posted by Joe Anaya on August 26th, 2013

Internships are not meant to be jobs; they’re learning opportunities. Recently, a couple of interns sued a major movie studio saying they should have been paid. The basic premise of their suit was that as unpaid interns, they didn’t learn anything and therefore were just free workers. The courts agreed and they got their back pay of minimum wage, but my first thought was, “They’ll never work in this town again.”

While generally on the side of the workers (I’m a blue-collar kind of guy at heart), I think those kids were crazy for expecting to be paid for being on the inside of the movie business. No matter how much grunt work they did.

Let’s say they interned 16 hours a week, between classes. Let’s estimate ¾ of the work was pure grunt work or “Monkey Work” as I call it, because you could train a chimp to do it. California state minimum wage is $8/hour, after taxes say $6 an hour in take-home pay. Anyway, 12 grunt hours x $6/hr = $72 a week x 4 weeks = $288. Would a movie mogul wannabe shell out $300 to spend 16 hours inside a movie set? Just to see what’s happening and make contacts? I’m betting they would. You could auction off this time on Ebay and I’m sure you’d get significantly over $300.

What seems to be lost on these particular interns, is how rare an inside peek of a Hollywood production is. Just to have a glimpse behind the curtain is a unique opportunity. To be at the water cooler and hear that the executive said, “I don’t care if the script isn’t ready, the starlet is available now! So, we’re going to start shooting,” is not something you can learn from a text book. If they learned nothing else, apparently these two interns learned they don’t want to work in Hollywood.

Having had an industry internship and managing an internship program, I have a very clear idea of what types of menial tasks these interns were asked to do: coffee, dry-cleaning, lunches, alphabetizing files, gophering, etc. It’s sort of like the rookie hazing in the NFL. But you’re doing it inside a studio or if you’re very lucky on a movie set while you’re making connections INSIDE a studio. In Hollywood, those connections ultimately, are infinitely more valuable than experience, knowledge or even pay.

File Under Working Stiff