In the past week, many people have been talking about the Black Swan intern lawsuit, including The Business, Scriptnotes, and the Hollywood Reporter. Since I was an intern not terribly long ago, I figured I should weigh in.1
Internships are either a great way to meet people and learn about the business, or the exploitation of people who are too young and ignorant to know any better. Actually, scratch the “either.” They’re both.
Big budget movies and network shows will absolutely not hire interns who aren’t students. It’s a rather strange law. “You’re not allowed to work for free. Oh, you’re paying $21,000 a year to go to school? Then, yeah, sure, go work for negative money. Just not free.”
Independent movies will ignore this law. Every other job posting on Craig’s List is for an “intern-PA.” It basically means you are doing the work of a PA without being paid. It’s not training, it’s not educational. You’re doing a job that otherwise the production would have to pay someone for. You’re putting someone out of work by taking “interning” this way.
I can’t really begrudge you, though. Everyone has worked for free, either to get experience or a better title or to make new connections. Just make sure you’re getting something out of the free job.
The Black Swan interns don’t seem to think they got anything out of it. I find that unlikely. I think the more likely story is that someone told them they have a legal case to sue Fox.2 (Which, again, they definitely do, even though this is not uncommon in Hollywood.)
I’m more surprised that the producers put themselves in this position in the first place. With a $13,000,000 budget, Black Swan wasn’t a big-budget movie, but it wasn’t exactly small, either. Certainly it was a union show. I’ve worked on Fox series before, and they never had unpaid interns. I suspect someone who was used to small-budget, non-union shows brought them in without realizing it was a problem.
In case you’re wondering, I don’t think suing Fox was a good idea, unless they never plan on working in Hollywood ever again. Which, considering how thin their skin obviously is, is probably for the best.
- Which I have before, but that was a while ago, and not everyone’s read that article.↩
- As Craig Mazin pointed out on the Scriptnotes podcast (and as I’ve pointed out myself), studios and networks create individual production companies for each show/movie. There’s a lot of legal reasons for it, one of which is so that when interns sue you, they can’t also sue all of Fox.
From my understanding, part of this case is determining whether Fox can actually shield themselves from lawsuits this way. Whether or not the jury finds in favor of the plaintiffs, I hope the judge decides Fox is a legitimate defendant. These kinds of legal fictions annoy the crap out of me.↩