their non-immigrant status, yet this is not enforced on the ground. Blanket O-1 Visa holding actors (with rare exception) are barred from hire by NBCUniversal, Sony, ABC Disney, and Warner Bros, thus excluding them from a large number of castings. CBS and Fox Studios do accept the O-1 once the actor presents their petition in advance and it clearly lists them as a “Screen Actor”. We recommend you have your full petition available as a precaution so you can easily hand off your visa packet to the studio interested in hiring you. They can apply for a “project specific O-1 visa” or “studio specific O-1” on your behalf. They beauty of the O-1 visa is that you can have several concurrent visas. Read more here.

This process will take longer than expected. Check this Variety article.

As actors from Ireland working in the US on Artist Green Cards we have heard so many horror stories from ill-prepared actors who needlessly lost studio jobs. Even actors with a profile such as Daniel Radcliffe can have issues.

We have detailed step-by-step guides on the US Artist Visa process that break down the applications into manageable sections to best help you on your path to working in the USA.

We hope our advice to you on being prepared will help you avoid the issues so many actors we know have experienced.

BREAK A LEG!!

For full details on how to successfully present your career for your extraordinary achievement visa application, check out our US Artist Visa Guides here.

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