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Artist RightsBusinessStudent

Most Unpaid Internships Are Illegal


A piece about internships in yesterday’s New York Times has been making the rounds, and it’s worth a peek for all animation students. It explains how most internships violate federal law and the government is beginning to crack down on employers who take advantage of free labor. Unpaid internships in New York’s non-union animation scene are particularly notorious; most studios (big and small) have at least a couple interns and certain ones have been known to employ generous numbers of unpaid interns simultaneously. No wonder then that the Times article calls out a local animation studio:

At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu. Tone Thyne, a senior producer at Little Airplane, said its internships were usually highly educational and often led to good jobs.

From an economic viewpoint, unpaid interns make perfect sense for companies, but from an ethical viewpoint, it’s questionable behavior (and from the government’s point of view, it’s illegal). When I was looking to hire a personal assistant, a number of friends and associates advised me to offer the position as an unpaid internship. Despite the appeal of such an idea (who doesn’t like to save money?), I declined and opted to hire an assistant with an hourly wage. I’ve also been on the other side; when I was a kid, I found experience as an unpaid intern. Looking back on it, I regret my youthful naivete. Bottomline: if you’re doing the work, you deserve to be compensated. People like to villainize Walt Disney for paying his employees meager wages in the 1930s, but what they forget is that he paid even the lowliest of the traffic boys, which is more than can be said for many stingy contemporary animation shops that ride on the backs of free labor.

If you’ve got stories, positive or negative, about your experiences with animation internships, please share them with the rest of us. A similar take on internships can be found on the blog of Richard O’Connor, who is a co-owner of Asterisk studio in New York. He writes that at Asterisk, “We pay everybody (unless you’re working for school credit). In part because that’s the law, in part because we’re profiting (in theory) from a worker’s contributions.”

  • Donald C.

    That’s fine. As long as the work experience I gain allows me to be hired there or elsewhere.

  • Internships for only school credit are even worse, financially speaking… instead of not getting paid, now you’re paying someone else to allow you to work! The school gets money and the company gets free labor; what a lousy deal for the student.

  • Tekena

    The new Disney is at least smarter about it. They made a animation camp thing where the ‘campers’ give them animation work for free. Not really sure if that’s illegal, but the paid workers hate those kids.

  • “If you’re doing the work, you deserve to be compensated.”

    That says it all really. The amount of people getting shafted one way or another in out industry seems criminal. And, seemingly, some of it is.

  • JP

    When the job market is so competitive (or mainly “weak”), some people are willing to work for free just to get their foot in the door, or for the extra experience on their resume.

    My wife, weary after 9 months of job hunting, took an unpaid “internship” (she’s already a college grad, by the way). It paid off. About 6 weeks into the free labor, a “real” position opened up. She got the job since she was already familiar with the organization.

    I’ve considered similar tactics when considering a career change. In my late 20’s and through with two degrees, I don’t know how else to change fields and get the necessary experience other than “volunteering”.

    That being said… Jerry, if you need an unpaid assistant, I’ll start packing my bags! :-)

  • I’ve had interns only about five or six times in the past 30 years. In all cases I’ve paid a minimum to make sure they can at least cover their transportation and lunch. In at least 3 of those interns, they were promoted to a real position within my studio.

    Currently we have Katrina Gregorius who is animating, coloring and very much contributing to the studio’s work. A year ago she was an intern, now she’s an important part of the studio.

  • LordOfTheBling

    My unpaid internship experience was quite positive. My art school had a program where you received credit for interning. I understand that the comment can be made that I was then paying ridiculous amounts of money to the school to go work for free at a studio. But I did learn a ton more at the studio about animation than one of my instructors could teach me. I was getting the credits to graduate, I was making friends in the industry, and interning was way more fun than not.

    Also, I did continue interning after that first round, this time at Curious Pictures and they paid me. They didn’t pay me much but it was enough to cover my subway ride and lunch.

    I am in full support of compensation for interns, whether it be by money or school credit or whatever else the intern is comfortable with. But to the potential interns, don’t write off the value of the experience. My internship experience lead to a job and that to the next and thus a career was born.

  • I had a one-week “Work-Study” internship with Cinera Productions (Toronto) when I was in my final year of high school. Following this, the owner of the studio, Vlad Goetzelman offered me (paid) summer work at the studio. This summer job turned into a steady part-time job while I attended Sheridan College – and then full time work after graduation.

    Vlad offered to hire me full time after my second year, but I wanted to finish my student film and earn the Sheridan diploma.

    Point is – the unpaid intern spot got me a foot in the door. 30+ years later, I’m still friends with the people I met at Cinera Productions.

  • Kate

    I had an internship for credit at a major studio and not only was it a really bitchin’ learning experience, they brought me back for summer where I got to work with them and get paid. Everyone was really cool, I learned more there about productions than I did anywhere else and I was encouraged to apply when I was done with school, so the pay check was just the cherry on top.

  • Anonymous

    Name kept anonymous (for obvious reasons). That’s great that people have been having so many positive experiences with their internships. Unfortunately, my experience was quite negative, despite trying to stay positive about it. After a year of graduating from a 3D animation school I was unable to gain employment in the field so jumped on the chance to work in a small start-up company with a whole team of recent grads for free. Somehow, the employer was able to string us all along for 6 months under the guise of claiming that he was in midst of talks for a movie deal in which he would hire all of us for and he constantly pushed back the date he claimed work would start. He was a real “smooth talker” as we say. Things started to get negative with him badmouthing every person that left when they found paid industry work.

    There were many questionable practices he employed that would make this discussion too long, but in the end I left because he sexually harassed one of the female interns (judging from email evidence and her personal accounts).

    Did the experience at least help get my foot in the door? Not at all. I have since gone for more schooling to sharpen my skills in the field I have been only working at contract jobs referred via personal contacts I have made there, and have even removed this experience from my resume because of its negative memories for me and the fact that companies don’t recognize the name. Bottom line is, if you have the least bit of doubt about a place you are probably right, and if you are going to do the internship thing, at least choose an established company.

  • JJSP follows the “everyone gets paid” rule as well. . .

  • I worked in a corporate media department for 10 years and we gave up on interns. I know the original attraction was “free worker” but they always needed so much supervision and guidance that they were really quite expensive.

    I suppose interns could work in a production line environment where they have one task that is narrowly defined but in a situation where everyone had to be ready to face a new shade of something every day and “get it” real fast the interns required too much baby sitting.

  • This is interesting news. One of my regrets from college is that I wouldn’t take unpaid internships. I didn’t realize how hard it is to get your foot in the door at some places, to even get your resumé looked at. Internship is a way to get in and develop connections if not amass actual work experience in the field. While I had my own sense that it was unfair for people not to be paid for internships, I didn’t know it was actually illegal.

    I’m happy the government is trying to enforce the law because in times like these many employers will try to squeeze employees even more. But that still leaves the issue of how people even get their work considered by some employers. I think strong outreach and apprenticeship programs could work. For example in another field, many local AIGA chapters specifically try to recruit young students in order to make them aware of AIGA and to give them experience and opportunities in the field.

  • During my senior year at art college(1999) I interned for Reelworks Animation in Mpls, MN. They were the only hand-drawn studio in town and I got paid a base rate but honestly I would have done it for free(I did get hired on after graduation)

    Designing characters, painting on cels and getting to shoot those cels on an oxberry…not to mention one of my friends there now works at renegade animation and another at pixar.

    Unpaid internships do sound sketchy but the connections and experience are often invaluable.

  • Thomas Dee

    It’s disgusting the way people are being used under the term “intern”. I’ve seen job listings that require bachelor’s degrees, go on to include a laundry list of software applications the aspirant is expected to have mastered, and list dozens of day to day duties, all offered for no pay at all. Once, the ad said something like, “Help us fulfill our dream of starting our own world class advertising studio!” Amazing.

    Since so many people in the animation and video game industries are thieves, I’d say some regulations are sadly in order. Too many times I’ve met employers who cry poor, cut benefits and wages while they themselves are grossly overcompensated. A little control here might help even the playing field a bit more for the creatives and support people who help make these companies successful.

  • Anonymous

    The majority of the puppet fabrication department at Shadow Animation (Robot Chicken, Titan Maximum) has been unpaid interns for a while. In the past, some of these interns have worked as many as three seasons without seeing a paycheck! Some are hired, but most can’t since there isn’t enough room at the company for all of them.

  • It used to be most internships end up with hiring, But not right now. I had one Paid internship and I didn’t get hired. Another internship gal filled my position and so on. This was Paid internship. I know about seven internship students were in my position. I had another chance and it was Unpaid. and when I talk to them about money, just paying bills, They refuse to call me back and they choose another person. This Game studio fired about 15 people and they wanted to fill all positions with Unpaid internships. I am not kidding and I saw all empty dungeon. They had financial problem and they want to finish a project too. As long as you have money and you want to get experience please feel free and go work for free. But I can not afford to work free. Maybe I wasn’t lucky to get right internship.

  • Interns who work on commercial productions (i.e. anything with a budget) deserve to be financially compensated.

    Still, if I was a college student looking for an internship, I would be most concerned with finding one that actually allowed me to learn things relevant to the career path I had in mind.

    I have a hard time understanding how someone interested in being a part of the creative work process in this industry would benefit from dusting and straightening picture frames, changing trash can liners, making coffee or wiping door knobs.

  • Hey JP, I assume your wife work for ethical people . Many companies would just use interns as free employees for a spell of time without even considering them as potetial full time workers.

  • startstop

    I never work unless I get paid. Plain and simple. Why do anything for a company’s ownership if the company doesn’t want to acknowledge your trade? Job seekers EARN A DEGREE for these skills that they pay insane amount of tuition for! It’s ridiculous!

    Here’s another NYC studio that does this: Augenblick. Yes, Augenblick. They make great work, but the only way you’re possibly able to start working for them is through an unpaid internship.

    I should contact Asterisk soon…

  • I am a current animation undergrad student at a college in Ohio. I go to conferences and animation festivals every year and every job panel has told us that having an internship at a studio is one of the most important things to get hired into the industry out of school. If that’s the case then I wouldn’t mind working for free for a short period of time. But its rather hard or impossible to receive an internship at a smaller studio if your not a local…

  • disgruntled

    at jupey:

    that’s great that your friends ended up at renegade, but they don’t pay their interns either i worked for free for 3 months for them!

  • Ben K.

    Well, thank you very much for both the post and the comments. Hopefully this will help with my unpaid internship search…

  • Drew

    I’ve had a paid internship for over a year in a fairly large NYC animation studio. I’m just finishing up my second year of art school. It would be nice to get paid a little more according to the work i’m doing, but I guess that makes me work even harder sometimes, trying to get noticed. They do not overwork me or have me doing crazy jobs that don’t relate to my purpose. This internship is just as important as my school. I try to be there as much as possible and get my hands onto any project I can. I’ve met a lot of professionals and made a lot of friends interning.

    Life isn’t easy as an intern, but that’s the sacrifice an amateur filmmaker needs to make if they want to learn and see the way professionals work.

    I could never do an unpaid internship…..

    One: As a student and intern, I have no time for a side job. Which means the internship has been my only source of income for the last year. plus rare freelance work…

    Two: Even dogs don’t do tricks, without a reward….

  • While it’s great for some of you who feel you have benefitted from unpaid internships, by doing so you devalue your own craft and make it tougher for others. The real people who benefit are those simply not paying for work they’re getting.

    If that anonymous post about Shadow Animation is true, that’s an absolute disgrace. That’s not an internship, it’s slave labour. That building should be stormed, the slaves freed and their evil overlords jailed. Regardless of whether those slaves are there willingly.

    It’s like animation industry Stockholm syndrome at work here.

    Thing is, Robcat2075 is absolutely right – often having some new kid around is far more trouble than it’s worth. Which means that, to do so, those companies need those positions filled. It’s not that they don’t need anyone and they’re bringing people on out of the goodness of their heart. They need work done as part of their productions.

    And so they should pay for that work.

    Some of the responses here remind me of that story of the woman kept in a box for seven years.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve had trouble finding work since I moved to New York. I’ve taken a thirty hour a week unpaid internship. However, I have to work 7 days a week, at 4 different jobs, in order to stay above water. I’m learning a lot, but I’m doing a large amount of work for this studio, including storyboarding, hand drawn animation, set building and deconstruction, and design. I feel like I’m doing so much that I’m entitled to compensation. I’m not willing to say anything, because I can’t find work. It’s a difficult situation.

  • Alberto

    Isn’t it also true that if the intern displays a strong work ethic that it usually leads to a paid position at the company they interned at, couldn’t an internship just be viewed as a training session or a really long interview process?

  • Thank you Amid for bringing up this issue. For young animators trying to get ” a foot in the door”, it has always been a messy and heartbreaking process, more so now in such hard economic times. When I got into animation in the mid 70s, Old Timers told me to expect getting screwed at least once or twice in the beginning. They called it “paying your dues”. And I was. No websites back then to complain on.

    In LA, interns work for salary or college extra credit. 839 guild rules are interns should not be working on production-i.e. generating art. They do the menial tasks as they shadow artists and observe real production taking place. They are free to ask critique of their own work from the in-house pros. They should be free to come and go, to not interfere with their studies.

    For the student bewildered about how to begin their entry into the private sector, or needing one or two more units to complete their senior year, an internship is a handy alternative.

    Every system is subject to abuse. The point is to raise awareness of people taking advantage of the system, but in the process let’s try not to scare off graduates or potential employers of interns from a valuable halfway step to achieving this first great transition.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the copious use of unpaid interns at Robot Chicken is unethical at best. And when they ask for a real, paid position, even one with sub-par pay, they are told there isn’t the budget. I am sure the interns feel really great about seeing all of the new and expensive cars of the higher ups in the parking lot, too.

  • I had a positive internship experience, but it was also paid, and we also did actual creative work (not wiping door handles). I would not have done it if it was unpaid.

    I understand that you gotta do what you gotta do to get a foot in the door, and that’s just the way things are in this industry, but I’d like it if some forms of exploitive behavior (i.e. unpaid internships) were no longer the accepted standard.

  • I hope I’m not double posting, I don’t see my earlier comment as ‘awaiting moderation’.

    I’m graduating from Sheridan in just a few weeks and over the past years I’ve done 2 unpaid summer internships and 1 paid summer internship.
    I’m extremely happy that I went for these opportunities and it has only made me a better artist and animator. The unpaid internships were after my 1st and 2nd year of school (at the same place), the studio covered my transportation costs and was flexible with my schedule. I learned more there than I did during my first 2 years of school. Plus while I was interning there for free, I met others, who were a few years ahead of me at Sheridan, who were interning for school credit.
    At Sheridan, after your 3rd year of animation, you’re required to do a summer internship. There’s a fee of around $500 that get’s added to our tuition to participate in the internship program, which is required to graduate. My 3rd internship was a paid position and I got to work on ‘The Princess and the Frog’ doing clean-up inbetweens.

    So the approximate 600 free hours I put it (which is a little over $5000 at minimum wage) have put me in a really good place for when I graduate. My work has improved, I learned stuff they never taught at school and I think I have a decent amount of connections for someone still in school.

    As a student, I would much rather work for free and learn a lot than get paid to do mindless work that I can’t learn much from.

  • Bighead

    I go to a really expensive school, and every once and a while if we’re lucky, we get reps from animation companies to come in and talk to us about internships.

    I won’t say who, but an animation studio came in to talk about their internship program. This was a studio I had always considered working for, and I wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment on trying to get an internship.

    But as these reps stood up there and talked about the program, I realized that it was unpaid, AND you also had to be enrolled in school at the same time. You also had to be at your internship on location.

    So basically, you have to take online classes, work yourself to death in the hopes that you can keep your position and turn that internship into a real job someday, AND also pay for living on location with the money your not making.

    Someone already stated this, but you’re paying your school, and paying to live. What do you do for food? Turn your drawing paper into a hut, burn your bad drawings for heat, and eat your pencil shavings?

    Where does it make sense?

    Point is, I feel I’m very qualified for an internship with this company, but I’m not even going to apply. Unpaid internships are unfair, and these studios just eat it up. They DEFINITELY have the money to spend on new talent too.

  • Anonymous

    Summer before last, New York animation studio World Leaders Entertainment had all of their summer interns packaging and sending out T-shirts.

    This was very illegal, as the T-shirt enterprise was definitely for-profit. They sent out a lot of shirts and someone there(either the studio or the show creators?) was definitely making bank from it. I had a friend who went there expecting animation work and basically got tricked into slave labor. I don’t know if they’re still doing this but it was completely unethical and illegal but I guess it flew under the radar.

    Animation students looking for internships: do your research and beware!

  • michiel

    Not beign payed or being payed a little for your work during an internship does make it posible for you to be able to work in the studio learn new skills try out new things and you do not have to be productive all the time. and let other peaple spent time helping you and giving you advise.

    But then again if they want you to work like a normal employe whit no room for your learing goals they should pay you normaly. also if they just let you do things like getting coffee or cleanig stuff. they should atleast pay you the same amount of a profesional cleaner.

  • elle

    I’d also add that I’ve never interned. I can’t drive, therefore I can’t pick up coffee/dry cleaning/kids, etc. I’ve had no choice but to take paid work that didn’t require errands, and turns out that even though it’s hard to find paying jobs, paying jobs lead to more paying jobs, and now I make a decent salary and have a good position while many of my friends are still interns, 2 years out of school.

  • Hulk

    I did a few internships at a few studios during college. Most of them paid a small amount which as a college student, I was glad to get most of the time. Some did lead to jobs which were good.

    What’ve been worse have been the sleaze-bag “Producers” I’ve met in LA who try to get free work from you without even the pretense of calling it an “internship”. Instead they call it a “collaboration”. And by “collaboration” they mean ‘You just do all the work- produce my idea for me and I’ll try to sell it and get all the money and credit’. Every one of their crappy ideas are usually pitched as “The next South Park”.

    At least at the internships, the studios were willing to fill out paperwork and give you school credit. These “producers” freak out if you ask them to sign a contract. And forget about asking for pay. The best of them just cry poverty but the rest act like you’re ingrateful for asking for payment. They try to make it seem like they’re doing you a favor by letting you produce their idea for them for free.

    They’re alot like the Belldown in ‘Coraline’. They try to trick and entice you with magic and treats but in the end they just want to use you up and spit you out. Welcome to Hollywood!

  • Bitternonymous

    What’s gonna work? Employee exploitation.

    I worked at the aforementioned children’s television studio for just over a year and my ex-girlfriend interned there. There is a lot of employee and intern abuse going on at that studio. They treat their creative staff with zero respect. It’s true that the interns there are mostly responsible for doing dishes, putting away folding chairs, and emptying trash. The senior staff excels at taking advantage of recent graduates who are desperate for employment and experience and who are too naive to realize when they’re being abused. The employees there are very unhappy, but when I was there everyone was always too afraid to speak up about it.

    They make a lot of false promises to get what they want out of their young interns and employees. They also make empty threats and use scare tactics to frighten people into going the extra mile to meet tight deadlines. It’s very manipulative. Factor in the large quantities of unpaid overtime and you have a recipe for a miserable working environment.

    It’s a shame that such a company would receive a Crain’s Small Business Award. Obviously most people are still fooled by the company’s shiny facade and impressive studio space.

    One other thing: The artists there routinely use copyrighted images pulled from flickr and google image search to create characters and environments for shows. The animators are frequently denied lunch breaks and the studio instead “buys lunch” for the artist who then works straight through what should have been his or her only time away from the desk between the hours of 9:30 and 6:30 (or whenever he or she is allowed to go home – many regularly stayed until 8 or later while I was there).

  • Anon

    How is packaging and mailing out t-shirts slave labor? I had to roll more than a hundred posters with a few other people for a contest at one point in my internship and I’m not crying out for my forty acres. Who else is supposed to do it? The board artists? Internships shouldn’t be entirely menial labor, but sometimes that is part of the job. Sometimes you get to create artwork, sometimes you’re running errands, but you’re there to learn about the production, pay your dues, and help out whoever needs you. And folding t-shirts isn’t the same thing as picking tobacco for eighteen hours without the option of quitting.

    Back on topic, are unpaid internships and internships for credit being counted as the same thing? Because almost all of the major studios I’ve read about will only due unpaid internships for school credit. Which honestly seems like the bigger screw because if you’re not in school they won’t consider you.

  • Anon

    Bitternonymous – Third. I know a handful of people who used to work there and upper management was described as a load of Umbridge-types. Very passive aggressive, disrespectful of their employees, and a bit creepy.

  • On principle, I think that unpaid internships, especially when done shadily (t-shirt packaging/doorknob-wiping, flat-out doing whole productions, etc.) are awful. However, I would leap at just about any opportunity. I think most young aspiring animators would, even with months without pay, simply for a shot.

    It seems like the fresh talent pool is not very well capitalized-on, nowadays. I’m a fast learner, and I’m desperate for opportunity. But where is there to go but unpaid? (I think it’s far worse to do it for college credit; my school has no business receiving thousands of dollars for me learning from somebody else). Options seem especially bleak due to outsourcing, the prevalence of 3d animation (in which I don’t have interest) and ugly cartoons (who wants to learn poor quality?)

    … All that said, if there’s anybody out there willing to let me draw for them…

  • Rachel Gitlevich

    If i understand correctly the purpose of an internship is to gain experience in the field you wish to enter into. It is a learning experience. You are trading free labor for connections, experience, resume points, and education. I did an internship for a small animation studio in N.Y., and was enchanted with the amount of first hand experience I was getting. I learned a lot from the internship. Did it suck that I spent roughly 500 dollars that summer commuting? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

    I think that its unfair to make overarching statements like “unpaid internships are bad.” It really depends on what you are doing. If the student is whiping doorhandles, then that is an absoulte desgrace, and I agree that the employers should be prosecuted. But the internship experience I had let me explore the industry side of animation without the risk of ruining my career and reputation.

    However…as wonderful as internships are, i feel like a line needs to be drawn.

    There should be a clear and concise difference between undergraduate internships, and graduate ones. I know too many talented students who have graduated and are on their 3rd or 4th internships. That is ridiculous. That is being taken advantage of.

    Also, “bad economy” is a bullshit excuse. I’m sorry. People will still be paying money and saving for things they feel are important. And if I remember correctly the entertainment industry tends to do well during recessions. So the money is there, its just that its being dammed up by greed.

  • You have undoubtedly heard it said: “The laborer is worthy of his reward.”

    It shocks me that so many companies and individuals ignore this basic principle, because it says so much about their deeper disrespect for their fellow humans.

  • I would like to point out that there are conditions under which unpaid internships are fine, along the lines of the employer providing valuable training and the student getting the most benefit from the relationship (see the article for specifics).

    All of the comments about the animation business here are making me rethink my career aspirations. Maybe I’ll just do freelance work instead.

  • Simon Stahl

    I did a paid internship for SMK Productions (The Wayans Bros.) working on an animated special. It was a great experience, and after I got through basic PA tasks I was allowed to work on development art. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it weren’t paid, since I had to move to a different city.

    I think unpaid internships are fine, as long as you’re either actually learning a lot and building skills or have a realistic chance of getting a paid job after a predetermined time frame. If it’s unpaid, you should be enjoying it and come out with something good for your reel. Doing menial work for free on the hope that you might get paid at some point is a bad idea.

    I actually got a phone call once from something called Studio Bee. They wanted me to pay something like 3 grand to enroll in their training course, but after completing it they’d give me freelance work. I wasn’t willing to take that risk for a studio I’d never heard of. Does anyone know anything about this studio?

  • Donald Benson

    Anybody here ever see “Enter Laughing?” It was a Carl Reiner comedy about his start in show biz. He gets a part in a play for $5 a week — he pays them.

    After a semi-triumphant opening, he is told he can act for nothing. Success beyond his wildest dreams.

    The more things change . . .

  • anony

    I also worked at Little Airplane for a time and unfortunately it’s all pretty true. I observed the intern abuse and warned my friends still in school not to intern there.

    Having said that, I did two unpaid internships which I have never regretted. I wanted to learn some skills I wasn’t getting out of art school so I found a studio doing the kind of animation I was interested in and asked to intern. I went in one day a week and they usually bought me lunch. They taught me a tremendous amount and later offered me some paid freelance. The second unpaid internship was at a much bigger studio and I really cut my teeth there. After working on a couple of projects (and not being paid) I proved myself and was hired as a “permalancer.” While at that studio I gained valuable skills and experience for my resume that are pretty rare in animation. I think this was the perfect example of a “foot in the door” internship.

    However, I strongly agree with the statement that doing any unpaid internship cheapens the value of everyone. If all animators can agree to refuse all unpaid internships then maybe we can get somewhere. While in art school I noticed that many of my friends who were other majors (architecture, industrial design) all had paid internships. This is because they expect them and no one would even think of taking an unpaid one. Change needs to happen with the mindsets of animation students and recent grads, as well as with the studios.

  • Curiousity Kills

    I recently did an unpaid “internship”, but none of the work is going to be seen by anyone but the Money. Basically i “worked” on a pitch. I’m curious what people’s viewpoint on that will be. Obviously I would have preferred to be paid, but I’ve put myself to sleep at night by telling myself that I was paid in reputation. I can’t really use any of the work for my reel, and I am still unemployed. Is this a lost cause?

  • T M

    I have been offered a few internships at my time in school, but have had to turn all of them down because they were unpaid. I and many I know cannot afford to survive in the cities these studios are located in without pay. It is a bit unfair to expect your interns to travel, hold down housing, Keep up with expenses, and produce work for the studio all while not being paid. Starving students can only tolerate so much.

    Even a living expenses stipend would help. Just so you can find a corner to rent out in some ghetto in the San Fernando Valley.

  • Alberto, it could only be seen as a long interview process (a drawn-out exploititive one) if the purpose of the ‘interview’ was simply to weed out those who eventually expect to be paid for their work.

    Yes, it’s tough to get your foot in the door. It’s also pretty tough to make any kind of steady living in this business.

    And, on both counts, those of you accepting unpaid internship positions are part of the problem.

    Every time you accept the exploitation of yourself, do work for no money or even less money, you are sabotaging your own craft, your own end of the industry, your peers and your co-workers both old and new. And the people at the top who, let’s face it, in some cases are quite possibly far less skilled than you, are probably laughing their asses off.

    Stockholm syndrome in full effect.

    Many of you have been exploited, taken advantage of, and not only do you accept it, but some of you are grateful for it.

  • While in college I applied for internships for college credit, but all places I applied to rejected me in form or another. Though, I will admit to being selective in that I only applied to places I thought could help me learn and gain real world experience. In that I mean I applied only to places like Nick, CN, Disney, Titmouse, etc but I chose not to pursue internship offerings for places like the Anaheim city hall or graphic design firms. Since I was unable to obtain an internship, I’ve found it difficult to get my foot in the door, where most of my friends that I had graduated with that landed an internship are now happily working away at an art job in a studio. Since I had graduated before I was accepted as an intern, I’ve found it frustrating trying to find something comparable to an internship for people not trying to get college credit. I had tried for several years applying for PA jobs (which to date I’ve never even been called for an interview), and entry level artist positions that at best would get me an occasional test but no employment or even feedback. It wasn’t until recently that I was finally able to land an entry level art job at a legitimate studio, which only came about because they had to let someone go mid production and I had a good friend working there that recommended me. But it had taken me 6 years after graduation to even reach this point. Basically, I wish there was a better way for people to get their foot in the door when not going for college credit. I’m not saying unpaid work is the answer, but there needs to be some way for determined people to get that in studio experience and learn from real working pros. Just wish I knew what that was.

  • annonymous

    SUPERJAIL! How do you think that was made?

    Unpaid internship is free labor…. who can afford to work for free? Seriously, this is not acceptable( OR LEGAL!!!!), along with lots of other ways artists are treated.

    It will stop when people stop accepting it.

  • As someone who is going to be looking for internships here very soon… this is a nice and scary article to read. But I do suppose this is the reality and I can at least know what to be on the lookout for when the time comes.

  • A

    Little Airplane also makes their interns dress up in gorilla costumes and dance around for one of the senior staff’s birthday.

  • I can verify that gorilla costume story. I saw that. I guess it didn’t strike me at the time but that is really funny. Wow! Seriously though, I am interested to know how many people were truly unhappy with their internships. I am thinking about a poll. If I put my poll out there for all of you- would you be interested? Would you take my poll?

  • Celia

    It’s been 12 years since I’ve interned, but working in New York has opened my eyes to how internships have changed.

    Some unpaid interns are asked to do only menial work, and some are doing ONLY hands-on creative work. Which is worse?

    Generally, unpaid interns don’t complain if they enjoy their experience. How does one do that? From my observations: treat them as equals. Give them some creative freedom. Mentor them. Include them in after-work functions. Put their names in the credits of their production.

    The studios who do these things will continue to supplement their staff with with happy, unpaid interns. The ones who can’t, well… end up in this NY Times article!

  • different opinion?

    Pretty much everything that was mentioned about said studio is true.The interns could get a bit more animation experience and less trash duty.I do know of a few people though who eventually got hired from being an intern.They were kids with great personalities ,tons of talent,and showed initiative.The interns there are not the cream of the crop,so i don’t really want to have to defend the studio at all,but why would college kids/interns think they deserve to get paid yet for work they are doing,they are there to learn.

    Also,the superjail thing always makes me think, these kids are gonna complain if they dont get to do work,and complain if they do.

    i sound like an old grumpy man ,i’m hearing everything being said,and i agree in part,in the end its just people should be fair,and there should be jobs for everyone,but they aren’t and there isn’t.So be persistent and prove yourself capable and stop whining.

    an honest tip though is don’t be afraid to talk to and hang out with the studio workers,especially at a place that hires younger kids,they are more than happy to show you how and what they do,and maybe help you pick up some work thats leftover.

  • Artists should also be compensated for taking tests for a job as well.
    You are hired based on the merit of your portfolio and reel. If a company needs further proof of work and ability, they should contact the artist’s references on their resume.
    I believe a company asking an artist to take their time to do a test without compensation on a job they may or may not get is as unethical as an unpaid internship.

  • ty

    …wiping doors and stuff sucks, but I’m pretty sure at least one of those dancing gorillas went on to be production manager…

  • Hey Ty,

    long time man, hope all is well.

  • Dad

    I too was present for the dancing gorilla spectacle at Little Airplane. I felt terrible for the interns, to the point where it made me sick to my stomach. The people in charge there should be ashamed of themselves.

  • it’s all true.

    i know this is supposed to be a discussion about paid vs. unpaid internships, but everything everyone has said about little airplane is true, and i applaud you all for speaking up about it. during my stint at little airplane i was immersed in the most unethical, hopeless, miserable working environment i’ve ever encountered. to say that the senior staff employed the orwellian methods of doublespeak and doublethink would not be an exaggeration. 2 + 2 = 5. employees were condescended to, lied to, yelled at, coerced, and manipulated. tears were not an uncommon sight. in my opinion the “business” conducted at that place borders on criminal. honesty and real, two-way communication with the upper management was not an option, despite many valiant efforts on the part of the lesser employees — the creatives. regular staffers were typically treated like children….and bad ones at that.

    about that upwardly mobile dancing gorilla — people who moved up in rank there typically did so by agreeing to tow the party line at ***ANY COST***, including sacrificing the emotional wellbeing of the people working under them. people need to know about the abuse that has occurred at little airplane productions. it has gone on for far too long. when i was there, the employees were essentially bound and gagged by their fear of unemployment and/or a soiled reputation. in my opinion, everyone should have walked a long time ago. the smiling face that the studio presents to the world at all the conferences and industry gatherings they attend (usually it’s just one or two “elite” representatives who accompany the studio’s founder-owner to such events) is the polar opposite of what really goes on there.

  • also anon

    it’s really sad that interns are being put to use like that–as a former employee, I saw it firsthand. But even worse was the continual psychological abuse inflicted by employers on the entire workforce. LAP fostered a hostile, passive-aggressive environment of learned helplessness to keep its employees in check. Even compensated employees, who strove for constantly higher standards of quality, were stuck with the creative equivalent of taking out the garbage and doing the dishes. How they treat interns reflects on how they operate their entire business.

    These are the realities of working for someone else, but this in particular was a perfect storm of carefully-bred insecurities that kept people constantly unhappy, sleepless, and somehow incapable of leaving despite much better alternatives. promises, promises, promises. Even employees who offered truly constructive criticisms–in efforts to fix the problems–were met with fake smiles. I’m guessing producers were pitted against producers in similar manners.

    my strategy for taking jobs has evolved since. And this is more to topic; don’t work for someone unless you’re learning something, or unless you’re making money. on an ideal job, you’ll get both of these things.

    and that’s when working in this industry is truly awesome.

  • startstop

    @anonymous (I know there are LOT of them here, so bear with me)-
    I did mention Augenblick as another prime example in this article yesterday. Superjail is no different. I talked with no person who used to work there, and suggested I contact one of the bigger studios. … which means… Augenblick is a small studio? By today’s conditions, what constitutes small?

  • Art

    I have a friend who interns for Sony as a programmer he doesn’t get paid either. I think it depends on the person to make the internships worthwhile. I only stayed interning somewhere I was learning something and I never interned for to long. I got my knowledge and left. And one of my internships led to a job.

  • Another Testimonial

    Here to third? fourth? fifth? the stories about the Little Airplane enviroment.
    “regular staffers were typically treated like children….and bad ones at that.”
    Absolutely true. Reprimands for briefly chatting to coworkers while on duty, having to sit on the floor in front of senior staffers on a daily basis for meetings – I even recall a company meeting where employees were made write to down what they would change about the company…in crayon. Of course, what they wrote was not anonymous and no one felt comfortable publicly airing their grievances, knowing there would probably be repercussions.
    And these were the paid employees. I always sympathized with the interns.

  • Art

    I was just reading something that Patrick Tuorto just wrote, and i remember going on a rant with my friends about this. That we should totally get paid to take tests. Some of the tests I use to take took like half a day.

    And i just want to add that most of my internships were ussaully once a week. I think the internships they have at Curious where you have to go in atleast 4 to 5 days which I did was very brutal for me.

  • more please

    If the writer of the Times article stumbles onto this page, will you kind sir please write a follow up. there is much more to mine here.

  • Anonymous

    I won’t go into detail, but I remember busting my a** for one company in Brooklyn I interned for. The company had a HUGE HUGE HUGE number of unpaid interns. I donated a TON of my time and went out of my way to stay a few hours after I was supposed to leave. Needless to say, my efforts were kind of pointless. After many attempts of networking (sending them my demo reel and a letter of thank you), I wasn’t called to help out again. Granted, I did learn a lot, but it’s just one of the reasons why I decided to work independently on my films and leave this destructive industry. I’m a lot happier and my wallet’s happier too.

  • Anonymous

    Another thing to be mentioned is that unpaid internships are horrible if you live in a city like NYC. NYC is unbearably expensive and when you look at hassle to benefit ratio, it’s just not worth it.

  • Chris S

    For many of those who can afford to do an unpaid internship, by the end of it they may find themselves sapped of all their resources and still jobless. If studios only look for people with either years of experience and those who will take unpaid interns, it really gives a lot of people fresh out of school just one chance to intern at the right place. Especially because if you have to intern at several places, the impression upon you is that you aren’t really hireable. Good luck, graduates!

    I’m paying off my 20k MFA in animation with unemployment, more debt, and promises. Wish a had a fraction of that money again to transfer to a new career.

  • I interned at Frederator’s NYC offices when Dan Meth was there and it was probably the best internship I’ve ever had. There was the boring work, but it was always rewarded with getting new, more exciting responsibilities. And because it was such a tight group, I got to help Dan out with the Meth Minute a few times, even getting some creative input. And, of course, there was the opportunity to talk to Fred and get his view on producing and all that good stuff. I go to a school where internships are required every year, so I’ve found them to be really helpful, but I’ve definitely done work that the NYT article says I ought to have been paid for. But in the end, you want to make a good impression, and if you do the job well then it definitely helps you in the long run with a good reference and a possible promotion to do something really great.

  • Scarabim

    I’m an artist, but not an animator. And I read the above stories, and I’m just appalled. All the successful animated films out there, and yet the job situation for animators seems awful. The studios are being downright beastly. What a crappy way to treat talent. For my part, I can report that interning, especially the kind linked to college courses, can be a deceptive lure. One of the colleges I attended did not offer an actual animation course, but it was one of the colleges the Disney folks visited to choose interns. Some of my fellow students were counting on those internships for actual animation training. The school led them to believe that Disney was only looking for good sketchbooks and good figure drawing. And then when the time came to choose interns, Disney chose candidates from schools that – you guessed it – trained their students in animation. The school had lied to prospective students to make money. Despicable. I don’t think any of those students ever went into actual animation. So I guess the lesson is: beware not only of unpaid internships, but also of schools which use the promises of internships to gain students who would be better off elsewhere. Otherwise those students could end up with a heavy debt load and nothing to show for it.

  • elle

    Hmm, my pending comment never went through it seems.

    I have friends who’ve had 6+ creative internships and still can’t get jobs, because apparently interning doesn’t count as “experience”, despite the massive amounts of illegal production work that most interns are subjected to. I honestly don’t know if I know a single person who’s been hired after an internship.

    LA, from what I’ve seen, has the worst of this, as virtually all entertainment industry entry level jobs have disappeared in favor of “internships”. Even minimum-wage PA positions require 3+ years “experience” in answering telephones and making photocopies.

    Bosses these days are more than happy to have 3 unpaid interns instead of one trained (and paid) full-time assistant. It cuts costs, certainly, and they can be abused since they’re not “real”, contractual employees. I had an intern assigned to me last year; she was a grad student, very smart, and my boss wouldn’t even pay her a stipend for food & travel. In essence she was PAYING to work for us. I was glad when she quit after a month.

    Agree 100% with other commenters that a bigger spotlight should be shone on businesses who abuse interns so readily. This practice does a HUGE disservice to the future creative workforce.

  • The issue is not whether internships benefit the worker or offer possible avenues of advancement -they generally do.

    Internships, as they are utilized at most animation companies in New York are against labor law.

    Beneficial or exploitative have no bearing. They are illegal, plain and simple (just as most “independent contractors” should be paid as employees).

    Maybe there should be a “trainee” code to labor law which enables entry level workers to be hired at lower rates for these positions. Maybe the whole code should be abolished.

    As it stands, companies who rely on free labor are in violation of the law which allows for a competitive/pricing advantage over companies who follow labor standards.

  • I agree with Pat Tuorto on the testing issue(sorry to get off the issue of interns). I’ve been working in this field for almost 20 years and still I’m asked to take tests. These test are daunting sometimes and take days to do. The testing is out of control, I have never gotten paid for a test and the understanding is that if I refuse to take it I will not be considered for the job despite the years of experience and countless examples that I can show of similar styles. To add insult to injury, I’m not even given a phone call to let me know that I didn’t get the job, something that would only take about 20 seconds of someones time.The only time I have been given a phone call were the four times I tested for LA studios. NY has a real attitude problem.

  • Anonymous

    In college, I interned at four major production studios in NYC and spent several years post-graduation working for Little Airplane.

    First, I will also sadly verify the LAP stories… the gorillas, the psychological abuse, all of it. I knew what I was getting into when I accepted the position years ago, but I simply had no other viable options. The studio’s wealth of talented and dedicated employees says more about the hunger and desperation of the NYC animation workforce than anything else. You do what you gotta do.

    Looking back on my internships, they were all pretty positive experiences. Sometimes I got to do some creative work, and sometimes I spent quality time with the photocopier. The two main things I feel I gained from them were 1) industry connections and 2) knowledge of daily office life. College doesn’t prepare you for waking up early, being cooped up in an office for 9+ hours, corporate politics, or putting up with a douchey supervisor. Since I was pretty accustomed to the animation office MO by the time I graduated, it made the whole transition to 9-5 life a lot less distasteful than it might have been otherwise. Internships teach you how to be a worker and not a student. I think its important and beneficial, even though it does suck to not be paid. That said, I draw the line at cleaning, physical labor, and public humiliation- no promise of a job is worth your self-respect.

    Finally, I find the whole internships ONLY “for college credit” OR for “recent grads” thing totally frustrating… and this seems to be the deal at most feature animation studios. There are a lot of talented, hardworking people out there who deserve that foot in the door just as much (if not more) as the college kid/recent grad. If it were for a place I DREAMED of working for, I’d intern there in a heartbeat, pay or not. All I want is the opportunity to show somebody I can kick ass… I’ll photocopy with a degree and 3+ years working experience. What gives?

  • G. Melissa Graziano

    If the person hiring me is getting paid, then so should I.

    As a Graduate student who has spent her last three Aprils buffing up her portfolio in hopes of landing a paid internship (in vain, so far), I’ve nearly run out of patience for the process. I refuse to take an unpaid internship, because, like most of the people here, I believe that paying to be employed is unethical and illegal. I don’t mind getting paid less than Guild wages, because technically I’m still a student and don’t have the experience to earn the “big bucks”. That I admit. But I still have to feed, clothe and shelter myself and my family while living in L.A., and no amount of “maybe I’ll get hired!”s will pay the rent.

    I understand I’ve got to “pay my dues” but I’ve already been screwed enough by taking ridiculously low-paying gigs, thank you very much.

    I’ve also been frustrated with the stories I’ve heard about some people who DO get high-profile paid internships, and totally waste the opportunity; they complain, they’re lazy, they don’t do the work (or don’t know how to), they don’t try to learn anything. Sometimes interns are the nieces/nephews/children of higher-ups with no interest in the business at all. Of course, this doesn’t represent all, or even most interns. Those who do work hard, of course, often get kept on. But what about those of us who would bust our @$$es if we were in the same situation, but who weren’t given the opportunity to even try?

    I’ve talked to professional storyboard artists about how to break into the business without having to do an unpaid internship, and they were often at a loss. They wish there was some sort of paid apprenticeship program at the studios, especially since at places like Nickelodeon interns aren’t allowed to do any artwork. And so, dearly, do I.

    Being paid for tests would be nice, but I don’t see it as being as important as being paid for an internship.

    Also, getting involved in a shady project with a producer who won’t pay you “until after the show’s been bought” isn’t the same as an unpaid internship, and in my opinion should be flat-out ignored. And NEVER do anything without signing a contract!

  • former intern

    I am happy to see that so many people are speaking out about this!!!!

    Everyone should have a right to say the truth…..

    I am grateful for the internships I have taken when I was a student because I built my resume and reel up and that has lead to freelance jobs and a current staff position. People need experience working in a studio environment and I know how much I learned about workflow and countless other things that I couldn’t have know any other way….

    However- That said…..

    I graduated in May, and had a really hard time finding work. I didn’t want to take an unpaid internship but after the summer, I was so desperate to find ANYTHING to do, i ended up taking an unpaid position at a company called Click 3X. It was one of the worst decisions I have made. I chose to work 5 days a week because I thought that if I was there all the time, I would become so integrated in the production pipeline that they wouldn’t want to get rid of me. In order to be compensated for lunch, you had to show a receipt, so you had to eat out in order to get any money for the day and they had a cap on $10. I worked there for 2 1/2 months and hated it. I was thrilled to get fired for telling off a creative director. I felt completely taken advantage of- I showed up early and left late, once staying past 9 pm to try to impress the producers. The carrot that was dangled in front of me was a full time job- as it is with most of these places.

    I would never work there again. I would never take another unpaid internship. I am glad that I put in my dues but I am thankful to be in a position where I don’t need to do that anymore…..

  • Rebecca

    First of all I have to say this to Scarabim:

    A small percentage of people are ever chosen for a paid internship for Disney that don’t have an education in animation. Why is this? Because they have to choose out of thousands of applicants every term, and to be frank, most students that attend an animation program tend to be better at animation than students who don’t. They don’t care if your school has an animation program or not, as long as you are in school, and your work is damn good.

    Onto the internship experience. I was one of the lucky people who was able to participate in a Walt Disney Animation Studios internship, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. The internship was paid, lasted 10 weeks, and we didn’t make any coffee runs, or wipe door handles, or dance in gorilla suits. Each of us were assigned to shadow a professional employee at the studio, and given actual exercises to work on. I wish that more studios would be like this with their interns. I know Disney is on a different scale with their employees than smaller companies, but an internship, especially an unpaid one, should not be reduced to doing work you weren’t hired for.

    The situation with internships like those at Little Airplane are ridiculous. The people instigating these situations, and keeping this “tradition” running need to get with this century, and they need to just grow up. Just “you” had to endure hardships and humiliating tasks to get to the position you are at now does not mean that you should impose those same issues on your underlings, that’s just infantile… It kind of sickens me to think that this kind of stuff goes on, it’s comparable to bullies in elementary schools.

  • The biggest problem is, if animation companies suddenly are forced to pay their interns by the government, sure enough they’ll find someone in an Asian country to do it for free under the guise that they will later get more outsourcing work.

    I hate the US economy.

  • Sean, they’ll have a hard time outsourcing the gorilla suit performances or door-wiping. At least, at the rates they’re paying for such services.

  • former intern

    @ Sean – Yes, out sourcing sucks but the fact of the mater is, –

    Once a company knows that an individual WILL WORK FOR FREE, they WILL WANT them to WORK FOR FREE.

    So, as long as animators are UN-WILLING to DEMAND a fair, living wage- these sorts of thing WILL continue……

    This is why it is sooooooooo important for the community to be able to have these types of discussions without censorship. Everyone needs to be able to have access to truthful, correct information…..

  • Lauren Horoszewski

    I did an unpaid internship last summer, but it was an incredible opportunity. It was hard to go for a couple months with no pay, but in my opinion, totally worth it. The studio let me build my own puppets for my MFA film on the hours that I wasn’t scheduled to help them. It was extremely cool of them to let me use their studio space, and expertise in the stop-motion field, which undoubtedly will help my chances of getting a job in the future!

  • Heisenberg

    How are these people living during their internships? What about rent, and food and transportation? Most of these internships last for months, if not the better part of a year, and that’s some serious coin.

    Do their parents pay for it? Are they living with friends? Do they put it all onto credit cards or take out a bank loan to finance their free labour enterprise? Maybe they have a rich spouse, or inherited some sort of fund?

    I can’t imagine working 30-40 hours a week in a studio, and then working nights and weekends (for let’s face it, probably minimum wage) at the same time, and living like a pauper unless I had no education and no experience at all and desperately needed the opportunity.

  • ThatPersonThere

    The stories posted here about Little Airplane Productions are true. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. As one of the mid-level managers who once worked there, I can tell you that there was a general feeling among my associates that — in all seriousness — the folks in upper management were part of some cult. It was the only way we could explain their very bizarre behavior, especially that which was negatively directed towards the employees. It was a miserable place to work and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. In short, Little Airplane Productions sucks.

  • Jack

    Wait till you see what Digital Domain has in store to profit from this with the upcoming DD university in florida, we were told by john textor the owner of DD that ” nothing beats free” in terms of the free labor they expect to receive after training all the student who will flood to DD school in hopes of one day working there.

    There will be 2 schools one in florida and one in china.

  • HarrryLime

    I have done a 6 month internship through my high school a few years back. My art teacher was friends with the studio owner, and he was looking to see if he had any potential students interested in animation.

    Needless to say I took the opportunity. I got more out of my 6 months of learning art then high school could give me. To be fair the studio head and artists were more like teachers to me than anything else. I didn’t do any real work for them until my final weeks there. Even then what little work I did was filling in colors (digitally) on Toucan Sam or Tony the Tiger. I enjoyed my time at the studio getting great direction and learning to actually draw. It was a lot of fun, and I don’t regret the opportunity.

  • MissConception

    What I find ridiculous is that my sister just spent several months being an unpaid intern at a few choice government departments in Washington D.C. So if the government finds it so illegal, perhaps they should practice what they preach and start paying their own interns as well.

  • I recently graduated with my degree in animation and I’m finding it tough to get work and I’d be more than happy to do an internship but I don’t understand how some of them are even physically possible.
    There was an offer for a 3 month unpaid internship in London but I have no idea how you would be able to afford to do that? London is crazy expensive so unless you’re a millionaire that internship seems impossible, I still need to pay rent, bills etc and if I can’t afford rent then I can’t afford to work for three months for free in one of the most expensive cities.

  • I’ve seen, first hand, both side of the unpaid internship in Austin and I will say, if worked properly, it can be a very positive thing- of course it can be horrible too, but so can a paid job, I suppose.

    I was brought on for an unpaid internship at a startup-ish animation and post-house with no relevant schooling (or college degree) or experience about five years ago because they liked my show-posters I was doing on the side, my wife and I moved cities and left descent retail jobs, and I proceeded to bust my hump and make myself as indispensable as possible while working a part-time coffee shop job. Within 6 months I was hired on, mostly because they couldn’t continue the level of work being done after I started without me, and within a year and a half I was a principal CD overseeing one of three offices. I have since been picked up by a national agency and am very happily working in the creative industry and doing better than many of my colleagues who went to school for it.

    This was accomplished mostly through hard work and a little luck, but would not have been possible at all without that unpaid internship. In turn I have had many unpaid interns since and, though I haven’t hired any of them (not for lack of wanting to, just haven’t had the right circumstances yet) I’m always sure they get hands-on, customer or client facing work in their reel, relevant experience, contacts, and I continue to support them in any way I can in a mentoring role.

    I’m not by any means saying unpaid work is ideal, but there are a host of reasons it should be an option, for instance I think a lot of talent is untapped because someone can’t go to college for the profession they’d want (for me it was all about money, having gotten married very young and not having family financial support). So in short, I wouldn’t sell it short as long as it’s not being exploited, which is abominable. That being said though, an unpaid intern is only as abused as they allow themselves to be, as you can genuinely walk out any time you want (something that kept me in check often with my interns).