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The End of Unpaid Interns in the Film Business?


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#1 Tim Tyler

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 10:51 PM

A proposed class action breaks down how Fox has allegedly exploited unpaid labor. Both sides make arguments in anticipation of a summary judgment ruling later this year.

 

The litigation was first initiated in September 2011 by two interns who worked on Black Swan who sued Fox Searchlight, claiming that the company's unpaid production internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws. Then last year, the proposed class action expanded to Fox Entertainment's entire internship program, including its corporate divisions, and an amended complaint estimated damages to be at least $5 million.
 
...
 
For example, Eric Glatt's supervisors allegedly told him that Searchlight had authorized his hire even though Glatt could not receive academic credit for his internship. On the set, the film's line producer allegedly sent an email in which she alerted Searchlight's executive vp of production to the fact that a union representative was present, complaining that an intern was doing work that should have been assigned to a "loader."
 

 


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#2 David J Paradise

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Posted 22 February 2013 - 12:07 PM

Having unpaid interns is a sad situation indeed.
I've heard where some interns are actually expected to pay for the privilege of gaining experience.
Personally I find it all quite shocking and realise how lucky I was as a paid trainee asst-editor, albeit on minimum scale, back in the day!


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#3 Landon Parks

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 12:12 PM

Since the introduction of minimum wage laws under the FLSA, it has always been illegal, more or less, for companies to employ anyone for free. The two exceptions are volunteers in the nonprofit world (who may receive a small stipend - but not based on time worked) and Unpaid interns at for profit companies, only when those interns meet strict requirements such as not displacing a paid worker and not performing work that earns the company any profit. Basically, in the for-profit world, 85% (number I made up) of unpaid internships are illegal. It's just a matter of who catches it and who doesn't.

 

NOW, there are ways around this. Perhaps you could form an LLC and bring in your cast and crew as partners rather than employees... as long as each owns 5% or more - they are exempt from wages. Won't work on a large movie thought because you'll probably have too many "partners" to give each 5% and still maintain any yourself. There are other ways as well, such as paying at least minimum wage and deferring the rest, Hiring people under the age of ___ (depends on the state) and then paying them less than minimum wage as allowed under some laws of states. In Ohio, you can pay $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days. It's meant something like a trial period to encourage hiring young workers. 

 

Sorry, but there are zero ways for a profit making venture to hire employees without paying them. Legally anyway. 

 

BTW - nothing on this page is legal or financial advice. Just my non-professional observations. Take it with a grain of salt. 


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#4 Stephen Williams

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 03:02 PM

Since the introduction of minimum wage laws under the FLSA, it has always been illegal, more or less, for companies to employ anyone for free. The two exceptions are volunteers in the nonprofit world (who may receive a small stipend - but not based on time worked) and Unpaid interns at for profit companies, only when those interns meet strict requirements such as not displacing a paid worker and not performing work that earns the company any profit. Basically, in the for-profit world, 85% (number I made up) of unpaid internships are illegal. It's just a matter of who catches it and who doesn't.

 

NOW, there are ways around this. Perhaps you could form an LLC and bring in your cast and crew as partners rather than employees... as long as each owns 5% or more - they are exempt from wages. Won't work on a large movie thought because you'll probably have too many "partners" to give each 5% and still maintain any yourself. There are other ways as well, such as paying at least minimum wage and deferring the rest, Hiring people under the age of ___ (depends on the state) and then paying them less than minimum wage as allowed under some laws of states. In Ohio, you can pay $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days. It's meant something like a trial period to encourage hiring young workers. 

 

Sorry, but there are zero ways for a profit making venture to hire employees without paying them. Legally anyway. 

 

BTW - nothing on this page is legal or financial advice. Just my non-professional observations. Take it with a grain of salt. 

Hi Landon,

 

Not seen you for a few years, welcome back.


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#5 Landon Parks

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 03:15 PM

Hi Stephen. Glad to be back. Now that I am dedicated much more of my time to the world of Film, I felt it would be best to become involved in the forums again. Amazing the things you miss when you don't participate in something for a few years.

 

Hope all is well :-)


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#6 Richard Boddington

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 12:23 PM

If I was 22 years old I would crawl across a burning desert to get an unpaid internship at one of the major Hollywood studios.

 

Who cares if it's making copies, the contacts you would make would be incredible!

 

I think a lot of young people fail to see the value in things like this, and certainly don't understand how the movie industry works.

 

R,


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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 08:05 PM

the contacts you would make would be incredible!

 

Only maybe.

 

In my experience, and by my observation, it's just as likely that they'll grab you, use you for six months or a year, and then throw you out, to be replaced by the next person who thinks the contacts would be incredible. That's very definitely how it works in London.

 

Yes, people are that cynical.

 

P


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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 29 March 2013 - 11:07 PM

Only maybe.

 

In my experience, and by my observation, it's just as likely that they'll grab you, use you for six months or a year, and then throw you out, to be replaced by the next person who thinks the contacts would be incredible. That's very definitely how it works in London.

 

Yes, people are that cynical.

 

P

 

Granted much of the success rests on the intern.  If you don't network with people in the lunch room, or strike up conversations with people that have a VP after their names, you're right....probably a waste of time.

 

But for those who are aggressive and know how to take advantage of opportunities, it could be a golden opportunity.  Fact is, no matter how much of a good networker you are, you won't network with anyone standing out on the street corner.

 

At least once on the inside you have a chance, how you use that chance would be up to you.

 

If one focuses on the present salary of an internship then they are losing sight of the long term possibilities.  Success in the film industry always comes from laying a ground work.  It's why there are few to zero overnight successes.

 

R,


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#9 Freya Black

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 09:18 AM

Granted much of the success rests on the intern.  If you don't network with people in the lunch room, or strike up conversations with people that have a VP after their names, you're right....probably a waste of time.

 

But for those who are aggressive and know how to take advantage of opportunities, it could be a golden opportunity.  Fact is, no matter how much of a good networker you are, you won't network with anyone standing out on the street corner.

 

At least once on the inside you have a chance, how you use that chance would be up to you.

 

If one focuses on the present salary of an internship then they are losing sight of the long term possibilities.  Success in the film industry always comes from laying a ground work.  It's why there are few to zero overnight successes.

 

R,

 

I think that might be a bit of a fantasy. My suspicion is that you will just make copies and then have lunch with the other workers.

 

Certainly the idea that the VP's would sit down for lunch with the workers is a bit far fetched here in the UK. Far more likely they will be off at a decent resturant somewhere. You have more chance of meeting the right people here in the UK by working out which are the right bars to go to.

 

I think being aggressive might come off quite badly too. Confidence is always good tho!

 

Obviously there are a lot of other factors that come into it too, the main one being how open these people are to talking to you.

 

Freya


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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 11:17 AM

What she said, although the "aggressiveness" thing is possibly a mistake. There's a lot of people (and I think this may be a peculiarly British thing) who think it's great to be pushy, pugnacious and loud, the sort of people who consider themselves top-shelf, red-letter players who give a hundred and fifteen per cent and try to prove it by being shouty and bombastic.

 

This is the modern substitute for ability and achievement, because it's easier. If being an intern at, say, the BBC, or a big post house, helps anyone learn that the person with the loudest voice and the greatest sense of self-importance tends to win, great, but I hate what that will, in totalis, do to society.

 

P


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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 02:20 PM

When I use the word "aggressive" I mean you are a go getter and you put yourself out there to meet people.

 

Guess what you achieve in the film industry by being timid?  Answer = NOTHING!!

 

I have three feature films under my belt now because I will call anyone on the phone, email anyone, I am not afraid to "ask for the order," and I refuse to take no for an answer.  Heck I'm often confused with being an American!  :D

 

So again, if a 22 year old gets their foot in the door at a Hollywood studio, they can make things happen for themselves down the road if they are smart and hardworking of course.

 

Some interns have very positive experiences and other's don't.  That's the way it goes.  But I sure wouldn't let a little thing like getting paid stand in the way of me and meeting people in the industry.

 

R,


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#12 Freya Black

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 03:46 PM

When I use the word "aggressive" I mean you are a go getter and you put yourself out there to meet people.

 

Guess what you achieve in the film industry by being timid?  Answer = NOTHING!!

 

Fair enough. I wouldn't describe that as being aggressive personally tho. I'm also quite happy to talk to people and love to get out there and have a chat! Of course, not everybody is as happy to talk with me as I am with them! ;)

 

I have three feature films under my belt now because I will call anyone on the phone, email anyone, I am not afraid to "ask for the order," and I refuse to take no for an answer.  Heck I'm often confused with being an American!  :D

 

I think it probably took a bit more than that to make it happen but there we are! ;)

I'd love to know what you mean by "ask for the order tho?"

 

So again, if a 22 year old gets their foot in the door at a Hollywood studio, they can make things happen for themselves down the road if they are smart and hardworking of course.

 

Maybe you are right about that! I can only say that it doesn't work that way in the UK sadly.

 

Some interns have very positive experiences and other's don't.  That's the way it goes.  But I sure wouldn't let a little thing like getting paid stand in the way of me and meeting people in the industry.

 

R,

 

Actually I don't think you have to work for free to get out there and meet people either! :)

 

Freya


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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 30 March 2013 - 03:58 PM

"I'd love to know what you mean by "ask for the order tho?"

 

A sales term, means you are not afraid to ask the customer for their money.  So in my case, it simply means I'm not afraid to ask a buyer for money in exchange for the rights to one of my movies.

 

R,


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#14 Landon Parks

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 05:24 PM

I will chime in on this a little more. The usefulness of interns to any company is indisputable. While I have never really "interned" anywhere per-see, I did manage several during my time serving as Artistic Director at the Bloomington Repertory Theatre for a couple of years. 

 

In the world of semi-pro community theatre, our interns played a huge role in our operations. I cannot speak for how this plays out in a movie studio or post-house setting - but for us the use of interns was valuable, as we where operating with little budget. 

 

For our interns, it was a valuable step. Our creative dept. Interns worked directly with the design team to on the different areas, gaining valuable experience in their area of interest that they otherwise would not have had. In many ways, this is how most creative internships function. You do it more as an apprenticeship to gain experience in an area. 

 

Like I said before, I can't speak to how this translates to the film world. I also cannot speak to how great it works in a large, multinational corporation like most movie studios. In our setting, we where small enough that if any intern wanted to network with us, they knew where we where. 

 

If I had to offer advice to any artistic-industry interns it would be take an internship at a smaller company over a large one. You might think that the large company will offer you more opportunity. This may be true in some sense, but your ability to actually meet everyone (and especially anyone with any real power) is limited. 


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#15 Alain Lumina

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Posted 14 September 2013 - 02:45 PM

I make micro-budget films, usually costing under $500. This comes at the expense of me owning a car, having health insurance, eating at restaurants and the like. 

 

Naturally, being poor means I am a socialistic leaning character that advocates fair play for the little guy. 

 

But I'm not bigger than the people who collaborate with me. Often they are students on career tracks for more well-paying professions that will be far wealthier than I ever will be. 

 

 

 

I don't even make enough money to support myself, so this "people have to be paid" thing is from another planet. 

 

If we go back to basic Enlightenment ideals, every person is free to make their own decisions, in the US constitution "freedom of association" is a pretty well established right. 

 

Now I certainly see when a Sony making billions should be pressured not to pump and dump interns, but for someone like me, it's just another way to prevent me from bootstrapping and

getting to the point where I could conceivably pay people someday. 

 

It actually functions as a way to keep the big boys in control. Many professionals like the ones who post here flag my ads for collaborators on Craigslist so they're removed and insist that they and everyone should be paid. It's the "just world" hypothesis. 

 

Everyone has a fantasy there's a "producer," somewhere- someone who "has money" and is cruelly, selfishly holding onto it. 


Edited by Alain Lumina, 14 September 2013 - 02:50 PM.

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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 September 2013 - 04:51 PM

To be quite honest, though, what is preventing you, as a producer, from saving up money yourself, or using the heavily used crowdfunding out there now to raise money in order to pay your crew? Or even taking out a loan for your project? Putting it on your credit card? Why the notion that you deserve to make your film if you cannot properly fund it? This isn't to be combative, but rather just point out that, in the end, you have no right to make a movie but people do have a right to be compensated for their work. Obviously, everyone starts somewhere, and it's all well and good to do favors for friends, acquaintances, or with a project you really care about and can afford to subsidize. But the argument that one doesn't have money right now but still "has" to make the movie right now is nonsense. It's not even really about paying a huge wage, but people deserve just compensation for the work which they do.


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#17 Chris Burke

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Posted 15 September 2013 - 07:14 AM

I second what Adrian has said. Furthermore, it is not really about being paid or not, it is more about respecting that individual and their time and talent enough to pay them. Anything, even an honorarium goes a long way.


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#18 AndreaAltgayer

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Posted 21 September 2013 - 03:34 PM

Hi guys,

 

I'll just add my 2 cents worth. I agree with Richard in that an internship is what you make of it, but I'm not just referring to networking.Over here in the South African film and TV industries, it's the quality of your work and your eagerness to work, ie your reputation that will sell you, no matter how much you network.We have a saying that "You're only as good as your last job", and that applies to everyone, from the interns and drivers to producers and directors with decades of experience.Our industry is still tiny by international standards, so your reputation will take you further than any amount of networking.

 

Also, here, there is an unspoken hierarchy with makes it difficult to network on set. Interns mostly speak to people within their own department, or interns in other departments; otherwise you risk being a nuisance.However, it all varies from production company to production company, and the way they treat their interns depends largely on their "corporate culture".And it's true that interns will have good experiences and bad experiences. Some  companies are very encouraging and a pleasure to work with; others exploit you as much as they can because of your free labour, and because you'll do it for the sake of getting experience; while others are full of people who are bitter, angry and resentful of the fact that after 30 years or so in the industry, they still don't have an Oscar, and they take out their frustrations and anger on the weakest people on the team ie the interns.Yet there are also those who will be kind enough to reward you by paying you what they think is appropriate for the quality and quantity of work that your did for them. Unfortunately the only way of finding the companies who are worth your time, is by going through multiple internships.That's the only way you'll find people who you "gel" with or bond with. We've all had to go through this process at the beginning of our careers.It's like a rite of passage. You have to go through it to get to where you want to be.

 

Our industry , much less the gloal one, is not for the weak willed or those who are not persistent.Whoever says our industry is easy, is lying!


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#19 Heikki Repo

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 07:45 PM

The big question regarding what Alain wrote about is of course what kind of projects he is talking about.

 

Is it a commercial project, aimed at bringing profit?

If it is, using someone else's work for free while you get to collect the profit just isn't right.

 

However, not everything is about profit or getting paid. People have hobbies -- they can be amateurs in the good old sense of doing something out of love instead of getting paid to do that.

 

Obviously it can be quite difficult to do something for hobby if you do the same thing for living. I certainly blame no professional for not doing for free what they do for living. But then again, some might like to do it occasionally if some project interests them and gives them something they might not get from paid work. And that might be just the feeling one gets when doing some really artsy but fun stuff that no-one in their right mind would want to fund due to the project being commercially unviable.

 

 

Also -- at least here in Finland working for someone is defined in such way that the employer has the right to oversee the work and the work is done with employer's tools. There is also a contract made.

 

In a hobby project -- while someone might be a producer in the sense of paying for the equipment and refreshments -- the project isn't really based on anyone overseeing the work done by others. There are no obligations for those involved and no repercussions if one leaves the project. It is a project that everyone should want to do just in order to achieve something artistic or just have some good time.

 

I'd guess Alain was talking about projects like this, no?


Edited by Heikki Repo, 07 February 2014 - 07:46 PM.

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#20 yhpargotamenic

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 01:43 AM

We do films not only for profit, maybe profit has become a main factor to doing films. We are doing films for more! Culture or more...


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