Ways for a Canadian to legally work in the USA
December 15, 2003 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Ways for a Canadian to legally work in the USA... [more inside]

I want to move to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. I don't have connections there and can't legally work (as far as I know). What's the best way to live while living in LA, trying to make contacts and get my career started? Are there any ways you know of that would help me get a green card?
posted by dobbs to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Response by poster: After rereading my post, I should probably clarify: it's not the screenwriting part that I have difficulty with. I know I can do that anywhere. The reason I want to move is that I find it very difficult to make any contacts/connections where I live (Toronto). Since HWood is where I would like to end up in the long run, I figure I might as well jump in with both feet and get there prior to actually selling a script, if at all possible.

In addition, I probably should not have included the word "legally" in the question. I'm open to all suggestions.

posted by dobbs at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2003

couldn't you make contacts first where you are, like online or somewhere (project greenlight or a screenwriting messageboard or something like it?), and then use those to get established there? Knowing people somewhere, even if they're just online, is a big help if you're going to move anywhere.
posted by amberglow at 2:47 PM on December 15, 2003

you should leave the word "legally" in that statement. if you're ever found out when moving from nonlegal to legal status, by the dept. of homeland security, they're likely to toss you permanently out of the country. i've heard horror stories of people being permanently barred from the u.s.
posted by heather at 3:32 PM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: amberglow, Project Greenlight is actually only open to Americans, AFAIK. I've participated in/on many screenwriting forums (zoetrope, for instance), but find the majority of people in the same boat as I am (unproduced and unconnected/unrepresented). Though I think these boards/mailing lists are terrific in theory, I don't find they work so great in practice--at least not for me.

I have entered screenwriting contests (and as long as I stay in Toronto, winning one is probably probably my best "in"), but again think it would be useful to be surrounded by people with similar interests/goals. I know many working professionals in movies here in Toronto (I majored in film production at uni) but have sub-zero interest in the Canadian film industry and none of my friends are connected outside of "Hollywood North".

The above, combined with it just flat out being a good time for a shakeup/change in my life, makes me want to head south.

on preview: heather, thanks. you're probably right. I don't know what the word I'm looking for is. It's probably not "legal," but "loophole," or some such thing. For instance, I work as a freelance web designer, presently. (I do it as little as possible in order to write as often as I can.) Am I legally allowed to move to the USA and just continue to do my Canadian client's sites while there? Would that be something I'd need a work visa for or ...?

Are there sites or books with answers to these questions?
posted by dobbs at 3:38 PM on December 15, 2003

Well said, heather. And it would not be a good idea for anyone on AskMe to post instructions on how to circumvent US immigration law. Private communication is one thing...advocating illegal acts on a public board such as this is viewed quite differently by the Powers That Be (tm).

I recently completed the process of emigrating from the US to the UK, and found a good number of helpful internet resources...I'm sure it's the same for people who want to move to the US from wherever. But all the 'net resources I used were very scrupulous about never allowing posts or articles which recommended any form of deceit.
posted by Tholian at 3:56 PM on December 15, 2003

I don't have connections there and can't legally work (as far as I know). What's the best way to live while living in LA, trying to make contacts and get my career started?

It would be expensive, but the only way I (not a lawyer) can think of to do it legally would be to take trips down here to make contacts and get business for your screenwriting, which would remain in Canada. Or rather, which would remain in Canada until someone decided to bring you south on whatever sort of work visa applies to screenwriters.

Are there any ways you know of that would help me get a green card?

Spend a shitload of money (or have it spent on your behalf by your employers) to get permanent residency through "exceptional ability" or whatever they call it. Green cards are hard to come by.

Or marry an American.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 PM on December 15, 2003

wow. damned if you didn't piss me off with your canadian movies suck comment the other day, and damned if i'm not a canadian who often works in the states, within the same industry you're hoping to break into. funny how things like that go!
posted by t r a c y at 9:01 PM on December 15, 2003

Ooooh - way to bust the nice positive atmosphere of ask mefi with possible the shittiest comment I've read on mefi, meta or ask mefi... Help him out, will you, Tracy?
posted by nthdegx at 9:24 PM on December 15, 2003

I think you should keep an open mind about Hollywood North. 3 of the oscars won last year for the film Chicago (best picture, best art dir, best sound) went to Canadians who started at home, and who also still work at home for some projects. Personally I've found it pretty easy to make connections in Toronto, but I guess having Tracy let me tag along to all the right functions and house parties has helped. I also now work in the states for a lot of my voice over and cartoon work.

Plus if you're any good you probably have a chance at one of Harold Greenburg's generous grants for young screenwriters.

nthdegx, she's got a 4am call and is fast asleep but may email dobbs at some point. And you really can't blame her for mentioning the coincidence, it was a weird thing.
posted by zarah at 9:31 PM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: tracy, yeah that is funny, but I'm fine with it. I would only accept help from a person who was doing it because they like my writing, not because they agree or disagree with my opinions on other peoples' works.

And, just so the record is straight, I didn't say "Canadian movies suck." I said "most Canadian movies suck." You may think the difference is slight, but I don't. (And, in fact, I don't know a single Canadian who doesn't earn his or her living through the Canadian film industry who doesn't agree with me.)

In addition, your comment in that other thread seemed to imply to me that you thought I was just talking out of my ass and that I haven't actually seen any Canadian movies, which is why I didn't bother to respond in the thread. Though I suppose it's your right to ask for "qualifications," so to speak, it seemed a little juvenile to me.

Plus if you're any good you probably have a chance at one of Harold Greenburg's generous grants for young screenwriters.

Perhaps I'm mistaken but I believe the Greenberg award is a subsection of the Feature Film Project and is therefore only open to screenwriters who have already been produced. I don't believe there are any grants available to unproduced screenwriters in Canada--though I'll admit that due to my issues with govt funded arts, I haven't thoroughly investigated the situation. If i'm wrong, please correct me. I have friends who don't have the same issues and if this "elligibility rule" has changed, I'm sure they'd love to know.

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.
posted by dobbs at 10:24 PM on December 15, 2003

most Canadian movies suck

So do most American movies.

Were you aware that Canada is a hotbed of Hollywood film production? I understand that Toronto and Vancouver are very attractive shooting locations for Hollywood films - perhaps you could exploit that for connections?
posted by rocketman at 6:54 AM on December 16, 2003

Hey, at least you're in Toronto. I'm in Halifax, and while there's a pretty good film industry here (Titanic, K19, Shipping News, Bowling for Columbine, and about a million TV movies) it's all outside productions. Try making a living as a writer in this town.

I'm surprised you can't make any contacts in Toronto, though. Even though there's not much here in Halifax, I'm fairly confident that I could get work, possibly even my own show, if I had the time to put into it. I've sold the concept for one series to a production company (mild broadcaster interest but not enough to get picked up) and interested them in several other concepts. Trouble is, my wife is still in university and I have an 8 month old, so there's not a lot of spare time for writing. But I have built up a network of contacts just by walking into industry offices and introducing myself. Instead of making the jump to California (an appealing thought, admittedly), why not push a little harder where you are now? If you find making contacts locally difficult, you're going to have the same problem down south, too.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2003

oh, and if tracy or zarah's still reading this, I'd be interested in hearing your insights. Open invite to contact me direct.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2003

Why do you need to work in the USA? Why not try and find yourself a job paid from Canada - journalism or web design springs to mind - and then live in the USA either on a tourist's visa or on the so-called 'journalist's visa'.

They're both much easier to acquire than a full work permit... especially if you want to be a screenwriter! After all, LA has thousands of budding screenwriters. They're more desperate for Spanish translators, toilet cleaners etc etc.
posted by skylar at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2003

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