FilmInk Presents: Making It In L.A. with Sarah Findlay | FilmInk

This movie Mecca has drawn in starry-eyed hopefuls since its inception, but to make it in L.A. one must first make it to L.A.

So where to begin? Do you book a job first? What visa do you need? Do you need an agent?

FilmInk sat down with International PR specialist and talent agent Sarah Findlay of Dawn til Dusk Publicity to not only find out the answers to these questions, but to put them into an executable plan, a map to the stars if you will, that might just help you manifest your Hollywood dreams into reality.

Sarah Findlay

Ok, Sarah, you have decided you want to relocate overseas. Who is the first person you should talk to?

An immigration lawyer! Mainly to find out what options exist for your specific talent, and which visa is applicable to you and your circumstances. You will need to follow their lead regarding the process and eligibility. For creatives in the arts or the film and television industry, such as actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, set designers, and writers, you will most likely want to consider the O-1 extraordinary ability visa or the EB-1 extraordinary ability green card.

Are there immigration lawyers that specialise in creatives?

Yes. There certainly are immigration lawyers who have particular expertise working with professionals within the creative industries, especially in Los Angeles, New York, and even Canada, and London. Australia has them too – as people want to relocate here for work. There are endless possibilities for creatives to chase their dream globally.

However, even the thought of finding an immigration lawyer can be overwhelming – especially if you don’t know anyone who moved to America or elsewhere for work. Most of my clients are interested in the U.S. and Canadian markets, and the immigration lawyer I always recommend is Tcheka Nedamat, the founder of Symmetry Law. I personally worked with her on my green card, and she is brilliant yet nurturing. Tcheka’s immigration practice is primarily focused on helping creatives, and she is a licensed lawyer in both the U.S. and Canada. I always go to Tcheka when I want a well-rounded picture of what my client’s options in North America are.

Additionally, you can always ask your industry friends and trusted colleagues if they know of anyone. And, of course, you can always google the country and immigration lawyer to find a professional. There are immigration lawyers specialising in creatives in every country.

What do you have to present to the immigration lawyer?

Once you retain your immigration lawyer, they should provide you with a list of documents and evidence that they will need to collect from you.

There are six different categories of evidence that apply to the O-1 visa and you will need to satisfy at least three of these categories to be eligible. For one of these categories, you can provide evidence in the form of press articles to demonstrate that you have garnered national or international recognition for your work and achievements.

Essentially, you want to be able to provide press articles from industry trade publications and other relevant media to show that you have a track record of being extraordinary in your field. That’s normally where I come in: to help clients build their press portfolio. It is really important to be proactive about getting press coverage if you hope to take your talents abroad one day.

How does one get press articles written about them?

PR. Also known as Public Relations or Publicity. Either you hire a professional, or you do it yourself. The ultimate goal is to get covered by renowned media outlets that boast high circulation figures. In my experience, working with a publicist definitely increases your odds of landing high quality press pieces, which in turn, are more helpful for immigration purposes. While the focus tends to be on print and online press articles, securing interviews on radio, podcasts, and TV are also great – just keep in mind that you will need a transcript of these interviews if you plan to use it for your visa.

Do the articles have to be about something specific?

Yes. In order for your press to be helpful for immigration purposes, the articles should discuss your work and career achievements relating to the specific job title you are applying for under your visa. For example, if you are an actor and wish to come to the U.S. on an O-1 visa as an actor, then your press articles should specifically focus on your accolades as an actor. So, keep this in mind when approaching media outlets with a pitch.

What is a PR practitioner? And do you need one?

Yes and no. Some people pitch themselves directly to the media and have secured coverage – which I think is great. However, PR is a time-consuming job, and it is also a craft. PR practitioners pitch stories to specific media outlets and journalists. I always try and match the story to the media outlet, and, if I can, to a specific writer or journalist. If you have a specific story, it might only be viable for a few speciality outlets. Opportunities always arise, but if you haven’t specialised in PR, they can slip by you without you realising it. Rising actors often think they need to have achieved more for a story to be written on them. However, I often find they have achieved incredible things in their career. Comparing yourself to A-list actors and their coverage will put doubt in your mind – but this is an illusion. Engaging a publicist to help you achieve media coverage is a great investment (and it is a tax deduction in accounting).

Sarah Findlay at the Critics Choice Awards

Do red carpet images count for your press portfolio?

No. While red carpet photos may corroborate your participation in certain industry events, you really want to focus on securing published articles that specifically discuss your work; articles that home in on your achievements that set you apart from others in your field. This can include critical reviews of your work within the media, profile stories, interviews and even your name on a listicle may be helpful. My recommendation is always collect everything and then your immigration lawyer can guide you on what pieces they will strategically include with your case.

If you do get a piece written on you, but the details aren’t suited to the press you are after, can you ask the journalist for changes or edits?

Yes. But only if asked respectfully. Be honest about why you need something added or omitted and the journalist will be more likely to oblige.

Once you have enough evidence for your visa case, how long is your case time?

Visa processing times are always changing. Your immigration lawyer will be a great resource for mapping out the timeline of the process depending on what visa or green card option you are seeking. Also, certain visas, the O-1 being one of them, can be expedited by paying an additional filing fee. Always ask your lawyer what options you have.

What are the consequences of working overseas without proper clearance?

Working in the U.S. without proper work authorisation can impact your ability to apply for a visa or green card in the future. All of the creative work and publicity you do while unauthorised is void as well – you can’t use it for any applications. It can even result in you being barred from entering the country for a period of time.

Should you still collect press materials even after you have secured a visa?

Yes, always. Most creative’s first visa in the U.S. is the O-1 visa, which lasts up to three years. During the first year of the visa, you will be work focused. But in the second or third year, you need to start preparing for the renewal of the O-1 visa, especially if you have come to love where you’ve landed. Providing recent third-party articles covering your work during this period can be very helpful.

How do you get a working green card?

Even though they are the ‘permanent’ option, just like there are different types of visas, there are also different types of green cards. I recommend getting in touch with your immigration lawyer for a consultation on the most suitable option for you. Many of my clients have gone on to secure EB-1 green cards which is similar to the O-1 visa, they focus on your extraordinary ability within your field. Press articles will also be helpful for this green card option as well.

Sarah Findlay with Shelley Long and Morgan Dameron

When is the right time to contact a PR agent?

Before your project is released and launched. If you are waiting to find out if your project has been accepted into a film festival, find a publicist. Every stage of a film’s release is another chance for the creative to pitch the project to the media. The most important opportunities are a film festival, the world premiere, the national premiere, the theatrical release, and the day-and-date release.

What happens when you want to get press for your older work?

You need to pitch to the press before the project happens, not after – old work is no longer relevant to the news cycle. Unless you can find a newsworthy angle (and you will need a PR pro’s opinion), isn’t viable for media if it is one year old or more. You could mention this work in an interview. But to secure that media interview, you need something much fresher to pitch to the media. It is called news for a reason.

What can you do to make yourself visible in relation to PR, and what strategies would you recommend?

If the film has a PR person on board, introduce yourself to them. Let them know you are available for media interviews and opportunities. Tell them a little about yourself and the key points that would make you relevant in a story. For example, the movie might have been filmed in your hometown. Or the film festival is held in your hometown; little (or big) details that would capture a journalist’s eye.

Should creatives stay in touch with producers after they have finished their roles?

Yes. You need to know the release date as early as possible – it is important for PR opportunities. Either you (or your representation) needs to stay in touch. For some reason, many film projects do not reach out to their whole cast and let them know of the confirmed premiere/release date. I’m not sure why this is a common practice, as it is a massive missed opportunity to spread the word about the film and the creatives that made it.

It is a competitive market now with all the streaming platforms and their purchasing opportunities. I would think that most indie movies (and films on a $10 million or less budget) would want as many people as possible to read about their film, and for people to know where it is available to watch.

There are rising stars in these films that have a story to tell. They might miss out on the major press for the film, but if the actor and/or their rep know when the film is coming out, they can pitch articles to interested media. I understand that big exclusive stories need to be placed first, but these coinciding pieces on emerging talent also help place eyes on the project.

Do you need to show future projects to those considering your visa?

Yes. This is in the form of deal memos or employment contracts and is very different than publicity. A great resource for Australians considering the move is Jessica Orcsik’s American Arts Film & Television Academy (AAFTA). Jessica has helped thousands of Aussies move to America and book quality work. They focus not only on you training and your craft, but also on the business side of entertainment. They provide elite yet affordable education, mentorships, and personal development for emerging talent and content collaborators across the performing arts in both the film and television industry. They are an incredible resource for actors, dancers, and creatives wanting to take their careers abroad. Jessica says, “Dreams without action are a delusion.” And “Invest in yourself. You are enough.” And I agree with her wholeheartedly.

AAFTA helps people prepare for the visa process to the U.S. and can help in many ways. They also have a bunch of resources across various areas of the business.

What behaviours have you seen that hold people back during this process?

People not believing in themselves. Unfortunately, the tall-poppy syndrome in our country is holding many of us back; not believing we really deserve the chance to share our story. We need less doubt and more belief. We have a lot of talented creatives in Australia. It is important to practice your craft consistently, and not just want fame for fame’s sake, but it is also important to share your story with the media as it benefits your career in many ways.

I’m from a rural town in Australia, and I used to sit with my family every night and watch the 6pm news. We never questioned how it came to be – it just was. Never, in a million years, would I ever have thought it was possible for me to move overseas or chase crazy dreams as a child. But I was focused and didn’t listen to the noise – the critical comments. Even if you feel you are from unlikely circumstances, you have infinite possibilities.

Another behaviour I see is some of the actors and creatives only focus on the arts rather than learning or doing much on the business side of their careers. Both aspects are important if you are going to make it in your chosen profession.

We can all learn throughout our careers – breadcrumb by breadcrumb. I genuinely believe in infinite possibilities for everyone. You just need to plan, focus, practice, do your craft, and always believe in your dream.

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