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Pilot Season 2017: How Would Trump’s Immigration Policies Impact Casting

Deadline logo Deadline 2/1/2017 Nellie Andreeva
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An always difficult and stressful pilot casting process is shaping up to be even more difficult this year. Along with many other areas they are affecting, President Donald Trump’s executive orders also are throwing a wrench into pilot casting season.

The President’s controversial immigration ban does not allow people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia — including green card holders — to enter the U.S. for the next 90 days, which spans pilot season.

While there are no characters on the broadcast pilots picked up so far that are written as coming specifically from any of the seven predominantly Muslim countries, there are several that hail from that region, notably Tag Fayad, the male lead opposite Reba McEntire in ABC’s Marc Cherry pilot; he is Middle-Eastern. And the majority of pilot roles are open to any ethnicity.

Because of the large number of pilots being cast at the same time against strong competition for talent from cable and streaming services, the broadcast networks try to throw a wide net, auditioning foreign actors, primarily in Europe (largely the U.K.) and Australia. The networks and studios have to be much more careful this time as an actor they hire may have ancestry related to one of the countries on the list that could trigger a red flag and deny the thesp entry into the U.S. to do the pilot, even if they have a valid work permit.

Meanwhile, many of the foreign-born actors based in the US are here with green cards or 01 visas.  While they can work in the US, with runaway production as strong as ever, actors whose pilots film in Canada, South Africa or Europe could have problems returning to the U.S. if they are originally from any of the banned countries or have relatives there.

In a statement, the union that represents actors spoke against the ban. “This immigration policy is misguided and we will support our fellow artists every step of the way,” SAG-AFTRA said.

The issue is creating anxiety among studio and network casting executives who have been consulting with immigration attorneys.

The ban came while the broadcast networks are still picking up pilots, and there is some chatter that network executives may be evaluating their remaining strong script contenders for potential casting problems that the executive order may cause.

But beyond making it harder for the networks to cast any actor in the U.S. or abroad who may have any ties to the countries on the travel ban list, the sweeping immigration measures may have a much bigger impact on casting any foreign actors this season.

I hear anecdotal evidence of delays in routine immigration procedures for foreign-born Hollywood employees, including green card renewals. Many fear that the host of immigration policy changes would slow the process down even further.

TV studios have their channels and typically are able to get actors from London or any other foreign city who have been cast in a pilot a 01 Visa within a couple of days. But now, due to the political landscape, Immigration has to work with Homeland Security, creating long delays. “Essentially actors have just moved to the bottom of the priority list,” one industry source said. And given the ongoing war between the Trump administration and Hollywood, it appears unlikely for studios to be given preferential treatment in obtaining work visas for pilot actors.

An industry insider drew a parallel to the situation post-9/11, when the wait to get a work visa for an actor went up from a few days to a few weeks.

Because of the very tight windows to cast and film a broadcast pilot, such long delays would make it virtually impossible for networks to cast outside of the U.S.

That may be welcome news for local actors who have been griping about the rising number of British and Australian actors getting leads in U.S. pilots. But it is limiting casting directors’ options.

“We hope we will be OK with green cards and studio specific work visas, but that pool is considerably smaller,” one person said.

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