This may be old news by now (hey, I've been busy) but I stumbled upon this article the other day and it piqued my interest.
Basically, two "unpaid interns" who worked on the movie Black Swan are suing Fox Searchlight for unfair labor practices. From the article:
“Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work,” the lawsuit says. “In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.”Some of the tasks the interns were asked to do included making coffee and ordering lunch.
I gotta admit, I'm kinda torn on this one.
On the one hand, I'm all for getting paid for your work. Obviously.
But on the other hand, I kind of get the feeling that these guys don't really get how things work and/or are throwing a hissy fit because the experience wasn't what they were expecting. I mean, it's an unpaid internship. You're supposed to get college credit. If they didn't, then that's a different conversation.
It's also an internship. A position that's widely understood in this industry as being below P.A. level, which is (no offense) pretty low to begin with. So these guys should've expected to run the occasional errand, make coffee or pick up lunch. And in exchange for such "grunt work," they get to work on a major motion picture. They get to put "Fox Searchlight" on their resume. They get to brag to their family and friends that they "worked" with Natalie Portman. And even more importantly, they see how the business works firsthand (because let's face it, film school does a poor job of this) and get the opportunity to meet new people who might further their careers.
Sure, I guess if they're doing work, the company could afford to pay them minimum wage. But you know what? If the company was putting them on payroll, they might as well just hire another P.A. The way I see it, interns are the ones who come in without any experience at all. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has an issue with being paid the same as the guy with less experience.
Also from the article:
Fox Searchlight acted illegally, the lawsuit asserts, because the company did not meet the federal labor department’s criteria for unpaid internships. Those criteria require that the position benefit the intern, that the intern not displace regular employees, that the training received be similar to what would be given in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.Given those guidelines and the description of the tasks the interns were asked to do (basically, P.A. work), then yeah, I'd say they have the makings of a lawsuit there. But at the same time, I'm confused by the guidelines themselves. What's the point of having an intern if the company doesn't benefit from it? If I was an employer, I'd see no advantage of having a snot nosed kid hang around me all day, asking me questions and trying to learn "the biz" if he didn't at least bring me a cup of coffee now and then.
When I was in college, you bet your ass I had unpaid internships. And yeah, I answered phones, made coffee runs, took lunch orders and filed a bunch of stuff. Does this mean I was taken advantage of? Yeah. Was I aware of it at the time? Yeah. Did I complain? No. Because I like to think I was taking advantage of the situation as much as it was taking advantage of me. I learned everything I could at my internships. I asked questions (at appropriate times, of course). I made great contacts (not every one was able to get me anywhere, but it was still a start. There are some that I still keep in touch with). I even gained a few office supplies.
I guess another thing that rubs me the wrong way about this whole thing is what one of the plaintiffs say:
“The only thing I learned on this internship was to be more picky in choosing employment opportunities,” Mr. Footman, 24, said in an interview. “ ‘Black Swan’ had more than $300 million in revenues. If they paid us, it wouldn’t make a big difference to them, but it would make a huge difference to us.”First off, if you're starting out in the film business, there's no such thing as being "picky in choosing employment opportunities." Hollywood has a loooooooooooooong line of people outside her door, just waiting for a chance to stick their foot in. If you really wanted to work in this business, you take any and every opportunity you can get if you're just starting out. Save the being picky part for when you have more than one internship under your belt.
And secondly, "Nobody knows anything." The fact that the movie made that much money is moot. If you're on a production, there's no telling if the movie's going to be the next big thing or the next big flop. So it's kind of tacky in my opinion to say, "Well, they ended up making a lot of money, so now I'm saying they should've paid me." Unless, of course, they signed up for back end points, which again, is an entirely different conversation.
But I do agree that if Fox Searchlight had given them something, it would've made a difference. In this business, a little respect goes a long way.
Like I said, I'm kinda torn on this one.