Friday, September 30, 2011

Working for free... thoughts about unpaid internships

Below is an article that appeared today in The Wrap about two interns who are suing because they weren't paid for the hours they worked on the feature film THE BLACK SWAN. I have seen this discussion before and I think it's crazy. There are many people very eager to work on a film shoot. If I wasn't allowed to use unpaid labor I certainly would NEVER hire someone who hadn't worked on a film shoot before. The best way to start in the film business is to be willing to work for free. I did... when I was 30 by the way (married, with a couple of kids and a house mortgage). It's how you learn. Why would someone hire someone who hasn't learned by being on an actual shoot. If you're like me and making films for under $100,000, or under $30,000, it's impossible to pay everyone... it's difficult to pay anyone, actually.

I have used unpaid interns (I have relied on unpaid interns) on every project I've been involved in. I get a few extra hands to help things go a bit more smoothly.

Here's what they get:
• Credit. Screen credit, imdb credit, as well as school credit if the schools is OK with it.
• Knowledge. Learning first hand what needs to be done on a set.
• Contacts. A person who shows up and kicks butt will always be remembered as a hard worker by those around them, which will eventually lead to actual paying jobs.
• Food and beer. What more does a college aged person need?

Think about it. What are film students doing in their free time anyway? If they're smart they're making their own movies, and no one is paying them to do it. Nor are they paying their classmates who turn out and help them. Well, why not step it up a notch and work on some real movies too. On my last project one of my production coordinators, Yukie (a non-paid student intern, who we are giving Associate Producer credit to), worked hard all day, then would go home when we wrapped and work on the web series she's producing. I have no intention of working on anything without Yukie around ever. She's that good... and I never would have met her if she hadn't been willing to work for free. (By the way, here's a link to her web series, Mythomania).

On my smaller films our interns have actual positions (2nd assistant camera, art director, etc). Some people would be outraged at this, saying that these are positions we should pay to have. But people who say this are the-glass-is-half-empty types. I would think most film students would be thrilled to have a real credit on a real film while they're still in school, or even when they're recently graduated. The two folks in question get to have THE BLACK SWAN on their resumes. How cool would that be?

Of course, some young aspiring filmmakers don't want to work for free, but here's the thing, someone always will. That means that the person who is willing to work for free is the person who ends up with the credit, the knowledge, the contacts and the food and beer. If you're an aspiring film person, and you have the means, then let people know you're willing to work for free for the opportunity to learn. Then when you show up, work your tail off and you'll find yourself rewarded down the road.

Meanwhile I will put Masseurs Glatt and Footman on my "never hire" list.

Here's the article (interesting to read the comments as well).

'Black Swan' Sued for Using Unpaid Interns (Updated)

Published: September 29, 2011 @ 10:33 am

By Brent Lang

(Updated: 11:21 a.m. PST)
Unpaid internships are commonplace in the movie business and considered a necessary step for aspiring filmmakers.
But two former interns on “Black Swan” are striking back at the practice.
They’re suing the Oscar-winning film’s producer Fox Searchlight for violating minimum wage and overtime laws.
Russell Nelson, a spokesman for Fox Searchlight, declined to comment.
The suit was filed in Manhattan federal court on behalf of Alex Footman, a Wesleyan film school graduate, and Eric Glatt, a Case Western Reserve University MBA. Footman served as a production intern and Glatt was employed as an accounting intern.
"Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work," the suit reads. "This practice runs afoul of basic wage-and-hour laws."
By relying on unpaid interns to perform production work, the suit says that "Black Swan" was able to keep costs low and improve its profit margins. 
The critically acclaimed film was filmed for $13 million and made nearly $330 million worldwide. 
Glatt and Footman are seeking a jury trial and asking for unpaid wages and attorneys fees. They are also asking the court to discontinue Fox Searchlight's internship practices. 
In the suit Glatt says he worked as much as 50 hours a week for 51 days and was asked to keep track of purchase orders and review personnel files. 
Footman claims he too worked as many as 50 hours a week for 95 days, and was tasked with doing everything from secretarial work to taking out the trash and making coffee. 
The lawsuit argues that the production used unpaid interns to perform “menial tasks” that should have been performed by paid employees.
The suit says that labor rules require that unpaid internships must offer an educational component -- something the “Black Swan” interns say Fox Searchlight failed to provide.
The New York Times first reported the lawsuit. 

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