For a long time now, it has been notoriously difficult to break into the world of film and television. Although internships are a common avenue to entry-level positions in a variety of different fields, internships in the film industry have recently become a necessity for those hoping to pursue a career in film.
Many of these internships are unpaid, but operate on the premise—according to California's labor laws—that they will provide an educational experience.
The same laws stipulate that interns receive valuable training and often receive school credit from the position, despite the fact that they are not expected to perform any work that actually benefits the company. The policy is in place to keep companies from abusing unpaid interns for free labor.
Last week, two unpaid interns who worked on Oscar winner "Black Swan" (2010) filed a class action lawsuit against the producer of the film, Fox Searchlight Pictures, in federal court in Manhattan. The plaintiffs in the case are Alex Footman, a film school student who worked on the set, and Eric Glatt, an MBA student who worked in accounting.
The pair claims that Fox required that they and dozens of other interns work over 40 hours a week performing menial tasks more befitting of a paid position. They feel that Fox did not provide them with the educational experience necessary to exempt pay and are seeking compensation commensurate with minimum wage laws for all the hours spent working on production.
Footman and Glatt's lawsuit has rocked the film and television community. If it goes to trial, it has the potential to drastically alter the way production companies, studios and agencies conduct business.
It's not often discussed, but it's no secret that much of Hollywood runs on unpaid labor.
By publicizing this practice, Footman and Glatt are effectively martyring themselves, killing their chances for future careers in the industry. They had already paid their dues on a very successful film and could have easily found further employment. The sum the pair is demanding will certainly be dwarfed by the heavy legal fees, and it is also unlikely that the case will make it to court. Even if it does, it stands little chance against Fox Searchlight's team of lawyers.
The one certainty is that Footman and Glatt will never work in the industry again. Hollywood can hold a grudge for a while.
For my own part, I've held several movie and television internships and most of these were unpaid. At some, I was treated well and learned a good deal about the business. At others, I learned how to take coffee orders and replace toner. In spite of that, I persevered because I accepted that that's how the system functions. Whether my experiences were for good or for naught, everything on my résumé brought me closer to finding a permanent job after graduation.
Just because this has become standard practice, however, does not make it right or legal.
Swarms of young people eager to get their start in the pictures flood the job markets in L.A. and New York every year. This has allowed unpaid internships to proliferate and come to be seen as effective way to sift out individuals less dedicated to the industry.
But this brings up another issue: the prospect of living and working in a foreign city for months without any income is also a gamble and a financial burden that some cannot afford to take.
The intern system is also plagued by nepotism. Most industry internships don't have posted applications, if they even have applications at all. (All of mine came about through networking.)
The system fuels itself. Those with connections make more in turn. Those without are kept on the periphery until they too find someone to let them in.
All of this is meant to say that I laud these two frustrated interns for their efforts. Even if their goals are not as noble as I'd like to hope they are, Footman and Glatt have sacrificed budding careers in film to better the industry.
As it currently stands, this case could revolutionize hiring practices in the media world. Yet it's more than likely that it will fail and be quickly forgotten.
Hollywood may know how to hold a grudge, but it also has a very short attention span.