Unpaid Interns Finally Strike Back Against The Man! (But Before They Triumph, I Want My Damn Iced Venti Quad Sugar-Free Vanilla Latte – NOW. Updated.)
Update: In response to the attempted class action lawsuit filed by former Black Swan interns Alex Footman and Eric Gatt, Fox Searchlight has released a statement placing all blame for the alleged noneducational experience squarely on the shoulders of Darren Aronofsky and his production company. The studio concludes its missive with the line, "We look forward to aggressively fighting these groundless, opportunistic accusations," which is either a huge bluff or kind of awesome.
One of the things I regret most in life was the decision, before and during college, to disregard some of the contacts I'd made while studying Radio, Television, and Film and not partake in at least one unpaid internship. But when you work 40 hours a week and take a full semester (at least 15 hours) every semester, it's pretty damn hard to squeeze in the extra 20 hours or more a week that an internship requires. Of course, besides the time and money issues, I knew that if I took any internships, I would be relegated to "grunt work" and probably not get any real hands on experience because they have paid professionals to do that sort of thing. If I wanted real experience, I had classes and friends and my own initiative. Interns, especially in creative production efforts, are really just un-glorified PA's. But, hey, at least you get to be on-set/in-studio and can put the work experience on your resume, right? The bonus connections you make could also be invaluable in the future.
According to two former unpaid interns, Alex Footman (24) and Eric Glatt (42 - wait, 42?!) who worked on Black Swan and are now suing Fox Searchlight Pictures, though, unpaid internships are akin to slavery. It seems their experience on the Darren Aronofsky film did not meet their, clearly unrealistic, expectations of supreme awesomitude. Apparently, fetching coffee, lunch, and making copies are now sue-able offenses. Their lawsuit claims that the production company's hiring practices are illegal because:
"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."
Footman, who was a recent college graduate when he worked on Black Swan, had this to say while under Aronofsky's crazy auteur wings: "The only thing I learned on this internship was to be more picky in choosing employment opportunities." Rimshot! Apparently, his parents also had to support him while he worked for five months on the Hollywood production, which must be incredibly nice during a global recession. For someone who studied film, and ostensibly enjoys movies, it's a wonder Footman had yet to glean, from decades of entertainment illustrating the point, that being an unpaid intern kinda, sorta sucks donkey scrotum.
For his part, Glatt, the elder statesmen of the duo, was an accountant at AIG and decided he was bored with that sort of financial work (don't blame him) and wanted to start a new career in the glamorous world of movie making. Naturally, with his work history, he took an unpaid gig as an "accounting intern" on Black Swan and was somehow, diabolically, saddled with "[preparing] documents for purchase orders and petty cash, traveled to the set to obtain signatures on documents and created spreadsheets to track missing information in employee personnel file." God forbid an accounting intern perform any sort of work related to finances. I'll admit that Footman has a somewhat better argument, being young and full of passion to show the world what he can do besides whining. But Glatt clearly assumed incorrectly that he wouldn't have to start from the ground up when starting in a brand new industry, and is now regretting the decision he made during his mid-life crisis.
Fox Searchlight only found out about the lawsuit as it was being reported and have no comment at the time, other than a probably under-the-breath, WTF? But Footman and Glatt's lawyers are seeking a class action suit against the production company for its apparently improper use of hundreds of unpaid interns who worked on Black Swan and other films, so surely this story has legs. Unpaid interns all over the country will likely be sitting on pins and needles as they wait for the outcome of the greatest civil rights issue of our time. Endure, you poor bastards, endure.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the podcast We're Not Fanboys, and tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He finds it astounding that even with how full his schedule was in college, he always seemed to have more free time than he ever does now.