RESTRICTIONS IN BOTH THE U.S. AND THE E.U. INCREASE THE DIFFICULTY AND COST FOR PRODUCERS
PART I: HOW NEW U.S. POLICY MAY EFFECT CASTING AND STAFFING FOR MANY PRODUCTIONS
Film production thrives on the freedom of movement. It’s not just cinematography that benefits, either – climate, casting, tax incentives – there are so many location-driven factors that play a role in getting a production to the screen. It’s no surprise, then, that many in the film industry are concerned about changing immigration policies around the globe. From the White House to Brexit to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, immigration issues are on the global stage.
Immigration has been in focus in the U.S. with the Trump administration’s moves to temporarily suspend immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries which the White House says pose an increased security risk to the U.S. Perhaps slightly less noticed by Americans is the recent European Parliament vote to reintroduce visa requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to Europe in response to the missed deadline for visa reciprocity. In 2014 the E.U. gave five countries, including the U.S., two years to fix visa inequalities and all but the U.S. have removed visa constraints or will by December. The U.S. has required visas from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania, a condition the U.S. State Department says rises from security concerns.
U.S. H-1B VISA IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The U.S. H-1B visa is also in the spotlight. The Trump administration has temporarily suspended the fast-track H-1B visa process until the backlog of visas can be processed and improvements made to the system. Additionally, proposed legislation would raise the salary threshold from $60,000 to $130,000 for skilled workers receiving visas under the program.
Some might say that the cost of a visa is a drop in the bucket for a big studio budget, and unlikely to dampen filming desires driven by bigger dollar decisions, such as a lower cost of living or local tax incentives translating into a bigger bottom line. Arguably a larger problem would be delays associated with obtaining a visa. But free workforce movement has a larger impact than the cost or timing of visas; as roadblocks to immigration and foreign employment go up, casting may become more difficult.
Recall Captain Phillips, the 2013 film about a hijacking of an American cargo ship off the coast of Somalia. With or without a travel ban to Somalia, the war-torn country is simply not a practical location for a major motion picture. As a result, much of the film was shot in Malta and Morocco.
Barkhad Abdi and the other Somali actors who portrayed the pirates were picked from a casting call of over 700 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where there is a large Somali community. Casting director Debbie DeLisi said of the four Somali actors that they “were the chosen ones, that anointed group that stuck out.” Abdi’s debut performance earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The melting pot of cultures in America seems to be a critical reason this production was able to find the Somali cast they were looking for. Abdi was born in Mogadishu and immigrated to the U.S. in 1999. What about the next generation of foreign-born actors yet to be discovered who might be blocked from immigrating to the U.S.?