Posted on Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Internships are a complicated thing. In certain industries, they’re a crucial way to gain experience and contacts before being eligible for paying jobs. On the other hand, interns are sometimes working just as hard, if not harder, than employees in order to get noticed and believe compensation should be given. Most internships do that in the form of college credit. Others, it’s just for a line on a resume. But with the cost of college increasing annually, it’s harder and harder for a college grad to accept a position that won’t immediately help pay off their loans.
In 2011, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight because they felt the internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws. We wrote about it here. Now, the plaintiffs are looking to expand their case into a class action lawsuit again Fox Entertainment Global as a whole because the Fox Searchlight intern program has the same standards and practices as the one in place the bigger entity. There are more details and some healthy room for debate after the jump.
The expansion of the lawsuit was detailed by The Hollywood Reporter, which says Fox began paying their interns in July 2010. These cases are all from before that when interns were merely given college credit. There are many more details there but here are some highlights.
The original case states that “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. … In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.” At the time, Fox countered by saying the interns in question worked for the Black Swan production company, not Fox Searchlight directly.
A judge will rule if the original lawsuit will be amended to class action on August 24 and, at that point, it may become a much bigger thing.
Now some personal thoughts. Coming up in journalism, I had three internships. One was at Premiere Magazine and it was unpaid. I did, however, get college credit and I loved it so much, I stayed on for a few months after that ended. Eventually, the editors politely told me I had to leave because they couldn’t lawfully keep me there without compensation. What they instead did was point me in the direction of another unpaid internship, this one at Us Weekly. There I received no credit, but made some invaluable contacts. I then worked hard, applied, and got an internship on Entertainment Weekly‘s website EW.com which was paid. At each one of these places, I learned more about the field of entertainment journalism than I did in four years at New York University. The experience and contacts were essential and directly resulted in my first full time gig as an entertainment reporter at a small newspaper.
I completely understand that working for free isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s necessary, especially if you want to do something truly special – like work in the movies. This lawsuit, and especially it’s expansion, feels very much like a bunch of whiny, privileged, spoiled kids who got a great opportunity and because they weren’t directing movies the next day, ran home to mommy and asked to call the lawyer.
People have to pay their dues in the real world. We have to work hard, sometimes for nothing, sometimes for less than nothing, to prove we’re worthy. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood today got their start as interns and assistants. Kathleen Kennedy, for example, was Steven Spielberg’s assistant decades ago and now runs LucasFilm. I guarantee there were nights she was doing crap work for little to no money but, Spielberg saw something in her, she met great people, and the rest is history.
The counter argument is that interns shouldn’t be slaves. I agree. But there was nothing stopping these interns from going home. They weren’t chained there. If they weren’t happy and felt like they being exploited, the respectful thing would have been to say something then. If the the memorable experience of finding out how the film business usually works wasn’t compensation enough, that’s totally understandable. But be an adult about it.
Interning is a complicated, controversial issue and one that will surely continue to be that. But I sincerely believe that internships – even for no money or credit at all – are an invaluable part of the entertainment industry as a whole. You can choose to ignore that, choose to demand to be paid, but the hard working kid who’ll work for credit or free movies is going to pass you on the ladder faster than you can say, “Mommy, we should sue.”
Here’s hoping the judge agrees with me on August 24. I have a strong feeling he won’t. This isn’t going to be good.