Journalism in the Public Interest

Business & Finance, Education

Have You Interned in Arts or Entertainment? Rate Your Internship

One University of Southern California student told us her internships in film were "eye-opening." Credit: Casey McDermott for ProPublica

Editor's note: This project has been archived and is no longer active. See the full internships investigation archive here.

Our internship lawsuit tracker monitors cases in which former interns have alleged they were underpaid for their work. Of the 30 suits we’re monitoring, more than half were brought by interns in fashion, design or entertainment companies. The most well-known suit over the last year came from former unpaid interns on the set of Black Swan, alleging that Fox Searchlight had violated minimum wage laws; they won, and Fox has appealed.

This week, we at Project Intern are kicking off a series of in-depth explorations of internships by industry, starting with arts and entertainment. Over the next five days, we we want to hear from as many arts and entertainment interns (paid or unpaid) as possible: Were your internships educational? Have they led to a paid job? Did your supervisor provide beneficial training, or was your primary duty fetching lunch?

To participate, search for your school (or alma mater) in our database, and once you’ve found it, click on “Write a Review.” You can do so anonymously, if you wish.

We also want to hear from internship coordinators overseeing interns heading into these fields. How have you designed your internship program? What trends have you seen amongst your interns?  What obstacles have you encountered? You can tell us your thoughts here.

We’ve heard from a few former arts and entertainment interns already through our online questionnaire— of the 47 who have responded, only nine reported being paid. Hourly rates ranged from $2.50 per hour to $15 per hour.

According to Labor Department guidelines, an unpaid position at a for-profit company should primarily benefit the intern, not the organization, to be considered legal. Yet all except one of the interns who filled out our questionnaire said the company benefited from their work.

One unpaid intern from the University of California at Riverside said duties at her fashion internship included:

-getting coffee for the employees

-cold calling and getting yelled over the phone by rude store owners

-filling out excel sheets

-folding the clothes at the showroom

-mailing packages at the UPS store


An NYU student interning at an online publication for credit said she got a job from her unpaid internship. She received hourly pay for nine months, then was laid off “and explicitly told they wanted interns they didn't have to pay.”

One person said of his unpaid internship at an auction house:

I did not learn any of the things I had hoped to. In fact, supervisors excluded interns from most opportunities to learn by claiming it was confidential. I learned how to use the photocopier very well, and what sandwich orders the specialists requested…

One unpaid intern at an entertainment company said that overall, his duties were similar to a paid assistant’s:

Managing the lines at the front desk, participating in weekly development meetings, going to pick up lunches, creating expense reports, creating spreadsheets, script/book/play/pilot coverage, walking a producer's dog (and picking up it's feces)…

How did your internship (paid or unpaid) in arts and entertainment compare? Help us and others understand by sharing your story today, and sharing with your friends! 

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More on This Investigation

What We Learned Investigating Unpaid Internships

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force – and protections they deserve – is beginning to take shape.

Four Ways You Can Seek Back Pay for an Unpaid Internship

Think you’re entitled to be paid for your unpaid internship? Here are resources you should know about.

Have You Interned in Arts or Entertainment? Rate Your Internship

Help us understand what it’s like to intern in an industry that often doesn’t pay.

The Department of Labor’s Internships Investigations

In 2010, the Labor Department issued a new fact sheet clarifying when an intern needs to be paid under federal labor law. We collected the case files for all the internship investigations the Labor Department concluded in the three years after issuing new regulations.

How the Labor Department Has Let Companies Off the Hook for Unpaid Internships

Four years after warning for-profit companies about unpaid internships, the agency has investigated relatively few employers for wage violations.