Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Response to the Weinstein Company's Internship Auction and the Media Coverage

The Weinstein Company recently auctioned off a 3-month internship for a well-endowed college student. The closing non-transferable bid was upwards of $26,000, a large sum but one that is short of the Weinstein Company's estimated value of $50,000.

Now, this is for "charity". The beneficiary being both the "student", who can receive college credit, and the American Repertory Theatre- where the co-founder of Weinstein is staging his passion project Finding Neverland next year. Funny how that works out.

What is Hollywood Intern Diaries response? Glad you asked. I would just like to illustrate, quickly, the fact that no reporters sought a comment from any source that represents or works with entertainment interns. 



This controversy is notable for the ridiculousness of the situation- paying to work. However, it is also notable because it's a window into the perception of interns at both the studio/production company level and at major media outlets.

Thanks to the Black Swan lawsuit, first filed in 2011 by former interns at 21st Century Fox, internship programs at the major studios have been quietly switching to paid structured internship programs. This, strangely, has not even been remotely covered in the media and goes unnoticed by such giants as Business Insider who states:

"The now infamous "Black Swan" lawsuit was originally thought to be game changer for the industry, but nothing has changed." 
You can read the rest of their article on The Weinstein Company stunt, here. If you'd like.

Getting internships in the entertainment industry is hard. There is even a perception that if you know enough people or have enough cash it's easier to land one of the coveted spots. This internship auction only helps further this idea- for the media and the industry as a whole. However, it is not impossible to get an entertainment internship. I have no connections nor heaps of money to speak of, yet I managed to land an internship at a local news station then a famed production company my sophomore year of college. It is all about the work you put into your applications, refusing to be defeated when you never hear back, stressing as the first day of the semester approaches and you think you may not have an internship this semester after all. I've been there.

As for the unpaid internship system. Business Insider is right in saying it's not ideal and still used by a major of production companies, admittedly they forgot to mention that almost all the major production companies (Fox, ABC Productions, CBS, NBCUniversal) have all transitioned to paid internship models. 

However, Business Insider is completely wrong in saying "it's nearly impossible to defend the unpaid internship structure." They use statistics like only 37% of interns end up working for their employer. Now this statistic is the result of a research survey that applies to all industries (business, accounting, mining, etc) and not just the entertainment industry. But, even worse, this illustrates a complete and utter MISUNDERSTANDING of the entire point of entertainment internships. 

The point of internships in the entertainment industry is to learn as much as you can about different studios, companies, departments, in addition to learning the skill set (rolling calls, terminology, software) required to get a job. It is not about getting hired at a small production company at the end of your internship, which likely isn't hiring anyway. It's about developing a complete understanding of the industry and becoming a valuable employee- a stark difference from a fresh faced film school grad who has spent the past years in film studies classes. Most entertainment interns move from interning at smaller production company, usually unpaid, to larger companies with defined and paid internship programs. This phenomena is all but absent in all reporting on the subject.

 As Business Insider reports, "35.2% of grads without internships receive job offers following graduation." However that is again, across all industries in the world. We all know plenty of education and accounting majors who graduated college and were employed right away. However, I know tons of film kids who spent their semesters smoking pot and making artsy short films who are skill looking for work. Now, compare that to the 100% rate of employment for those I know who graduated with 2 or more entertainment internships, you start to realize that entertainment internships are not casual wastes of time. 

Business insider is missing a statistic. Where's the statistic for the percentage of employed entertainment interns with 2 or more internships under their belt? It doesn't exist. Why? Because the media is so focused on the idea of unpaid internships being a bad thing they refuse to acknowledge that it is not only a worthwhile experience for college students but also EXPECTED by recuriters. 

Yes, not all unpaid internships are good. But the industry is changing, maybe not over at the Weinstein Company, but it is changing! Even in the past two years I have seen tremendous growth in the number of paid interns and the formation of structured internship programs designed to allow the intern to grow as a potential employee.

Blacklight Media, a small transmedia production company, has set weekly programs for interns including lunch with the CEO, a discussion of a different genre each week, and a final pitch of an independent project the intern has prepared. Even OWN, a cable network, offers interns resume workshops, lunch with the President (not Oprah, sadly), and has a dedicated HR team to insure the interns are fully supported.

Although the days of coffee "assistant" internships are not gone by any means. Hell, I've had one myself. The "tough skin", Business Insider scoffs at, is extremely essential to your success if you plan on working in an agency or hard-hitting development team.

However, that brings up an interesting point. One of the reasons I created Hollywood Intern Diaries was to prevent you from having to toil in one of these internships. On that note, may we recommend staying away from the Weinstein Company? The coffee assistant internships will help you with a tough skin and a resume booster (which I would have to argue may be worth about $50,000 in the long run), but it will not allow you to learn which department you want to work and specialize in. My internships have allowed me to learn so much about digital media, I am even on my way to becoming an expert in the digital media research field. However, none of that would have been possible without the name of that horrible coffee internship. At least the media is right about one thing, name recognition goes a long way in Hollywood.

But it is not, and never will be, worth paying for. 

Interns deserve to be respected and not looked down upon by the media or a select few production companies that skill don't understand their place or what they can do to assist these young college students who just want to work in film/ television. We are not "overworked" as Business Insider states, in fact most interns I know don't have enough to do and create projects out of the blue in order to assist a company they are so grateful for.

Maybe it would be a better story if I told you that unpaid internships aren't worth your time and that the entire joint entertainment and internship industry, one that I'm frankly an expert on, should change.  However, I already know it's changing for the better and the press would too if they would look deeper into the matter or just ask for some sort of comment from an expert like me. More and more interns are doing real live entry-level work, getting support from HR partners, and getting paid and hired than ever before. The internship is now an expectation to gain work post-grad and in an ideal world everyone would get a great one and be paid. But the entertainment industry is far from ideal, but with perseverance and hard work, I truly believe everyone can make it here. 

However, it you want to rely on money and connections to make it. The Weinstein Company is sure to have another successful bid on an internship soon. That is, until they realize that they are going to have to hire another 30k/a year assistant to babysit the spoiled brats who paid money to sit in their development office in "either NY or LA." And, I bet you anything, that assistant is a former entertainment industry intern. 

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