Cartoon Brew reported on a piece in the New York Times about unpaid internships. Specifically, that they may be illegal. The piece called out Little Airplane, makers of Wonder Pets -
"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."
In the comments in the Cartoon Brew piece, many came on anonymously not only backing it up but making out that things are far, far worse. Unpaid interns being completely mistreated, psychologically abused. Workers being treated like children. If there's any truth to the stories there, it sounds like people are expected to work in hideous and demoralising conditions. For little or no pay.
I actually hope the stories aren't true. I rather like Wonder Pets. It would be terrible to think something so pleasant comes from a place like that.
Little Airplane aren't alone. Other companies are brought up in the comments of the Brew piece, some not paying people for years. Not paying for the work they are getting. Like whole departments of slave labour.
But that wasn't the most horrifying thing of all.
No, there is something much worse buried in the comments of that Brew piece - Stockholm Syndrome for animators.
Many people are taken on as unpaid interns, put to work on productions and not compensated in any way, if any of them are like the allegations aimed at Little Airplane, they are taken advantage of.
And the victims not only accept it. They are grateful.
Grateful for being exploited.
From some Brew comments -"As the work experience I gain allows me to be hired there or elsewhere", "don’t write off the value of the experience", "the unpaid intern spot got me a foot in the door", "couldn’t an internship just be viewed as a training session or a really long interview process?" and more.
Yes, it's hard to get your foot in the door. Harder still to make a steady living in this industry.
And, if you work for free or very little, you are part of the problem.
You are sabotaging your own craft, your own end of the industry, your peers and your co-workers both old and new. You are setting the value of your work at zero. You are setting the value of your co-worker's work at zero. Those new kids who are having a hard time getting a foot in the door, you can be damn sure you're setting the value of their work at zero.
You are part of the problem.
It's hard enough in this business. The power and the money is in all the wrong places. Most people accept the situation as normal but many of these people being exploited or working for very little are more talented than the people doing the exploiting. But those people at the top have the money and the control, creative and otherwise.
Because they won't do a damn thing for free. They don't allow themselves to become victims. And, in cases like these, you can be sure the people at the top, the slave drivers, are laughing their asses off and are getting paid damn well for it. They're getting what they want. Don't kid yourselves that they wouldn't take anyone on if they weren't getting them for free. Anyone who has had anyone hanging around for work experience knows that having a new kid around is often far more trouble than it's worth.
Which means only one thing - to retain these people for any length of time, they need the positions filled. They need the work done as part of their production. The Brew comments point to whole departments in some places being filled with interns.
The people at the top get what they want and make damn sure they are paid for it.
Creative talent, on the other hand, can be discarded and moved aside with no problem because the creative people will work for free, will work for almost nothing. They are willing victims.
And that's why it's so god damned hard to get your foot in the door.
Don't accept that.
Don't set the value of your work at zero. Stop making it harder for every single other person in your end of the business. Stop being part of the problem. Stop accepting the exploitation.
Stop working for free.
And please, stop being grateful to your captors. It's not right when it comes from a sex slave who has been kept in a box for years and it's not right from creative talent.