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I am thinking about visiting some friends in the US for up to two months next year.

I am an aspiring filmmaker and I was thinking of maybe making a self financed short film while there. This would mean I might have to rent US equipment and potentially pay some form of salary or expenses to US actors/crew.

I am just wondering if I will be able to do this seeing as I will be admitted into the US under the Visa Waiver Program. I won't be getting paid by anyone and all the budget will come from me. The purpose of the short would be to submit to film festivals and to use for showreel material.

Would I need some kind of visa to do this?

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The Visa Waiver website is fairly generic on this topic:

The following are examples of activities not permitted on the VWP and require visas for travel to the United States:

  • study, for credit
  • employment
  • work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
  • permanent residence in the United States

My interpretation of that would be that you could not carry out your activities under the VWP. Your activities also don't seem to fall under the acceptable business activities listed.

You may need a Media Visa:

Representatives of the foreign media who will work in their profession as media or journalists while in the United States cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program or on visitor (B) visas.

You will almost certainly need a local film permit from a state body, if that state requires such a permit to be held for commercial filming.

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    That's for the press (informational or educational media activities), which might apply if you're making a documentary. I don't believe it would apply to the production of a fictional short film. – Zach Lipton Oct 1 '17 at 22:25

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