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UK Actors working in America

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Uncle Sam – Expect Us

Samuel L Jackson broke a few British hearts this week with comments he made about Black British Actors possibly being less equipt to tell historically African American stories. British Actors everywhere were enraged and the discussion has been on-going on social media since.

I think Sam has a point and a right to his opinion. He is not the first to feel this way, it’s not a new phenomenon and this is a conversation we needed to have. Hear me out, whilst I give a little history lesson on Uncle Sam:

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In 1966, the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1968, when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for holding board of trustees hostage for two days, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum, stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was MLK Jr.’s own father MLK Sr. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement. “I was in that radical faction.  One day my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he told Parade.

I say all this to say; Uncle Sam has BEEN in the struggle and working in the trenches since before many of us were born, of course he’d want to play MLK over a Brit, it goes without saying! Though I’m sure his comments didn’t come from a place of malice, he is however wrong.

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Britons have not been interracially dating for over 100 years ‘en mass’. Although there is evidence that people of colour have been in the UK since medieval times, this mixed race melting pot he speaks of isn’t true:

“The most recent Census in 2011 highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of the population were white British. South Asian ‘groups’ made up 6.8 per cent of the population; black groups 3.4 per cent; East Asian ‘groups’ 0.7 cent, Arab groups 0.4 per cent and other groups 0.6 per cent”. irr.org.uk

Hardly a mixed majority Sam. In fact my Caribbean father came to England in the 50’s  (he’s 72 and still looks not a day over 40). I heard about the things my parent’s went through before I was born in the 80’s. Even as a mixed child, I haven’t been exempt from racism in UK.

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Denzel Washington – For Queen & Country

Sam’s argument was ‘not everything is universal’. A trope that’s often told to actors in training is that ‘I don’t have to be a drug addict in real life to understand and play addiction, or have had a sibling die to understand and play loss. As an ex (or current) drug addict, I would have a unique advantage, insight and affinity to the role but, would that make me act better? I dunno.

Because American systematic racism is hyper-visible across global media, it’s easy to say that the rest of the world hasn’t suffered like they have. This still doesn’t stop me knowing, understanding and playing suffering.

As many have mentioned on social media Americans have been playing British and other foreign characters for the longest

  • Denzel Wshinton – Cry Freedom/For Queen & Country (yikes!)
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus
  • Whoopie Goldberg – Sarafina
  • Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
  • Dennis Haysburt – Goodbye Bafana
  • Derick Luke – Catch  a Fire

The list goes on and even more so when looking at non-black Actors playing other nationalities. Would African Actors have loved those roles? Sure!

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No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

He also said we were cheaper, which really got people’s goat, because cheaper read to them as worthless but guess what? In some cases…we are cheaper.

  • Having an unknown British Actor play a lead, rather than a known Black American Actor = Cheaper
  • A ton of productions are filmed in Europe or South Africa. Europe = No Visa issues = Cheaper
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Ira Aldridge

Then last but not least; he said that the industry gatekeepers in Hollywood think we are better trained. This is true. I’ve been to Hollywood and had this said to me.

The idea of a quintessential, classically, drama school trained Actor is hot over there. Hollywood doesn’t have the same drama school history we have in UK, they have some top class practitioners but, the schools aren’t the same. Our schools have been around for over 100 years churning out stars. The course/class structure here is also very different.

They also admire UK theatre history and rep training (whether we have done any personally or not). Hollywood has virtually no theatre and Broadway is a closed shop.  “They’re well-trained. They came through on the stage not on a music video or whatever. So their acting’s impeccable and then they go into films.Spike Lee

People have rightly pointed out that Uncle Sam should be mad at the system and not us. I think that’s what he was saying, if not somewhat haphazardly. Non-white British Actors ‘can’t get arrested’ for love nor money in our own country’s industry and Hollywood is the film mecca, so it’s only natural that many of us are migrating.

To even get a US Visa we have to prove we possess “Extraordinary Ability” in our field of work and then we have to prove it in the audition and as I’ve told you  in What is Pilot Season, the US audition system is much more vigorous than the UK system, so those of us who have been cast in US productions have frikken earned it.

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I understand Sam. This representation thing is a struggle and we only want to see our fellow artists do well. I can’t count the amount of times ‘posh’ southerners are cast in ‘working class’ northern productions (as northerners). The way we cuss every time!

That’s not to bash the actor at all, but we always wonder what a northern actor, who’s from that background (and is often overlooked) would have brought to the role. Especially when the reverse casting virtually NEVER happens; northern playing southern.  (see Change Your Accent pt 2 & 3).

Uncle Sam you have the work, we are coming – expect the very best of us.

 

“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”

He added: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

He also said of British actors: “I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.” Samuel L Jackson NME

 

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Industry Hollywood US 0-1 Visa Seminar

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

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”. (http://www.immigrationdirect.com/visas/work/O-1-Visa-Application.jsp)

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.

Awards:
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.

Sponsor:
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.

Lawyer:
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.

Summary:
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 Industry Hollywood Seminar

Here is the link to the US Immigration website

Again good luck & send us a postcard!

 

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What is Pilot Season?

Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

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.

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http://www.celebritysc.com

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.

Casting
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.

Summary
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

GOOD LUCK!!

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