Monday, April 7, 2014


An article in the LA Times today brought back some memories as well as some contemporary views on Hollywood.

The article was about interns, those young kids who get to work in a studio or for a network or a producer or anybody in Hollywood who needs help... without having to pay them.

The aim of interns is that if you get in with a producer, that could be your break into Hollywood so it's worth it to work for free. Even if the work you do doesn't have anything to do with making movies.

Instead it's about getting coffee, picking up dry cleaning, driving the producer's friend to a restaurant, cleaning the office and generally anything that the producer or the secretary or the writers of a TV show (more on that below). Or anything that anybody else in the office wants to do.

And you're working for free. No wages, no benefits, you pay for your own gas and buy your own lunch.

Sounds great, eh?

I worked in TV and a writer, producer and director. I did tons of commercials, a lot of them after I left TV news until finally I got tired of "selling toilet paper" as a friend used to refer to commercials. Suddenly I was without a job.

But my goal was to make movies and since I didn't know anyone in my city who made movies my only choice was to work on a movie as a Production Assistant or P.A. This is the lowest job on a movie set. I went from being one of the top commercial guys in town to the equivalent of a new kid.

There was one difference between an intern though. I was paid a basic salary that wouldn't really carry me through the week. I picked up beer bottles and cleaned up after the crew as well as a lot of jobs like getting a special kind of chocolate for an actress and getting fresh fruits for an actor that had to be fresh that day and a whole lot of things. 

 And I was 34. 

But, I was doing something else. I copied the script and copied any memo or piece of paper that I saw because it was all about the movie and I learned a lot just listening and reading all the copies I made. 

Later that year, I made my first feature film, Ghostkeeper.

But that PA job was paid. Very different than an intern.

Interns are used a lot in lots of businesses but I know no other job where a person can be treated like dirt. Not everyone to be fair, but some of these agencies are tough as nails. You can see this in that movie Swimming With Sharks with Kevin Spacey as a sociopathic agent. Agents seem to be the worst people in Hollywood.

Some time ago I flew to Vancouver to work on a special episode of an action TV series. There were three writers there, all male, and a woman intern. From the moment I got there I could see that her job was getting coffee and sandwiches and run errands.

It didn't take me long to take her aside and tell her to tell them to get their own coffee. She wasn't sure but I said I'd take the blame. I was in a good position there and knew the other guys wouldn't give me trouble.

So slowly, she weened them off her services and began to spend a lot of time with me watching and learning how I wrote scripts. I gave her assignments and also included her in our meetings. After a few weeks she was really learning and doing it.

After I left I hadn't seen her for years but then I was in Vancouver and visited a friend of mine who had a series going. Suddenly I heard someone call my name and turned to see her. She was a story editor and writer on the series. We caught up with all the news and she told me that I had given her a lot of help and that she really appreciated it.

A recent case could prove interesting as one of these interns filed a lawsuit in that using interns as they do, the producers or studios or agencies are violating the Fair Labor Standards Act which rules that unpaid internships should benefit the intern, not the employers.

The judge stated that "the company received the benefits of the interns unpaid work which otherwise would have required paid employees".

This is scary stuff for the producers, studios, etc...

They might have to pay interns.

The other argument is, of course, that this is the best way to get into the business, starting at the bottom.

But the argument is how much should they do if they don't get paid.

Rebuttal is that they know it coming in.

The trouble is that interns can work for people who just exploit a lot of interns and almost threaten them to not challenge the system.

I know this; whenever I work on something where I can use some free help, I will always pay them something for a day, even if it's $50 or so and I also give them a lot of experience in the business, not in making coffee, so it works out for both of us. Some interns I met still call me now and then for advice and/or help.

The company above appealed on the basis that interns learn alot that they wouldn't learn in school.

That may be right to some extent, but still, that kid has to drive across town to get to work, or take a bus or subway and still has to eat so why not give them a few bucks. At least cover their travel and meals.

Who knows?

No comments:

Post a Comment