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VISA issues for a European director wanting to make first feature in the USA?


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#1 Hendrikus De Vaan

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Posted 28 July 2015 - 03:28 AM

Hi guys, I have a very specific question and thought maybe someone who has done something similar may be able to chime in...

 

I'm producing my first live action feature film right now, which I will be directing. I didn't write it, but my name is on the script as I was heavily involved in developing it. My writer is an American citizen. I'm looking to bring the production to the US with some European money, but the majority of the financing coming from within the USA.

 

I had thought about the 01 visa, but it's a bit of a catch 22. I can't afford to get the Visa without financing in place, but I can't get finances in place until I know with 100% certainty that I am legally allowed to direct a film in the US.

 

I've done a bunch of short films, but my main success has been a stopmotion animated short film, which won me 2nd place in my category at Young Directors Award (part of the Cannes Lions festival). In addition, I have a bunch of press about me and my film, as well as having won another Young Directors Award, issued by Danny Boyle.

 

I have a feeling that this will not be enough for an O1 visa, nor will it get through the guild portion of the selection process (DGA I imagine?).

 

What I'm wondering is, if I'm bringing a script to the country, and working as one of the producers as well as directing, does that constitute as employment? Or does that mean I'm setting up a temporary business in the US?

 

Is there any simple solution to my problem? I can't seem to find any information relating to this, at all....

 

Thanks!!!

Harrie


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 July 2015 - 05:18 AM

I only know about this from the experiences of friends, so this is all hearsay and inference.

 

Short answer: you're probably screwed. It is a very difficult problem that particularly affects people in film and TV, and the US immigration authorities know this.

 

I know people (from the UK) who have managed to get O-1 visas on what I thought was the flimsiest of evidence, but it takes a long time - six months to a year - and costs a lot of money. It's one of those things that seems to get a lot easier if you have an enormous corporation with infinite money and very good lawyers. It may be worth trying if you are willing to spend $5-10k on the process.

 

 

I have never come across anyone who failed at the trade organisation referral stage, but that may depend on your having friends in the right place, and also, by the time you get to that point, you've probably got a reasonable application anyway.

 

It has been hinted to me that setting up a business and having the business employ you - whether it's a US business or one from your home country - can help in some circumstances, but my understanding is that you are then playing the system and this is likely to be viewed as sharp practice. Particularly in the case of film directing, which is certainly not usually done in that way, you might be asking for trouble.

 

If what you say is absolutely true, you are definitely out of luck - you cannot with absolute certainty predict whether they're going to be willing to let you do it, without applying and spending the money.

 

P


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#3 Hendrikus De Vaan

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 10:58 AM

Hi Phil, thanks for the reply. Didn't seem to come to my inbox, so only just saw it now.

 

That's a shame. I guess once I've done my first feature, this will get much easier, as I'll put in an o-1 application through an agent so I can have it longer term. I don't have the cash right now to put into a speculative application unfortunately, it's not a small amount by any stretch!

 

In the meantime, perhaps I'll have to do this film on an EU soundstage a la Polanski with "Carnage". There are a lot of good UK actors that can play American, I'm sure. Just wondering if it's even possible to shoot on a sound stage with an apartment set for under 250k usd.

 

Thanks again!

Harrie


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 11:47 AM

Just wondering if it's even possible to shoot on a sound stage with an apartment set for under 250k usd.

 

Not in the UK, it isn't. 

 

There are plenty of American actors in the UK. Don't use Brits. They usually don't do it very well. The problem is that nowhere in the UK really doubles for the USA very well; very specific and small parts of London, if very carefully shot on long lenses with out-of-focus backgrounds, have occasionally represented New York but it's a terrible stretch and you end up bringing in a lot of cars, signage and people.

 

Interestingly enough parts of Captain America: The First Avenger were shot in Manchester doubling Brooklyn, but I've no idea how convincing it was to actual Brooklyn residents and they built a lot of stuff. If you have the money to build everything, fine. Otherwise, set it in London!

 

P


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#5 Kenny N Suleimanagich

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 11:53 AM

I have a few friends with the O-1 visa. It’s almost always best to consult with a lawyer who can set you up with the proper advice and feedback going into your application process. Your credentials are impressive, certainly enough to qualify you for the visa. It usually does take a lawyer to get it right, though. You could also set up a company and hire yourself via H1-B, but this might be more costly and frustrating. Generally, since you can prove that your project will enrich the US film labor market with a crew that you hire, you’ll be in good standing for being granted a visa. But I would definitely contact a lawyer about this. 


Edited by Kenny N Suleimanagich, 04 August 2015 - 11:56 AM.

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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 11:58 AM

Your credentials are impressive, certainly enough to qualify you for the visa

 

I really don't want to take a dump on anyone, but I think that might be a bit hopeful.


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#7 Hendrikus De Vaan

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 12:18 PM

 

I really don't want to take a dump on anyone, but I think that might be a bit hopeful.

No offense taken, I've been realistic about that from the start. I mean, maybe if I were directing animation, but I'm not. I don't have money for a lawyer right now, but will keep it in mind, as I do want an O1 eventually. I just don't want to spend the money unless I'm 99% certain it will go through. It's too big of a financial loss for me to bear right now if it fails.

 

 

The film is set entirely in a luxury apartment, with less than 5 mins of screentime outside of the apartment in fairly generic locations. However, the dialogue and humor is very American, setting it in the UK would pretty much be a ground up rewrite, with a new writer, in which case - it's a different movie.

 

A production company in the US said they were maybe interested in taking it off our hands and hiring a local director, but I'd rather find a way to direct the film myself.

 

The problem is, American apartments look quite different to London apartments. I've been to both places, and although some things might be subtle, I do believe the difference to be enough that I'd at the very least have to fly in appliances (or rent US stuff locally maybe?). Or shoot on a stage. On a stage I could cut my 3 week shoot down to 2, due to controlled conditions. But this is all possible, I just don't know if it's affordable. Shooting on a stage in Budapest, Hungary is also possible, and they offer a 30% rebate on anything spent in Hungary (I live here right now). But then comes flying in actors and accommodating them, as well as again potential VISA issues etc.

 

I'll also try to track down a couple of UK producers/ production houses and see what they think. Worth testing the waters.

 

 

Thanks again guys!

H.


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#8 Hendrikus De Vaan

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 12:19 PM

I have a few friends with the O-1 visa. It’s almost always best to consult with a lawyer who can set you up with the proper advice and feedback going into your application process. Your credentials are impressive, certainly enough to qualify you for the visa. It usually does take a lawyer to get it right, though. You could also set up a company and hire yourself via H1-B, but this might be more costly and frustrating. Generally, since you can prove that your project will enrich the US film labor market with a crew that you hire, you’ll be in good standing for being granted a visa. But I would definitely contact a lawyer about this. 

Do you happen to know any lawyers that would give a free evaluation?


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#9 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 01:01 PM

Do you happen to know any lawyers that would give a free evaluation?

Ralph Ehrenpreis is regarded as one of the best immigration lawyers in Los Angeles. He's also refreshingly honest about your chances. If he doesn't think you'll get it, he'll tell you. I believe he does free consultations.

 

http://www.ralphehrenpreis.com


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#10 Kenny N Suleimanagich

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 01:19 PM

 

I really don't want to take a dump on anyone, but I think that might be a bit hopeful.

 

He’s done a bit of work, some that has gotten notice with awards that carry prestige. Many people get these visas with far less credential-wise, many of whom I know personally who had good lawyers and good recommendations (and were certainly qualified, if they lacked the body of work to show for it). In my case they’re journalists, which is a far more difficult profession to get the O-1 visa for. I think while Hendrikus should have realistic expectations, it’s not necessarily a reach for him. 


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#11 Hendrikus De Vaan

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Posted 04 August 2015 - 02:59 PM

Thanks guys!

 

Will email the lawyer for the free consultation, just need to collect all of the info I have.

 

Will also look into options for shooting in the EU on a soundstage (or location with some minor modifications).

 

Thanks again for everyones input!

Harrie.


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