Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | September 30, 2011

Unpaid Interns Suing Movie Studio…for Lack of Payment?!

It’s entirely possible that I don’t actually understand what an “unpaid internship” is anymore.

That’s the only assumption I can make after reading an article in the New York Times about a bunch of unpaid interns who have filed a suit against the producer of “Black Swan” for “violating minimum wage and overtime laws.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that Fox Searchlight Pictures, the producer of “Black Swan,” had the interns do menial work that should have been done by paid employees and did not provide them with the type of educational experience that labor rules require in order to exempt employers from paying interns.

Huh?!

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. These peeps went out and applied for a job that they knew wasn’t going to pay them anything, thus that whole “unpaid” thing going on in the job title.

Then they got pissy when the job was nothing but total shit-work, which I’m like 97% sure is the entirety of the job description when you apply for an unpaid internship.

Seriously, when I did my unpaid internship in college, they did everything short of actually saying, “You’re going to be our bitch for six weeks.”

So now that they didn’t get a chance to direct or edit or make-out with Natalie Portman or anything awesome like that while on set, they want to sue the producer and get paid…for their unpaid internship. The unpaid internship that they undoubtedly sought out, by choice, and went into knowing full-well that it was an unpaid internship and there was a good chance it would suck as anything that starts with “unpaid” is wont to do.

For instance, we’ve got this guy, whom after reading the first sentence about, you’ll already have conjured a mental image about that I can only assume is 100% accurate:

One plaintiff, Alex Footman, a 2009 Wesleyan graduate who majored in film studies, said he had worked as a production intern on “Black Swan” in New York from October 2009 to February 2010.

He said his responsibilities included preparing coffee for the production office, ensuring that the coffee pot was full, taking and distributing lunch orders for the production staff, taking out the trash and cleaning the office.

I’ve got to wonder what exactly Alex Footman thought he’d be doing on the set?

Did he think they wanted his input on settings or lighting? Did he think they were going to have him on the sound-stage giving advice to Vincent Cassel on how to look more menacing or how Winona Ryder could seem more batshit crazy whilst stabbing herself in the face? Did he think they were looking for him to come in and do the choreography or something?

Footman was equally shocked to learn that Portman and Kunis would not be his personal concubines on set. No word yet on whether or not he plans to sue for that.

I mean, he did major in film studies—and at motherf’n Wesleyan, baby—so clearly he’d know more about how to make a good movie than Darren Aronofsky, right? So this is all totally justified and he’s not just some whiny wannabe-director who just learned the harsh realities of showbiz, right?

Oh no wait, that’s exactly what’s going on here. This dude is mad that he didn’t get his big break and he didn’t even get to braid Mila Kunis’ hair as a consolation prize.

Instead he ended up making pot after pot of Folgers for the key grip, prosthetic makeup designer and props guys, all the while receiving nothing more than faint praise or leftover donuts as compensation.

You know, exactly like you do at every other shitty, unpaid internship in the world.

What do My Faithful Readers think? Do these peeps have a legitimate complaint or did they get exactly what you sign-on for with an unpaid internship?


Responses

  1. *giggles*

  2. PS: Keep the posts coming! :D

  3. I gotta disagree with you on this one — my professors have made it abundantly clear that if we take on an internship and it has to be unpaid, it had better provide considerable insight into the work we’re hoping to pursue.

    I think the rule of thumb, legally speaking, is menial tasks (such as stuffing envelopes for hours on end) = OK, doing a janitor’s job for free = not ok.

  4. When you do an internship you expect that your tasks are at least related to what you studied. What part of getting coffee and cleaning out offices is related to film studies? I mean that’s basically a janitor’s job isn’t it?

    It all boils down to if these interns were deceived regarding the job description. Were they promised unpaid but valuable industry experience work? If they were treated like office janitors then they probably felt compelled to at least be paid like ones if the company wasn’t serious about an internship related to film and production work.

    Not enough information here to really form an opinion on whether they were screwed or if they screwed themselves. Snark aside I don’t think a guy like Alex expected to be able to cozy up to actresses like Kunis or Portman. He probably expected to learn something about film work by at least being allowed to watch how the professionals did it, and maybe being allowed to do low level film work under supervision. I honestly do not know enough of this area to guess at what a proper internship would entail here.

  5. let’s say the students were told in their interviews that they would recieve career related work and that they would work 8 hour days while working as an intern “free” with no guarantee of work (all meeting the unpaid intern criteria), but when they get to the job the work is janitorial and the hours are 12-14. Is this fair?

    • Not fair no.

      Unpaid internships suck and unless you read all the fine print, stuff like this happens.


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