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Tanya Vital's Blog

Monday, 19 March 2012

Industry Hollywood US 0-1 Visa Seminar

I attended a Visa Seminar at the weekend hosted by Industry Hollywood. I will attempt to dissect a 3 hour seminar into a digestible blog post, however it will all be very basic information just to introduce you to the idea and to give a brief understanding of what’s required. The US 0-1 working Visa for Entertainers of “extraordinary ability” is a legal minefield and there are some things that you just cannot explain on paper – hence the 3 hour seminar. There are also some Industry Hollywood company links and procedures that I can’t give away for free. Boooo! Yeah I know, but they’re a business too and for me to just give away their hard earned work for nothing would be unethical and stupid! (How many times have I said the Acting community is small and you don’t want to piss anybody off?).
So – with this in mind please have a read and you will at least get the bare bones of what it’s all about:

What is is?

“The O-1 non-immigrant visa is for foreign nationals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognised nationally or internationally for those achievements. O-1 visas require an employer sponsor - a foreign national cannot petition for an O-1 visa on his or her own behalf”. (

So the description of the 0-1 Visa is pretty straight forward. For this Visa Artists must be deemed to have “extraordinary ability. The reason Industry Hollywood recommend this particular type of working Visa is because it is an ‘umbrella’ Visa which allows the Artist to take part in all kinds of media production rather than limiting yourself to just one field, for example: Voice Over, Commercial, Film and Television.

The Visa is an agreement with the US Government that you can stay in the country and work in your particular field, for the allotted time. It takes approximately 3-6 months (providing you have all the necessary paraphernalia) to be given an answer to your application. You will be given a Social Security number (National Insurance number) and you will pay tax to the US Government on your earnings. The Visa typically lasts for 3 years, the Artist can then be based in the US and if you’re lucky enough to be able to work on both sides of the pond, the Artist can apparently work and travel freely between the US and the UK.

You may – like I did, think ‘damn extraordinary ability, well I’m certainly no Kate Winslet, I’ll never get my Visa!’ Not true! If you have been working in the industry for a while, you’d be surprised at how many things you already have in your memorabilia collection and contacts list that will help you start your application.

What you need

 I’ve noticed many variations on the internet of the requirements you need for your application so I am going to go with what Industry Hollywood say. This is a VERY brief list of the things that you need to get your started on your Visa application - using my own headings ;o) – for a complimentary list please go to Industry Hollywood or US Immigration

13 or so letters of recommendation:

From the professional companies you’ve worked for and the people you have worked with. They all need to prove that you have indeed got “extraordinary ability in the arts. This may include Directors and Producers etc.

Letters/Articles reviewing your performances:

Any posts or publishings that review any of your past performances or work.

Portfolio of Media:

Proof of your work – ya know – the stuff your mum keeps. So any magazine cut outs or pages, scripts, publicity shots, ad campaigns, press releases, newspapers, photos, copies of web pages and websites. Lots of this to show you are actually who you say you are and that you again, do possess “extraordinary ability.


Proof of any awards received and any nominations for your work at Television Awards, Film festivals or radio awards.

3 Year Forecast/Projection:

You also need to know what you will be doing with your time over the 3 year period, to show the US Immigration why you need a 3 year Visa rather than just a 1 year Visa. This includes any work undertaken, filming, rehearsing, classes and meetings arranged.


You also need a Sponsor, which is a US company/Show/Director/Producer that shows interest in you or your work, can vouch for you and petition on your behalf and has an offer of work or proposal for you when you get to the US with your 0-1 Visa.


You also need a Lawyer or Legal specialist that deals with US working Visa’s for ENTERTAINERS. Do not get a general Lawyer or UK Solicitor who deals with general working Visas. Give yourself half a chance by paying someone who deals with this issue DAY IN DAY OUT.


 Daunted?? Again DON'T be! It is a lot of stuff to collect, gather and research but Richard Burke of Industry Hollywood broke each part down into lay-mans terms and once you get past the legal jargon, he explains how to get what you need and where to look for it – the fear disappears and you realise EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

 The bottom line is you can’t work legally in America without a working Visa. Let’s just consider the “jobs” you could be offered in the US Entertainment Industry illegally for a second  . . . . . . . .

Yeah not so appealing right? You need a Visa.

There are of course other ways to get your Visa - for example:  an American Director could be looking to cast his new film and there is nobody in the whole of the United States that can play the part. He/She randomly finds you on Spotlight and you’re exactly what they want, they scramble to sign you up. That Production Company could then POTENTIALLY apply for a Visa for you – for that job alone, which would then mean you STILL had to go through the Visa process again at some point to be able to stay in the country or even audition for more work.
Reality is – they definitely don’t have the time to go through all that, so they would probably just dump the idea of getting you out there and get someone with a Visa.

I cannot stress enough that I have just literally touched the bare bones of what we were taught on Sunday. Again the information is so intricate it is impossible to relay on paper, it’s much better hearing it all face to face trust me!

I am not on the Payroll at Industry Hollywood, I am not getting a discount, I can only relay any of the good stuff I find to help you guys and hope you do the same for me. The Industry Hollywood seminar was informative, concise and I’ve come away much better prepared with a few more contacts and links for when/if I decide to make an application.

Industry Hollywood also give you names of a couple of Lawyers they work with regularly, who have a brilliant success rate. The seminar also covered the menial things about living in LA like accommodation, vehicle licence, health care, trade unions, Drama Teachers and budgeting. I would definitely recommend you go if you are seriously considering seeking work in the States.

Here is the link to the Us Immigration website:

 Again good luck & send us a postcard!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What we think we know 'Pre- Pilot Season' Trip

We’ve all heard the stories and reports from the likes of David Harewood et al, talking about L.A and that there are more opportunities in acting for ethnics there than there are here in the UK, so I’m going to L.A in a few weeks to finally see what the whole who-ha is about the place and would it be actually viable for me, a fairly lowly UK Actor to even consider getting work out there in the future or is it a closed set like it is here.

The ins and outs of my trip I will blog about separately, but here I wanted to consider Pilot Season. What it is and how it works.

What is it
After hearing the words “Pilot Season in America” first spoken to me by another Actor friend in 2004 I was left thinking ‘what the hell is that?’ She briefly explained that is was a period in the year when Production Companies and Studios in Hollywood make all their new TV shows and Actors try and get work on the new pilots, in the hopes that it becomes the new ‘Friends’. Fine – Ok, but don’t they do that all year round?? There were tons of questions I needed answering so I began to research this strange TV show-making “season”.

A pilot is a one-off offering/ example/ prototype of what the new TV show will look like and feel like IF it is commissioned into a full series. It is fully cast, designed, made-up, fully constructed set, full costume – everything. Imagine the 1st ever episode of ‘Friends’, a complete and whole production within one tiny capsule of a 30 min/ 1 hour episode. This is the pilot and they all have a set number of ‘regular’ cast members so if this first episode (pilot) is commissioned as a full series and you’re part of the cast – you could potentially be the next Jennifer Aniston, acting AND financially stable for the rest of your life.

Pilot Season is a period between January and the end of April where hundreds of new TV pilots are produced. Actors from all over the world migrate to Hollywood in the hope that they will be cast in the next big thing. Once the pilots are produced and the Networks pick their favourites, some are commissioned to go through on to the TV schedule and the rest are sent to the rubbish pile.  According to T. Martinez (An Agent Tells All) in 2004, 128 pilots were produced at a cost of over 100 million dollars – imagine what that is today? However even if you are cast in a pilot, there are no guarantees it will ever be commissioned as a series.

Because of this migratory period and the influx of new work, this is an extremely busy time in LA for both Agents and Actors and obviously the competition is serious.

I have read elsewhere and in An Agent Tells All, that more and more pilots are being made outside of Pilot Season and some Actors are even going out to LA around October, to be there just before the mad rush begins. This mostly being down to the fact that there are many more TV Networks now with SKY and cable channels.

Again the same in the US as it is over here, there is a ‘bums on seats’ approach. Meaning that known names will always be given first refusal to the new shows because Production Companies want those guaranteed viewers and guaranteed advertisement deals, making it more difficult for the up and coming Actor to catch a break and reality celebrities are as popular there, as they are here in the UK.

This is where it differs to the UK the most – the casting process.

So the longer shows are usually done first to allow time for post production and the shorter shows done after and all are finished by the beginning of May when they are then presented to the big wigs at the Networks. (Networks being HBO, Bravo, F/X etc).

The basic premise is that nobody knows what they want, they will have a go and see what works and what doesn’t, meaning things can be cut at any time, characters can change and the plot can thicken. There are a number of call backs, where you may be reading with different characters every time to test the dynamics of the cast. After call backs you do a ‘test’. A test is another audition, but in a big room full of Executives. Then once you’ve tested for the Studio (DreamWorks, Universal etc), you have to test again for the Network (remember HBO, Bravo, F/X). So right up until the test, you can be cut AND there are a bunch of legalities like your ‘test deal’. If this is not negotiated before the test date, you will lose your test place.

(Your test deal is a contract that agrees things you will receive should the pilot be turned into a series over a number of years, including pay, dressing room size, relocation monies and more).

You are also not allowed to test for more than one pilot, because they want exclusivity should the pilot be commissioned.


The second week of May is when the Networks announce their new shows and we find out what has been commissioned and made it onto the TV schedule. HOWEVER, even at this late stage, the test deal agreement (that you signed) gives the Network until June to re-cast if necessary, so even if your pilot is commissioned – you may not be.

Sounds mad right? Apparently it can just be the luck of the draw with Pilot Season, but the aim should be to build up contacts and CV before you even attempt to get involved in the madness. This includes having an LA Agent or a UK Agent with lots of LA contacts. It must be nigh-on impossible to even be able to book a meeting during Pilot Season because everybody is concentrating on the clients they already have, so don’t expect to go over there and get anywhere first time, they don’t give a crap whether you were the most loved character in Eastenders for 5 years – comprende?

They do cast for things outside of Pilot Season so it’s not the end of the world if this year it doesn’t work out. Apparently George Clooney was Pilot Season King until he was picked up on ER – now look at him go.

A great book and the main source of all my US acting world knowledge is Tony Martinez (An Agent Tells All). This book breaks everything down for you whether you an Actor in the US or an Actor hoping to make it big from the UK – BUY IT – READ IT – LEARN IT and do as much research as you can about the US before you even consider what it would be like to work there.

I was recently given another link about Pilot Season: guys-are-not-going-to-want-to-fk-her


Thursday, 1 March 2012

"Why Are Cinema's Leading Ladies All So Posh?"
Just another reason to Love Maxine Peake:

The Manchester Evening news did an article on Maxine Peake back in February 2011 and the piece struck to the very heart of some of the things I've been feeling are happening in this industry and what I began saying in my blog.

Maxine is a brilliant Actor/tress and one of my favourites. Not because she's Northern (although that does go in her favour), but because she's extremely versatile. I've seen Maxine play a few different roles but she is probably best known for her role as Veronica in 'Shameless'. Her broad Lancashire accent (and her RADA training of course) probably helped her bag the part of Veronica, because that is most likely what casting see as her "type". She's working class, northern and probably not a natural blonde. She (in the eyes of casting) is Veronica. The fact that she trained at one of the top Drama Schools in the country is a bonus.

In the article she talks about accent and class snobbery still being rife in the UK arts industry. She goes on to say “If you look at actors, loads are working class. But look at women and there’s only Samantha Morton, really. All the others - Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Emily Blunt, Rebecca Hall - they’re all brilliant, but there’s no female working class.”

So here she's highlighting the fact that leading ladies, in this country in particular, all seem to be from a privileged background. Apparently she was even told at Drama School that was told at drama school that 'she was not leading lady material'.

Now if Maxine went to a top Drama School, received the best training money can buy, has a top Agent and has played a variety of roles and STILL cant bag a top end leading role, I ask what hope is there for the rest of us lowly working class/lower middle class women? We shall find out.

Maxine goes on to say “I remember feeling at drama school that if you were male and working class you were a bit of a poet, a working class hero, but if you were female you were just a bit gobby and a bit brassy and common."

This comment in particular strikes a chord with me because, I'm at the stage in my career where I feel I have hit a glass ceiling. I've been working for over a decade, had some great Agents and some not so great. Done the rounds, met a lot of the Casting Directors in the UK, went to NYT and know a ton of people in the industry, BUT I still, on the whole, get cast/audition as the cheap, gobby, common, Northern, barmaid. Is this because this is my "type"? Are the odds worse for me than Maxine because I never trained at Drama School?

Even the media that reports on Maxine's ventures have a snobbish tone. She goes on to explain that when she played the posh wife of a lawyer in TV drama Criminal Justice. “One paper said, ‘In the opening scene you see her getting into a 4X4 and at first you assume she must be stealing it.’ They’re so classist in this country.” This comment made me question whether these notions are so ingrained into our society that they filter into Art or could she have been 'type cast' by her Veronica role?

When is comes to her accent again (if you read by previous blogs 'Change Your Accent 1 & 2, you'll know this is really a pet peeve of mine) she says, “For Silk I had to soften my accent. They go, ‘OK, so this character is from the north but she went to university, Maxine, and has lived in London for 10 years.’ So I went, ‘OK, well I went to RADA and lived in London for 13 years,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, but she’s lost her accent a bit more than you have.’”      

Does this mean that a Northern accent still suggests uneducated? Common? Classless? Or was it simply that her accent was still so close to that of Veronica and the production team wanted to steer as far away from that as possible? Was it right for the part or in their ignorance did they think she sounded like a Council Estater?

The only time I ever get cast against my "type" is if the production is Independent. Why is that? Is it because they are more willing to take chances and go against the norm? Is it because they are only worried about the Art and don't have to worry about 'bums on seats'?

So straight from horses mouth, the odds are stacked against many of us. But I'm not into self pity at all, I'm into trying to bring about change however small. So what can we female Actors with no training, possibly of colour, probably a bit dumpy or small and from the working classes do to improve our chances?

Well first up we can try and get some damn training. At my stage in life it's probably a little too late to go back and do a 3 year degree course, but there are 1 year M.A's, Summer Schools and short courses. Yes they're expensive. Yes it is possible to get work without it, but would it improve my chances? Yeah I reckon so. Even though Maxine is saying its very difficult to be taken seriously, I bet her RADA training didn't hurt her CV or technique.

Again we can 'fake it until we make it', by playing our "type", however annoying and disheartening it may be and play it well. So well that eventually, we raise our profile slightly enough for casting to consider taking a chance on us. My example is Suranne Jones. When she was playing Karen McDonald in Corrie she was great. But could I imagine her playing anything else other than a common, brassy barmaid? No. At the time that's all she was. But she played that part until she sweat blood and tears and has managed to not be type cast and has done some really great things since Corrie. Was it luck? Probably partly, but I reckon it was a lot of good organisation on her part. She was able to get her foot in the door and she knew where she wanted to go with it. Luck can only take you so far.

Will the classist, elitist attitude ever go away? Probably not. C'mon this is England. We're the snobbiest nation in the World. That type of attitude will always be around. I'm not stupid enough to think I can change the World, but I'm damn sure clever enough to adapt and find the loop holes. There are things to try before I give up.

If we look at America, again I'm not daft enough to think that we can all go to America and we will be cast that very day in the latest blockbuster as the leads, but I do know that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip there, black, white, Asian, man, woman, child. Their industry and casting system is a little different to ours and I'm sure this is true of a few other countries, so we should explore a little further than our own back yard.

Yes inevitably we are going to come up against discrimination and prejudice. Is it fair? No it sucks - but that's life. It doesn't make it right and we don't have to accept it, but we must understand what we are up against if we are to know where we are going. What I'm saying is there are many more ways to skin a cat. If we are truly devoted to this career, we need to be savvy enough to try all angles and understanding the nature of the beast will put us in good stead. A very good Actor friend of mine says "in this country acting is an expensive hobby, in America it's a business". We must take a look at our career and decide whether we're in it for the "Craic" or to work.



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