Should You Intern?

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.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Which I have before, but that was a while ago, and not everyone’s read that article.
  2. 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.

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10 Responses

  1. I interned at five different companies while I was in college, and got my first industry (read: reality TV) job as a result of the fifth. In most instances, I was free labor – but a couple cases, I felt like I was of real value and appreciated by my bosses.

    For example, one boss bought me lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY that I interned. It was a tiny management company and I didn’t get very much in the way of useful connections, but the people I worked for were GRATEFUL for my help – and it was worth it.

    I once interviewed for an internship at a production company that made a really financially successful teen girl movie franchise and instead of paying for an extra parking spot, forced the interns to find street parking on Sunset Blvd and work 9am to 7pm, at least 3 days a week.

    I interviewed for an internship at the Hallmark Channel – who offered a $200 stipend for a 3-month, 2 day a week internship. It’s not the same as being paid (even minimum wage), but it shows the company APPRECIATES their interns.

    In conclusion…
    My 3 hard and fast rules about internships:
    – Must provide you a place to park your car for free.
    – Must provide mileage reimbursement.
    – Start big! Apply for the studios, big production companies, places you think won’t want you. You only have one chance to make an entrance, and if the only thing on your resume is Fox Studios who has no intention of hiring you – you’re still better off than three internships at “boutique” companies that have no intention of hiring you and no street cred to go with it.

  2. First, you misconstrue the numerous requirements that support legal internship status as merely an issue concerning whether or not the intern learned anything. That is incorrect. There are six factors to address, but more than anything, it boils down to whether or not the film companies derive any benefit. If they do the intern must be paid.

    Second, for the boob who thinks he paid his dues with three months of interning, that miscalculation alone suggests the movie business is not for him. Bust your ass, do as you are told, read, be aggressive, and maybe you will make it. This business is not for you.

  3. The common denominator is – what are you getting out of it. “Interning” on a first-time director’s no-budget indie film = free labor. Interning in a situation where you are making serious connections is another issue. Pick your spots well.

  4. Upon arriving to LA about a year ago, I refused to intern. After working on film productions back in home state and yes interning 3 months on a independent film right out of college, I thought I paid my dues.
    I guess I should have rethought that original plan. A friend who moved out here around the same time, no experience or contacts whatsoever(did not even study film/entertainment in college). Has been building an awesome resume and they just finished work on a major awards show. The difference they interned like crazy when they got to LA(on student films/commercials/reality tv etc.) and I didn’t. I did give in and apply for internships at production companies but only wanted students or people with less experience(felt uncomfortable not paying me). Go figure. Gotta love Hollywood.

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