One of the key challenges in the adult film industry is that films are shot rapidly (sometimes in one to three days) and with an extremely low budget. Therefore, one of the key issues facing production companies involves the limitations on the use of unpaid interns.
Unpaid internships are very common in both the adult and the mainstream film industry. But in recent years, unpaid internships have been a source of controversy. This controversy is attributed to the practice of employing unpaid interns and not following the labor laws that require unpaid internships to be educational.
Recently, two men who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight Pictures alleging that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated federal and state labor laws by using dozens of unpaid interns for the production. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of Alex Footman, a Wesleyan film school graduate, and Eric Glatt, a Case Western Reserve University MBA. Footman worked as a production intern and claimed that his duties included making coffee, taking out trash, handling lunch orders and cleaning the production office. Glatt worked as an accounting intern and claimed that his duties included creating documents for purchase orders, obtaining signatures on those documents and also creating spreadsheets to keep a track of missing information in personnel files. The plaintiffs’ claimed that by hiring unpaid interns for production work, Black Swan was able keep its production costs low and therefore improve its profit margins. The film was filmed for $13 million and made nearly $300 million worldwide. The plaintiffs’ alleged that Fox Searchlight used unpaid interns to perform “menial tasks” that should have been performed by production bookkeepers, assistants, janitors, secretaries and other paid employees. They also claimed that Fox Searchlight failed to provide them with the educational experience that would exempt Fox Searchlight from having to pay the interns under the current labor laws.
The plaintiffs’ are seeking class action certification for the lawsuit on the grounds that Fox Searchlight has employed more than 100 such unpaid interns in its other film productions. In addition to back pay, plaintiffs’ are also seeking injunction against Fox Searchlight to bar the company from improperly using unpaid interns in its future productions.
It is not clear how this will ultimately play out in the judicial system. However, the lesson for production companies is to be careful not to overuse the option of using unpaid interns in the film industry.
© 2011 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC