Long silence, I know. I've been in Vancouver. Not on the set of Battlestar Galactica, like the other Jane. No, I've been hanging out at the US Consulate, begging them to let me stay in LA for a few more years. Which was surprisingly painless, if you don't count the six months of paperwork I did beforehand.
The whole sojourn got me thinking about Canadians in Hollywood. Sometimes it seems like half the writers in any given room are Canadian. Every time you hear a joke about Canada on a TV show, I guarantee it was either written by a Canadian or designed to provoke a Canadian in the writer's room.
For example, on this week's House, Dr. House has to treat an unbelievably nice guy. House thinks it's either a symptom of some mysterious disease, or the guy is Canadian. The House room is full of Canadian writers. House's creator, David Shore, is from London, Ontario. Bones was also created by a Canadian, Hart Hanson. There are kazillions of other examples.
So, do I have an advantage, being a Canadian in LA, looking for work as a writer?
Yes. Mmm, possibly. Actually, no.
See, the thing with being a foreigner in the US is that you have to be able to convince the government you should be allowed to stay. Not only that, but it's very handy if you can convince them to let you work, too. Trouble is, they usually only let certain 'professionals' in. If you want a job as a writer's assistant, or PA, or agent's assistant, you're a bit screwed. I mean, what showrunner is going to go to all the extra trouble of sponsoring you for a position when there are 1,000 other qualified actual US citizens lined up to take the job? I'm pretty sure none. Not even Canadian showrunners have enough time to take pity on poor countrymen struggling to make it in the big city.
If you're a Canuck and you wanna fly south, you need to get yourself a visa. Here are a few options.
- Available to Canadians and Mexicans, though it's harder to get as a Mexican
- Ties you to a certain job and allows you to stay for a year (you can renew almost endlessly)
- The job has to be on the big list of jobs (called the NAFTA professional job list). If you're an epidemiologist, forester, economist, or urban planner, come on down. But if you're busy being one of those things, chances are you won't have the time to pursue your dream of becoming a writer.
- You get it at the border after an interview with an immigration agent (if you're Canadian). The interview can be as short as five minutes with questions like "How fake is this job offer?". I got asked that one when I came down as a Technical Writer. For murkier jobs, like Management Consultant, the interview can last more than an hour, ending with a rejection based on some technical hitch like, "There's no address on this company's letterhead". My husband got that one. He was allowed to come back a few days later with better letterhead, then they gave him the visa.
- Ties you to a specific job
- Open to lots of different foreign nationals. I know Brits and Canadians who have them.
- Rarer than a California ground squirrel without bubonic plague. Seriously, I'd avoid their fleas if I were you.
- You need to find a company that is willing to sponsor you. You can change jobs later, but I've heard it's a big headache.
- Requires you to start a business and make a significant investment in the business (think more than $60,000)
- Lots and lots of paperwork
- You'll probably need an immigration lawyer to help you out. More money!
- After you get it, you need to spend all your time running your business, and no time worming your way into the wonderful world of television
Stay in Canada
No matter where we went in Vancouver, we ran into actors, casting agents, execs, and other Hollywood types. It's more LA than LA up there. If you can stand the rain, stay in Vancouver and break in there. The industry is smaller, but there are fewer competitors, too. Once you've cut your teeth on some Canadian shows, you can move down to LA and create your own series for Fox.
My husband and I were successful with our E2 application. He's the main shareholder in our business and I'm on the board of directors. Which means we can actually start to earn a living. I can also now apply for another nifty visa which will allow me to work for anyone. So, yay! Now I've just gotta find that plum opening as a writers' assitant. Hey, David Shore, hiya, Hart Hanson. We all know what a toque is. Wanna give me my big break?