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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm an American writer just beginning my foray into writing as a career. Even though I grew up a stone's throw away from Los Angeles I can't see L.A. being my gateway to the industry. I spent my first three years as an undergraduate in New England, enjoyed six months in Ireland, about to head up to UBC in Vancouver for a semester, and finishing up an undergraduate degree in creative writing at UCR . Not only do I tend to live a better life away from California, but most of my writing tends to thematically wrap around questions of cultural identity with a distinctly Anglo tint (the only spec script I've written was an episode of Skins).

While all of my classes, books, and blogs detail Hollywood with steely accuracy, what if we don't want to go that route? What if I'm an American planning to live and work and write abroad? Are there any good resources detailing the non-american systems?
The key issue here is nationality. You can't work on Canadian shows if you're not a Canadian citizen or a Canadian permanent resident. (Permanent resident = Green Card.) I don't know about the British system, but I imagine you would need to be a British or EU citizen, or a Commonwealth citizen residing permanently in Britain. Likewise, I imagine, Oz.

So working in another country's system requires planning, effort and time. It probably takes 12-18 months to get a visa to be a Canadian permanent resident, after which you can come here and work. (You don't have to be here while you're waiting for the visa.)

There are a few automatic shortcuts. I understand that if you can prove Irish grandparents, you can get an Irish/EU passport. If you're Jewish, you can get an Israeli passport, though that's not as useful. And I have heard that if you can prove that your parents or grandparents left Spain during the Spanish Civil War, or if you can prove your Jewish ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492 -- you can get a Spanish passport. Who knows if that's true -- ask your Spanish consulate.

The Canadian and British systems have their own flaws. The Canadian English film market is currently dreadful, and Canadian TV is under constant threat from the Conservative government. Canadian producers are only just beginning to appreciate the role of the showrunner in TV. The US market is the only market that doesn't depend on government handouts and regulations. All sorts of Canadians and Brits would love to move to LA, if they could only figure out how.

Also, there are plenty of people making indie movies and co-productions in LA. My first salaried job in showbiz was working for an Israeli producer who made elaborate co-productions. The movie I came in on, EMINENT DOMAIN, was an Israeli-French-Canadian co-pro shot in Poland and partly financed by a Welsh bank. It's a big town, LA. Not everyone's working on the next Michael Bay picture.

You can, of course, write anywhere and have LA agents, though it will be a serious drag on your career.

You can also try to break into the New York showbiz community. The drawback there is that there isn't that much work and the competition is ridiculous, because every other New York prep school kid is trying to avoid going out to the Coast, you're up against them and their connections, and they're living in their parents' classic six on Central Park West, and vacationing in the Hamptons where they might bump into Spielberg.

Without knowing what your specific questions are, it's hard to point you to resources. This blog has a lot of info on Canada, and there are probably Brit writing blogs with a similar slant. What do you want to know?

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12 Comments:

It was true in 2005 that you could get an Irish passport if you had Irish grandparents, but I think they might have tightened the rules since. Of course, now that the Celtic Tiger has coughed up a big hairball, they might change them back. That said, it is by no means easy. 24+ months to get on the registry, and so far, 24+ months and counting to get the passport.

Also, if your grandparents really were born in Ireland, it may mean the documentation of such only exists in ancient parish records or the like.

By Blogger Kate, at 4:22 PM  

The tradition in the British industry is of buying scripts rather than hiring writers, so in theory it's possible to sell material into the UK market without any issues of residency or nationality arising. You're not even required to be in our Writers' Guild.

The downside for you there is that there's no real job structure for a writer to enter into. Nowhere to begin, no ladder to climb.

Some shows try to nurture a stable of writers. The BBC will sometimes take up a promising playwright and send them on a training course. But in essence, everyone's a pieceworker.

There's not much being bought in the UK right now. Production's in a parlous state. The only positive vibe is coming from those producers with their sights on international projects and co-productions. Those I've met are all looking for writers who can structure and pace like Americans.

An Anglo sensibility is no barrier to working in LA. Trust me on that one.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 6:06 PM  

I personally like the expat life, but you may find that your "Anglo sensibility" doesn't ring quite true in England. Subtly wrong word choices and details can make a script seem "off." Chances are, you're going to sound like an American.

The usual response to whatever I write is, "That's very American," which is either a compliment or not, depending.

By Blogger Lisa, at 8:51 AM  

Reminds me of that bit in The Muppet Movie when they run into Gonzo and he says:

"I'm going to Bombay, India to break into the TV business." And Kermet says, "You don't go to Bombay, India to break into showbusiness, you go to Hollywood like we are." To which Gonzo replies, "Sure, if you want to do it the easy way."

By Blogger mallet, at 6:58 PM  

Sigh. Dilemma: I'm British and hoping to venture into television as a career, but like Stephen said, the British TV industry works very differently and it's virtually impossible to get a steady job on a British TV show. (Let's not forget the fact that those who DO get steady writing jobs quickly end up out of a job because each season is about 6-12 episodes long.)

Hence why I've got my sights set on LA, like any naive, budding TV writer. But then there's the issue of visas and becoming a resident in order to actually work. How exactly do you get that visa when the greencard's only viable option for me is to be a necessity to the States in the workforce? How do I get that first PA job or reader's job when there are these requirements?! It's a vicious circle and I have no idea what to do. Any information's much appreciated, because at this point I'm considering hiring a greencard spouse after I finish uni, and I'm only half joking.

By Blogger Will, at 8:22 PM  

"The grass is always greener on the other side..." While a cynical New Yorker might say "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."
Even though I'm a permanent resident about to become Canadian citizen, I'm thinking about heading south-west to LA next year or so. The thing I'm not sure of is whether I would be able to work there as a writer from Canada. I know Canada and the US have a thing where their residents can live in each other's country without the risk of being thrown out, but working without a visa? hmmm... Does a writer need a visa to work in the States?

By Blogger JamaicanInToronto, at 2:03 AM  

You don't need a visa to sell a script, and you probably don't need one to rewrite a script -- arguably they can hire you and then you go home to your country and write -- but you'd need a visa to get a staff job.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:25 AM  

Do you think it would be a reasonable career path to go overseas if that option is available to you? With the TV industry currently being battered in the US, if you are a TV writer with credentials and a solid resume but cannot find a job in the US (this is the opposite of me, but an interesting hypothetical), would it be worth it trying to find a job in the UK, Canada or even Australia or New Zealand?

I am only counting English-speaking countries, but you could extrapolate that to any country.

By Blogger Scott, at 12:20 AM  

@Scott: I can't speak to the situation now, but I did exactly that in 2000: I moved to Canada after 10 years in LA because I felt the cultural situation was much more welcoming than it was in LA. That worked out pretty well for me!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:10 AM  

I'm a not-yet-hired writer from the States, who just recently become a citizen of Canada as well. Depending on the gov't and the economy I may be in LA in a couple years.

One thing Canada has that's great: good training. There's the CFC, NSI, CSTC . . . lots of good places to learn your craft without paying LA rent. The economy and gov't are tightening down on training too, but it's still probably the best country I've seen for training writers outside of on-the-job training. But most of it requires you to be a permanent resident, which takes about a year minimum, and a fair amount of money.

If you can already afford to be in or right beside LA, you're in the *best* place on Earth to find work. If you really want to work with the British or Canadians, go find a contingent of them - they're in your city.

From what I can see, the best time to enter the Canadian industry is when you've worked in the US for 5+ years. Take advantage of the opportunity you have.

By Blogger Rich Baldwin, at 3:18 PM  

But what about the youth mobility act? If you are a citizen of Canada, UK, or Australia then you can move freely within all of them and work freely as well as long as you are not working as a doctor or a sports coach ( no clue why) I think it has to do with the fact that Canada and Australia are commonwealth countries.
It's something I hope will get my on my way to the UK, as a Canadian citizen. if all else fails I was born in Italy, so I think I can get an EU passport or something.

BEST OF LUCK!

By Blogger kadrayusuf, at 6:33 PM  

forgot to mention one catch. There is an age restriction. of the top of my head I'd say 18-30. If it interests check it out.

By Blogger kadrayusuf, at 6:36 PM  

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