Sony Producer Advises Newcomers To Work For Free

In an interview with Sony Pictures Animation Producer Michelle Murdocca:

Billy Tatum: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into visual effects or producing?

Michelle Murdocca: Just stay true to what you want to do and have conviction. It’s hard to break into this industry, but I did it. I did it because I was willing to work for free. I was willing to do an internship. I was a sponge. I absorbed everything. I listened to everything that anyone told me to learn what I needed to know to hone my craft. I just had a lot of ambition and I was determined never to give up. I’m a girl from Spanish Harlem. I was not born or raised into any of this. I worked my way into it.

I agree with a lot of what Mrs. Murdocca is saying but  I don’t think a willingness to work for free is the way to break into this industry. Many of you know that I do a lot of posts on the eagerness of VFX professionals to work for free: We love what we do, so why not? Well it’s good to love VFX but you have to give it tough love.

The broader point I’m trying to make is that the more often these kinds of practices occur, the more likely it becomes an accepted practice in the industry.

I can understand paying your dues but wasn’t going to a school that put you in 6 figure debt enough in dues? Now you have to do an internship that isn’t even paid. Anyone up for adding a VFX hazing ritual? After all, we have to see how much you can absorb.

So you’ll understand what made the Digital Domain story so big: It sort of validated my issue that these kinds of practices were becoming a part of the business model. Now you have some pro-management blogs coming out with posts entitled: VFX Students Paying To Work, May Help The Industry Overall.

Soldier On.

157 Responses to Sony Producer Advises Newcomers To Work For Free

  1. Allegro says:

    “I can understand paying your dues but wasn’t going to a school that put you in 6 figure debt enough in dues? ”

    The thing with school is, paying money doesn’t educate you. You’ll get out of it what you put into it, but I’ve known far too many who spent those college years partying and not actually building a demo reel. So… to assume that putting yourself into debt means you should instantly be hirable? No, I don’t agree with that.

    “Now you have to do an internship that isn’t even paid. Anyone up for adding a VFX hazing ritual?”

    I think it’s not as black and white as we seem to paint the picture… I used to be very mercenary about the industry… and I still am to a large extent. I won’t work unpaid OT, and try not to work when the OT is only at straight time too… I refused to apply for unpaid internships when I had to do an internship for my college program but that was literally because it wasn’t an option. I could not have afforded to live and continue to go to school unless I had a paid internship. That’s the same reason I worked part-time the whole time I was in college.

    I take issue with a large studio that takes on a person to do meaningful work and doesn’t pay. But now I’m trying to do a project on my own, and recruit some others to help… if I refused to do it unless I had money… well… I wouldn’t be able to do the project. I understand start-ups who can’t afford to pay… even when the work is meaningful. Sometimes getting ahead takes risk.

    • LMP says:

      What you are explaining here about your own project has nothing to do with a big studio offering a paid or otherwise internship.
      I did an internship and my experience was null. Internships are supposed to be practicing your craft with senior staff with a mentor. More often than not, internships are offered by companies as a mean to get free labor that has nothing to do with the craft you are wanting to learn about, but more like from secretarial to janitorial.
      I am sure that your project will give back your collaborators some good material for their demo and there will be feed back between you and them. This is a way different animal my friend.
      I my self started a few years back in VFX. I entered to job market in the wrong area (meaning, not what I really want to do). So I am working on thesis project of USC graduates. Doing what I want to do, for free, in order to get a demo out of it. And for money I am pursuing, besides a VFX job in the area I really want IN MY CITY, I am developing in another field I love.
      I am not a kid anymore and I have no time to bull S… around or the will to play the games of the rich and powerful.
      Good luck with your project!

      • Allegro says:

        Right. The point I was trying to make which may not have been particularly clear is I think that taking a quote about how -Michelle Murdocca- had to be willing to work for free to get a break and turning it into a slam on the industry for allowing people to work for free is also a bit of a non sequitur.

        She wasn’t stating that she thinks studios shouldn’t pay employees, she was stating that if you want something bad enough, find a way to make it happen.

        But as I said in the last paragraph… I *do* take exception with studios with money that do not pay fair wages. If a CEO is making 7 figures, surely some of that can go to the interns who are fighting to get 3 meals a day.

  2. Scott Squires says:

    Do internships only within structure of school credits. Most other unpaid internships are illegal and tend to show a lack of integrity of the company

  3. Hombre says:

    You ever been to Spanish Harlem? She’s working with what she’s got; a “six figure debt” is a dream for rich white kids who get to go to college.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Harlem

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Um do you do your research? She went to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, a private university that today costs students today an average of 50000 a year. The fact you think only rich white kids go to college and people in Spanish Harlem just work for free to make their way up is really funny to me.

      • edwardh says:

        … besides the fact that i find calling raking up a six figure debt, “just” in order to go to college (the willingness to learn should be appreciated by society), a “dream” very, very questionable.

      • Hombre says:

        So now are you jealous that she managed that? Or just pissed because now she’s the producer in charge of the movie telling y’all what to do?

  4. edwardh says:

    This seems especially funny to me because while I have kept reading about such practices for years, I’ve never heard anybody actually RECOMMEND doing it. In fact, all seasoned people I’ve talked to when I first started out (not just senior artists but studio owners too) have advised strongly against taking such “opportunities”.

    And I have actually done very well myself without doing such things. People always make it seem like you HAVE to enter the VFX business through unpaid internships. And that is quite possibly true if one wants to work at a big studio right after school. But at least in my experience, one is exploited far less if one starts out doing low-budget work for small studios. And chances are that someday (not talking about many years here. Maybe 1-2. Personally, I would’ve gotten my first chance at a big studio after about one year and half a year later three more), a company desperately seeks for an artist like oneself (should a newbie read this: yes, companies can get desperate too, despite the stories of dozens of applications each day) and will come knocking. Probably even more so and earlier if one does “aggressive” social networking.

  5. SonyMonster says:

    Artists at Sony have been suspecting that this was their dream for years (cheap/free student labor to replace the higher cost actual artists). It seems that they don’t even hide their disdain for paid artists anymore.

  6. FP says:

    Dear Soldier,
    I am a VFX artist like many here, working in LA originally from Italy. I constantly follow your blog, and I want to thank you for all the efforts you put into speaking out your mind and defending our rights as VFX artists in this fascinating and crazy industry.

    I read the Sony Producer comment, and all I can say is the I feel exactly what she means and how she expresses it, and I am on her side. First of all, her thought has to be taken as it is but also in a pretty emphatic way as I believe Miss Murdocca is clearing doing some ‘encouraging demagogy’, and I will explain you very briefly why I see it in this way.
    I grew up with the dream of working in the VFX industry, in California, since I was a kid in Italy watching any sort of american tv/movies and playing LucasArts videogames that pushed me to embrace this kind of career. It was tough, extremely tough, because after my BA in Cinema studies in Italy I moved to New York where I studied 3D and VFX and with an extremely short time-frame, one year, I had to look for a job right after the conclusion of my american studies. Now, one year, for a normal american dude who has american nationality and knows some of his stuff in the field of VFX and he just finished his studies, is a cool time to look for a job in the industry because eventually some entry-level position will become available.
    For me instead it was a nightmare, because I had to find somebody who was in order
    a. willing to hire a entry level artist from Italy who, although speaking great english, is still a foreign worker (and I thank the american meritocracy and democracy for that)
    b. willing to pay a work visa for said Italian entry level artist (which costs around $8,000.00/$9,000.00 of filling and legal fees)
    c. willing to keep in the company that Italian artist for a minimum of three years, meaning giving him a full time staff position as the Immigration requires that (and we all know how tough is both getting a full time staff position in a vfx facility nowadays and complying with USCIS immigration laws).
    d. hoping that the trust and the money you put in said immigrant worker will be paid off (a.k.a. hoping that the employee is not a slacker/jerk)
    d. hoping that the USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) will approve such work visa since every year the visas number to be release is limited)

    I succeded in having all these pretty challenging five situations happening together, it was hard as hell can possibly be, but my extremely strong and unbeatable will and determination (and stubborness) and some good luck that always helps the audacious people and MOST OF ALL love and passion for this job made it possible and I consider myself a very very lucky immigrant living the American Dream (which has been considered dead for a long time by my european fellows and folks overseas) and having a great life with a great girlfriend, a great work and great motivations every morning I wake up.

    I remember clearly as it was yesterday although what kind of nasty time was 3 years ago when I got out of the Academy in NY I had to find ASAP a job to start learning more and more and become that perfect Artist that I always wanted to be. I was willing to get internships at any moment, but this visa situation was stopping everybody from hiring me, even for a simple internship, and I was seeing the deadline of being forced to leave the country always closer and closer. I was emailing the whole time companies in NY and in LA with my materials, begging them to hire me as intern to possibly grow up and show what hell of an artist I was going to be, I wasn’t even thinking about the money, I didnt even know what shape had dollars because I knew that money wasn’t my main goal at that time because it couldn’t possibly be as I had to gain extensive experience first to earn money after.
    My parents overseas helped me the whole time I have to admit although. Four months after graduating, I finally found an internship here in LA and slowly, after five months interning, money and visa arrived.

    So yes, I understand Miss Murdocca saying that and I agree with her because life taught me the same lesson she went through, and as much she could possibly be from Spanish Harlem, I came all the way from Italy (where people still live and cuddle themselves in Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti memories and so on and they are SO f*n skepticals about Visual Effects and Post in general) without ever being born in this profession that I love with all my heart.

    Thank you America. Thank you Soldier.

  7. Dave Rand says:

    I started in this business in 1994. There was very little information online, the hardware and software were very expensive. There were barely any schools with a VFX curriculum. Gnomon was just starting as an idea of Alex Alverez’s and his friends, a couple institutes and centers had a course or two. Here and there universities were talking about it and offering very little. I wanted in though, and the sooner the better. I asked if I could look at some manuals and use a workstation at the new division of Rainmaker in Burbank in the evenings. The President was a client of mine as I was a stock broker at the time. I had met him when Alias and Wavefront did secondary offerings with our firm. Luckily I was able to put him in some great investments and he did very well with me. He thought I was crazy to leave one of the top firms in the country to be a visual fx artist (along with the head partners of the firm) I figured I could at least have a righteous heart attack as an artist. The elders saw talent in me when I was a kid, art lessons since 9 yrs old and formal training in college. I always did “side jobs” after graduating as I’d call them. These careers that would supposedly give me time to paint and help me earn a living. Those careers always got in the way, but now there was a whole new world evolving for artists! It is the beginning of a period in history where artists are in demand for high paying jobs thanks to it being a highly unionized industry and employees in that environment whether union or not get the reward of that leverage….and this industry showed amazing growth potential. So I showed up one night at 7 pm and an artist gave me a stack of tutorials and the alarm code. My former client came by and laughed, wished me luck and left. At 7 am the next day when the lights came on, I was still there. I came back the next night and stayed all night again. I did this for 31 nights in a row. On the 32nd morning I asked for a shot to practice on so I could have something with a background. They gave me one. The next morning I had something to show. The client loved it. It was Bud Bundy from Married with Children behaving like Jim Carey’s character in the Mask. I made his tongue stick out and wag and his eyes bulge at a girl passing by. The Mask was going to be on TV so all the Fox sitcoms had mask like effects as a gag to lead into the show later that week. The client wanted me to make a generic version of the gag against blue for the news casters (Fox News Casters still look like that to me to this very day actually!). I told him I came in at night was tired and was going home. He told me “this is show business kid! drink some coffee!” before I could reply the fx lead for Rainmaker laughed and said…..”He does not even work here he’s Peter’s stock broker!” After some laughs they retired to the office and came out with a check and said “Welcome to the staff of Rainmaker”.

    The point of me telling this old story is that I often tell young artist this tale and add that if you have TALENT and DRIVE you can get a great demo reel together without paying anyone a dime for classes or by working for free to get your foot in the door. The software is cheap and often even free to demo or learn on. There’s reams of manuals and tutorials on line for FREE. The barriers are down it’s all about Talent and Drive. Sadly the most of the new VFX schools don’t screen anyone for talent..like it can be taught…it can’t. These modern FX schools are not like Rhode Island School of Design or Prat institute they just want money and take anyone who’s been bitten by the sexy VFX industry.

    I’d like to believe it’s still about Talent and Drive. Although times have changed since my entry…those facts have not. If you young, talented and ambitious find a mentor..I’ll be that if you like, just show me you’ve got what it takes….and hit the keys hard.

    If you are talented NEVER do it for free, you cheapen the art world at a time when a new renaissance should be blooming for everyone especially yourself.

    • Craig says:

      Great story. So Dave, were you being paid when you were spending all those nights at the studio? It sounds like you were working for free in order to learn and to prove yourself.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Nice try. I was teaching myself for free on their equipment. If I liked it I could have worked anywhere or gone back to being a broker. There was no deal, no implied deal whatsoever. If I could have done this at home I would have but the software and hardware were out of most people’s budget. I’d made considerable profits for the president as his broker and he was returning the favor. I truly felt it was one. As I said my point in telling this story is that you don’t even have to pay a school these days for the privilege of working in our industry.

      • Craig says:

        @Dave Rand

        Dave, I would agree with you that anybody can learn VFX and put together a great demo reel these days if they have the talent and drive. I would agree that VFX schools are almost unnecessary with all that is available for free online nowadays.

        I know you are proud of yourself, but you are completely ignoring the main reason you were hired at Rainmaker. That reason is that you had contacts and you were given the opportunity to prove yourself. You did not send a tape of a Bud Bundee shot to them out of the blue. They knew you, they could vouch for you and you showed them what you could do.

        Think about this, what if every house in America (or the world), had that workstation back then. They all were equipped with the software and manuals, and also the shot to work on. What if you had no connections and you had to mail in your shot along with all the other guys who had their versions?

        I don’t think your story proves what you think it proves. Your main advantage was that you had a connection and you got your foot in the door. You were literally in the door working on their systems at night.

        Yes, anybody can make a great demo reel today, but there are thousands of great demo reels out there. Experience in a professional environment and pipeline are huge factors in hiring.

        Think about this… what is the difference between working on your own at home to build up an impressive demo reel and working for free for a company to build up a demo reel? How could you say that working for free is always bad if that is essentially what you did at Rainmaker before they hired you?

        Sheesh!

      • dave rand says:

        Again good ole Craig putting word’s in my mouth and injecting ideas into my ideas that were never form me or could logically be inferred. You’ve become my own private anonymous heckler here on VFX soldier and for that I thank you. It helps me focus my message and prepare for more sophisticated arguments that will be coming as our efforts become more clearly defined. Thanks Craig I do appreciate your posts=.

        You’ll notice I asked for the shot so I could have a background to practice on. You’ll notice I refused to work for free when asked and you’ll notice I then got paid. You’ll also notice I offered to mentor anyone who would like help getting into this business if it’s perceived your have what it takes thereby showing one how to get “connected”

      • Craig im assuming your not in the USA as you, for one, seem unfamiliar with federal laws here and two you doing a heck of a lot of typing on blogs for a work day…unless sadly blogging is actually your job in which case you should be working for free

      • Craig says:

        @DaveRand:

        OK, Dave. Let’s dance. What words and I putting in your mouth? This blog post is about working for free. You have stated that it hurts people to work for free, yet you have an experience that is practically identical to that save a couple minor technicalities.

        I’m not sure where in your post it states that you refused to work for free. The bottom line is that you worked on a shot for a company without getting paid. Sure, they did not ask you to do it, but what’s the difference? If it wasn’t for all intents and purposes a real shot, why did you show the client? It doesn’t even matter if the shot was used. Lots of work interns do are not used.

        The point is that you had your break in the industry because you had a connection and an opportunity to develop and showcase your talent. You are holier than thou when you say… “If you are talented NEVER do it for free, you cheapen the art world at a time when a new renaissance should be blooming for everyone especially yourself.”

        What total conceited BS. So, you are telling me that when I offered to do an unpaid internship, I “cheapened the art”. Gimme a break, man. Listen to yourself!

      • Compbrat says:

        No on wants to dance with you Craig, you’ve obviously got a chip on your shoulder and repeatedly counter pretty much anything dave states over and over. I’ve followed it and I’ll post it if you keep it up. He got paid Craig, clearly stated, and put on the staff. Never worked for free. Also clearly offered help anyone interested in the business to contact him. Never made an argument that connections are not valuable as you repeatedly try to twist his words into stating. A twisting you consistently do with his remarks. All constructive information from him. They did try to get us to work for free once and it was Dave that lead the charge to recovering money for people close to a million dollars and for Canadians a short while ago. I’m Canadian and I really appreciate his efforts. He always used his real identity and does not need to dance with you so get over yourself and move on.

      • Compbrat says:

        Internships in this country are meant to make connections and help with the educational process, not get free labor under any circumstance. It’s the law here in the United States and in every State as well and for very good reasons.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat

        Tell me what the good reasons are instead of being a fanboy of authoritarian control.

      • It’s obvious to any reader of your posts Craig that you just learned today while rambling on with arguments as to why it’s okay to work for free in this country and be capitalized upon as an intern, that it’s actually quite illegal at both federal and state levels. You’ve attempted to twist what people were saying to suit your argument and now you want them to explain further why they are Fanboys of authoritarian control ? Your arguments have collapsed. Your best move at this point is to do a little of your own research before winging it and becoming a self proclaimed expert on labor in America.

      • Craig says:

        @Talented VFX Veteren

        Ha. That’s great. Nobody here can argue with anything more than “It’s the law”.

        I am twisting nothing. The original quote in this post was about a producer explaining how she got into the industry by an unpaid internship. I, myself, was greatly helped by an unpaid internship.

        Apparently, this is an evil thing. I just would like somebody to actually explain the reason instead of spouting worthless platitudes like “it’s been the law since FDR”.

        Oh, and what is with treating me like I’m attacking Dave’s character. I am doing nothing of the sort. I think it is great that he offers to mentor people, but why keep bringing that up as if you are proving some kind of point? I never said he didn’t and have no idea what that has to do with anything. Also, I know he has been a champion of workers who have been wronged in the past. That’s also fantastic. I have a lot of respect for him.

        But a couple people here seem to think that I’m hell-bent on “twisting” Dave’s words. I never said or implied that Dave does not think that connections are important. OK yes, he offered to be people’s “mentor”. Again. That’s fantastic. But is Dave going to mentor everybody? What happens when Dave is too busy? It’s a nice gesture, Dave, but entirely impractical general advice to give young people.

        What is wrong with finding a mentor at a real studio while working for free for a few months? That is actually a real incentive for somebody to take such a position. Why is there so much vitriol here against me and this concept? It has obviously worked out for me and others (Michelle M).

        Nobody here seems to want to make a real argument beyond “it will be the end of us all”.

      • Craig so looks like you did your research and found nothing or are we supposed to do your research for you now? Do you need us to google the reasons why those laws were passed for you? I’m a little confused or are you simply trying to shift some responsibility on our shoulders for your complete lack of knowledge of the situation. As for twisting Dave’s words I seem to remember you finally writing an apology for doing that very thing. Or do I need to post that here for you as well? Anyone can read your reply to his original post above and figure it out for themselves.

      • Another one of those brave posters(braver than me anyway) using his real name has spell it out quite well read the last post on the page from Scott Squires. I dare you to go ahead and defeat those arguments and do it below his post. I double dare you to use your real name.

  8. Anon says:

    Perhaps she doesn’t realize that interns at Imageworks are, in fact, paid, and it would be illegal not to do so (except in very narrow circumstances, in which the students get college credit and the employer get no particular gain from the student’s work).

  9. jonavark says:

    The way I see it.. if you work for free on anything.. you are an investor and deserve a return on your investment. Working for free for a large corp like Sony or any other company is insanity.

    • allegrodigital says:

      Yes, that’s a good way of putting it, which I completely agree with.

      • allegrodigital says:

        damnit… I don’t really get how this log-in crap works sometimes… anyways, the above “Allegro” and this “allegrodigital” are one and the same person.

    • Craig says:

      Working for free with no ‘return’ whatsoever is probably the result of one of three things:

      1. You are doing the work out of charity.
      2. You are a slave.
      3. You are insane.

      If a young person feels that they would gain nothing by working for Sony or any other company for free, then they definitely should not agree to such a deal.

      However, if the individual feels that they would gain valuable knowledge and/or experience in an unpaid internship, then that is their decision to make. Don’t try to make people feel bad about coming up with strategies for their own career.

      I have hired many people and reviewed countless demo reels over the years. I don’t give a damn how expensive your school was. Those instituions produce amazing graduates and also shockingly pathetic graduates. What matters most are the indicators that you will succeed at the task of producing professional visual effects.

      If you did work for Sony for free, it would at least tell me some valuable things:

      * Sony accepted you as a intern. That is a vouch in your favor since we assume that Sony wouldn’t take just anyone.

      * You have experience working as part of a large vfx company.

      * You have experience with a unix-based pipeline.

      * You have experience doing the part of the pipeline you performed for Sony.

      * I can call people I know at Sony to relay your effectiveness. You have now begun your reputation in this still small industry.

      Also, it would allow you the opportunity to:

      * Make loads of contacts that you would not have otherwise had.

      * Flex your muscle in an area you feel your strengths are. For example, if you are a TD, perhaps you write a utility script that the company finds useful. Better yet, that script was your own idea and that contact can now tell me that you take initiative.

      * Understand what the work environment and culture is like at a big studio.

      * Learn from professionals. Make no mistake, you ARE sucking time away from us at work when you ask us questions. Nobody ever wants to have to deal with interns because almost 100% of the time, it takes longer to explain the task than it would have taken to do it ourselves. Nevertheless, we all usually take the time to share because everybody has to start somewhere and most of us want to pay it forward. The time taken away from the experienced artists is the part of the cost a company pays for interns. The interns get that value.

      The decision to work (intern) for free may not be right for some people, but it may be a great move for others.

      For example, if you already have industry experience, a little more won’t help you as much compared to having started off with none.

      Also, you don’t want to work unpaid for three years. Nobody would really ask that of you, but the sentiment is that there is a definite element of diminishing returns when working for free. Anybody can do it for a few months.

      Nobody is going to be impressed that you interned for Sony/ILM/R&H/DD for three days, but they also will not be significantly more impressed by nine months than six months.

      I really can’t stand people that give advice to others about never working for free. Sure, most of the time you never want to work for free that’s common sense, but internships and apprenticeships are a real thing. They are a natural interim between paying money to work (school) and having somebody pay you to work (real job). If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. If nobody found it worth the effort, nobody would sign up. Use your brain.

      • jonavark says:

        “I really can’t stand people that give advice to others about never working for free.”

        No different than giving advice about anything,

        Sony can afford to pay every single one of its workers. Newbies or not. If they let you in the door then they have deemed you to be worth something. Despite your long winded response here, those are the facts.

      • Ashes says:

        Thank you Craig. I agree completely for all the reasons you stated.

        It’s not a matter of whether a company can afford to pay someone, it’s a matter of if the person is worth paying. A three to six month unpaid internship is sometimes worth it for a person.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Working for free hurts you, your fellow workers, the economy, and may actually the company you conscript for, just some of the reasons it’s illegal.

        We used to have an entire races working for free but they got room and board at least.

        Internships for school credit and not for the employers profit are regulated by universities and are a valuable learning tool with a strict curriculum.

        lately there’s been a flare up of free work in our ailing economy. This helps no one especially in entertainment an industry that is seeing record profits.

        ” With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.”

        To read the rest of the article go here
        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html?pagewanted=all

      • allegrodigital says:

        Not to be contrarian, but having participated in one and supervised multiple internships, the idea that there is a strict, or even a loose curriculum when interning for a degree is not exactly right. These interns won’t be doing anything differently during their internship than any other non credit-earning intern and the employer typically has no set plan.

        Unless you mean the schools have a strict curriculum…. which again, I would beg to differ since the school curriculums tend to be planned by the individual teachers and can vary drastically year to year/teacher to teacher.

      • People break the law every day, it’s not a contrarian argument, it’s called a crime. Labor laws took a century to get in place. Otherwise you’d all be working on sunday and most likely for free. Here’s contrarian for you…right now, this day, your working for free for the studios and those that pay you now and in the future by trying to undo these labor laws. Heck if you muster up some stronger logic you may even be worthy of a paycheck for it…but that’s a stretch now ain’t it.

      • Craig says:

        @jonavark: Congratulations, you got me on semantics. Clearly I meant that I can’t stand people that advise others to never work for free. Look, it always depends of the situation. I has absolutely nothing to do about Sony having the money. It has everything to do about the intern worth being paid. I have worked for a Sony-like company and I have had interns. Hour-for-hour most were a net loss for me. That’s because just when they become useful is when they leave.

        I need to spend time with these people. I spend time getting them situated, teaching them the environment, teaching them the pipeline, teaching them custom tools, explaining their tasks, and monitoring their progress. That is a COST to my employer. This person is getting personally mentored by me. I am actually happy to do it, but in practice it is usually a drain since I am normally very busy.

        There is a very real cost to interns -paid or not – that goes beyond just a seat and a computer.

        So, you say that I’m long-winded, but you think you have all the simple answers. I think you are just being simplistic.

        OK, then how about this…

        You say that if Sony let’s you in the door, then they have deemed you to be worth something. I would agree with that. Sony needs to measure whether somebody is ‘worth’ letting in and there is a cut-off point where people are not let in, but turned away.

        Now, let’s go with what you are saying and say that Sony will pay everybody they let in the door. Now, these people that just made the cut are paid a certain amount for their work, right? That means that they are worth more to the company than the amount of resources the company will invest in them. Great. Everybody is happy.

        But wait. You said that anybody that Sony would let in the door would be deemed to be worth something. Let’s talk about that cut-off point. Surely there are people just below the cut that almost had what it takes, but not quite. There must be people that have some skills or experience, but not enough to show they can be productive. There must be people in the ‘reject’ pile that might have potential, but then again might not.

        Is there anything we can do for these people that have not yet proven their worth? Maybe all they are lacking is experience? How do you get experience if nobody will hire you because of lack of experience? Hmmm…. if only….

        Look, working for no money is not the same as working for nothing. Back around 1991, I applied for a paid summer internship at a graphic design company in my town. It was through school and the town actually picked up the tab and chose the student. The company had a black and white scanner and a cool program called Adobe Photoshop. Since I was really into computer graphics, this was a dream job for me and I did everything I could to get that gig. I was sure I would get it because there was nobody else even close to being as well-suited for it. In the end, they gave it to a minority kid who could have cared less about it.

        I was heartbroken. So, guess what I did? I called up the company and volunteered to do the internship for ‘free’ along side the other guy who was getting paid. After a bit of hesitation, they agreed. I could not work 40 hours per week because I needed to work another summer job for money, but I managed to put in over 20.

        You’ll never guess which guy they liked better in the end. It actually became a little awkward since the guy getting paid knew and cared very little about design and graphics, yet they were obligated to spend the most time with him since the town was paying for the internship.

        Anyway, I got my first experience in an office, experience using a digital scanner, and experience using photoshop and QuarkXPress. This experience was huge value to me and helped set me career goals in motion.

        So, let me ask you this… What if there was a state or federal law that prohibited that company from employing unpaid interns? There is no way they would have paid me. I mean, they didn’t even pay the other guy. It was the town’s money.

        People that think working for free is always bad and should be outlawed are control freaks with no real understanding of the world.

      • jonavark says:

        Craig..

        Bottom line. If you are showing up to work for Sony every day and not getting paid you’re getting ripped. It’s one thing to donate time and effort to a startup that you are participating in. It is another thing to work for a mega corporation without having anything to bring home. Sure.. interns learn but EVERY employee gets some training at a new job. It is ridiculous to legitimize corporations using unpaid labor for anything. Even corps that lose billions every year.

        ” That’s because just when they become useful is when they leave. ”

        Ha! Yeah.. so you train them.. don’t pay them.. someone else does.. they leave .. good plan.🙂

        “So, let me ask you this… What if there was a state or federal law that prohibited that company from employing unpaid interns?”

        Actually there are many laws regulating the use of unpaid labor.
        But to answer your question. They would have to be paid minimum wage. Pretty simple stuff.

        Working for free is one way to cut to the head of the line around people who may be more talented. We whine about subsidies here but it’s just another way to put some curves in that old ‘playing field’ we’re always hearing about. If everyone HAD to pay for every person who provides a service then those who can afford to work for free because they have some other income wouldn’t have an advantage.

      • allegrodigital says:

        @jonavark
        So I’m curious, what bothers you more?

        1. That someone who has been learning vfx at home and is *not* presently employable based on their demo reel is able to get some solid training by doing some menial work at a vfx studio and become employable in a few short months without receiving a paycheque from whichever studio they are interning from? Or

        2.that someone who is paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend a school program for multiple years is still being allowed to graduate even though they are *not* employable based on their demo reel after those years and financial expenditure.

        Because the way I see it, if you want to delegitimize unpaid internships, we also need to delegitimize huckster post-secondary programs that are handing out degrees to students which cannot immediately be of value to a studio.

        Also, can we name some specific places offering unpaid internships? we’ve already clarified that Sony pays, so it would be helpful to stop using them as an example

      • Craig says:

        @ Dave Rand,

        You are wrong. Working for free does not necessarily hurt you, others, or the company. That a load of BS.

        So, you are saying there is never a situation where a company can take on a young kid for three to six months and have everybody happy?

        What if the kid got exposed to a professional UNIX pipeline and got to sit in dailies and witness the process? What if he made friends and professional connections? What if he impressed the boss enough that the boss was willing to then hire him? I’d say that was a good deal for the kid. Better than sitting at home working more on a reel.

        What if the other workers got to unload some of the more tedious tasks to this guy? That would free them up to catch up on their workload. Granted interns usually suck up a lot of resources, too, but sometimes they can actually help out. What if that intern actually took initiative and came up with ideas or tools to help everybody else? I’ve seen this happen. It is not crazy.

        What if the company got to hire some ‘low-risk’ entry-level employees because they were vetted through an apprentice/intern program? That could benefit the company quite a bit. Not to mention getting some work done for free.

        For a lot of people, the only way to get a foot in the door is to do some work for free, because otherwise that opportunity would not exist. You are extremely arrogant when you advocate taking away that opportunity for some people to be offered a chance to prove themselves inside the walls of real company. In fact, it’s downright hypocritical given that you proved yourself working for free inside the walls of a existing company.

        What we are talking about here is freedom. You are free to take a unpaid position just as you are free to refuse to take one. If such a thing is not worth it to you, then by all means, do not do it.

        I have had a craigslist posting for about a year now for somebody to come in an clean my bathroom for free. No takers yet. My guess thus far is that nobody sees any incentive to take the job. People are smart enough to make their own life decisions. They do not need you to force a decision on them.

      • Craig says:

        @ jonavark

        Nice try, but you don’t have common sense on your side. Granted, you have a statist ideology on your side, but that’s just sad.

        Your arguments are weak.

        Sure, every job has some degree of training for new hires -especially VFX. So… what’s your point? You say that like it proves something. Training has nothing to do with how well somebody will perform at my job. I got hired at a company as a senior artists without even knowing their main tool (Softimage), but I had years of experience with other software. Sure, I had a ramp-up time, but the company knew that I would eventually be worth it. There is no such guarantee with other people with no work history.

        So, you are making fun of a situation where a company is paying somebody, trains them, and then they leave. Yeah, sounds ridiculous and it can be, but that is not always how it turns out. Clearly, the aim is to strike a balance on both ends. The company keeps the person long enough where they will become useful for a little while and the student puts in the amount of time they feel they need to get experience. The goal of both parties is to benefit and they often do. Don’t forget that a major reason for internships is to identify solid people who the company can hire as entry-level artists. That’s also a good thing for both. The company minimizes risk about hiring bad fit and the student gets to do more than just show a resume and demo reel -they get to prove they can do the work.

        I understand there are laws against unpaid labor. Just because there is a law, doesn’t mean it is morally right. Take my case in that story. Your simple solution was to force the company to pay me minimum wage? The other kid WAS paid minimum wage and it was paid for by the town There was only ONE position open. If I didn’t offer to do the internship for free, the opportunity would not have existed. Don’t you get it? And if the town did not pay for the original internship, there likely would not have been a paid internship at all. Take a minute to think about this. Seriously.

        Do you think it is the government’s right to stop me from volunteering my time at that company in exchange for experience? What right do they have to prevent two parties from coming to an agreement like that? You are pretty arrogant to tell me that I am not allowed to follow my dreams. I guess I should have just kept mowing more lawns that summer. Thanks for your ‘help’.

        ‘Cut to the head of the line around people that are more talented’? Wow. You got it, bub. Who cares how talented you are or how much you paid for that expensive school. I want to hire somebody who has drive, not somebody who feels entitled.
        So, tell me….how do you know that the people willing to work for free are less talented? In my case, way back then, I was by far and away more qualified and talented for that internship. But for whatever reason, the town awarded it to the other guy. What right do you have to prevent me from taking my fate into my own hands and strategizing for my own career? Was I supposed to just give up?

        Unbelievable.

      • Craig says:

        @allegrodigital:

        I agree with your sentiment. Those digital FX schools can be good, but I found that only a small minority of those students actually have talent and drive. Everybody here knows that what counts most is not the degree, but what you know. The kids that excel at those schools are the kids that put in tons of hours on their own anyway.

        Also, I’m not sure we need to stop mentioning Sony because even though they pay, the broader question still stands. Besides, the original article was about somebody from Sony advocating working for free. Arguably, Sony could have more interns working if they did not pay them. But would Sony even do this? A few interns here and there are manageable, but if you have dozens it can soak up all your resources.

        Also, to everybody who thinks all companies are evil… Some companies would actually pay internships even if there was no law. Why? Because they want to attract the best interns and probably because they care. It is up to the individual to decide if taking an internship, paid or otherwise, is worth it.

      • dave rand says:

        Wow Craig is on fire. I can answer your 5,000 words of BS as you call it with just a few words. There’s been federal and state laws in place for decades against anyone capitalizing on free labor because it hurts the economy, the individual, and ultimately the industry involved. You can easily Google that, let me know if you have any trouble. Again thanks Craig for being such a great anonymous heckler. I think Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh would thank you for it also.

      • Craig says:

        @Dave Rand.

        I hear your preaching. Just tell me why I would have been better off not being allowed to work for free at that internship twenty years ago.

        So, you have this doomsday attitude that unpaid internships will destroy the economy. Here’s the thing about working for free. The worker has nothing to lose by quitting if it doesn’t benefit him.

        Get that? Why would somebody agree to work for free if they were being taken advantage of? If they thought that, they would simply quit and get a paying job. If find it absolutely fascinating that nobody here seems to think that working for free can be of benefit to certain people that are trying to break into an industry. What you are doing is hurting the little guy in his attempt to get started in a career. That’s right. So, now instead of having the opportunity to learn how a VFX company works, some kid out there will just spend hours more in his bedroom working on practice shots on his own wondering how he’s going to get a real job.

        I guess there must be this big fear that all of a sudden all VFX companies will just be staffed with unpaid interns and edge out veterans. Hmmm… that would mean that the VFX companies can basically call the shots and dictate how much their employees are paid. Even so far as have scores of people completely unpaid. So, where will the power to all of a sudden dictate wages come from? They certainly don’t have that power now or I would be getting paid only a fraction of what I do.

        I am talking about real economics here, BTW, not do-gooder talking points. How exactly would allowing unpaid internships ruing the economy? Please be specific and don’t just say that there have been laws on the books for decades. That is not reasoning.

        Thanks!

      • jonavark says:

        @Craig

        Can’t take the time to read through your stories. I stand by what I said. Working for large corporations for free is lunacy.. If you think that’s a weak argument then I can’t help ya.

      • jonavark says:

        @allegro

        So I’m curious, what bothers you more?

        1. That someone who has been learning vfx at home and is *not* presently employable based on their demo reel is able to get some solid training by doing some menial work at a vfx…

        2.that someone who is paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend a school program for multiple years is still being allowed to graduate even though they are *not* employable based on their demo reel after those years and financial expenditure.

        The point I made was.. you don’t get in the door so they can teach you anything. You get in to fill a need in their facility, menial or not. Commercial businesses are not schools. So even if you are doing menial work you’re still providing something they need and would be paying for if you didn’t do it for free.

        So.. neither of your questions are applicable.

        None of this ‘bothers’ me. Companies are always looking to get something for nothing and for the most part, that’s what interning or working for free really is.

    • Intrigued says:

      So… am I the only person who is wondering why vfxsoldier is not jumping in here to answer any of the comments, especially when it is getting so interesting? It strikes me as strange.

      Or…. is Dave Rand answering FOR him because he IS him? One wonders…..

      • Dave Rand says:

        I am A VFX Soldier, one of many….however, I am not THE VFX Soldier…a unique and unmatched voice in our industry. Compared to THE soldier…I’m kinda like…Jimmy Olsen…willing to take the heat for a good cause….and I say Gee a lot, and take good photos.

  10. Sony is such a big company. They don’t have any financial issue and will not have in the future too because of its damn good products. Working for them free is just insanity.

    “You should not do anything for free if you are really good at something”

    • Craig says:

      Ever think that the reason somebody would work for free is that that are not yet ‘really good at something’ and they want the experience?

      Obviously, if somebody were already ‘really good’, they would have recruiters chasing them down to work for Sony and other companies.

      Unpaid internships are designed for people just starting out that have little to no experience, and who could really use that experience.

      • vfxguy says:

        Are you sure you have the right blog? Sane, pragmatic opinions are not welcome here.

      • Dave Rand says:

        We just need to change those sane, pragmatic, yet pesky federal and state laws first so we can start this race to the bottom.

      • Craig says:

        Right, Dave. Because the sky is falling and we need the government to save us all.

      • Compbrat says:

        Dear VFX Soldier could we please start a “VFX Sodier Junior” for those who are not capable of anything beyond school yard logic. Craig could moderate, he’d be perfect.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        Why not gimme some actual arguments? An unpaid internship helped me a great deal. Tell me why it should be illegal?

      • Allegro says:

        Speaking of school yard logic: ad hominem

  11. Craig says:

    I think what Michelle is talking about is not the same as the DD Florida school. Unpaid internships are not inherently an evil thing. If you are hungry and want a foot in the door, that kind of thing may be what it takes.

    Now, the DD Florida school is a whole different ball of wax. That is students paying (or our government if there are federal grants, etc.) to intern. State government money is being used to help DD pump out hundreds of VFX artists. As many have mentioned, there is no lack of VFX artists in the US, just a lack of ~CHEAP~ artists. And anybody that knows anything about economics or even takes a second to think can tell you that the claims that this school will ‘create’ more VFX jobs is totally bogus.

    It is an obvious effort to substantially diminish the average salary of a VFX artists by flooding the job market with workers. Heck, it might just happen anyway. When a job that is high profile like VFX, there are a lot of kids out there that become enamored. It’s astounding how much free software and tutorials are out there for free.

    Personally, I don’t like what DD is doing and suspect that it will fail. Scratch that. Since they are essentially subsidized with government money and assured student workers in seats, they won’t be allowed to fail as soon as they should. They will keep trying for years, helping to screw up our industry even more.

  12. Dave Rand says:

    Dear Craig,

    Sorry to inform you that we’ve replaced your position with someone who is willing to do it for free, even pay us for the privilege of working on our films. Thanks to people like you speaking out the federal and state governments have now made this legal. We hope you and your family understand.. good luck..

    • Ashes says:

      I’m sorry, but unpaid interns are not going to be replacing senior artists. They cannot do the same work. Harping on this is counter productive and just not an accurate picture of how the industry works.

      Unpaid internships are not inherently evil. They can be misused, but that doesn’t make all of them wrong No one is saying someone should work for free for a year. A 1 to 6 months unpaid internship for people with no professional experience is a good thing. New artists get extremely valuable expereince and the vfx houses are more willing to take a chance on an artist if it would cost them much money.

      No one is saying an artist with 5 years expereince should work for free.

      I started in the mid 1990s and my first gig was an unpaid internship. After 3 months, I was a paid artist. It was one of the best investments I have ever made. I worked hard, paid my dues, and have never had to do an unpaid internship again. I see no reason that other inexperienced artists can’t have the same opportunity.

      Start going after companies that make expereince artist work for free or string interns on with false promises. Anyone who is passed the 6 month point of an unpaid internship should ask for
      pay or leave.

      • Craig says:

        @Ashes: Exactly! Finally, somebody without a misguided authoritarian bent oblivious to unintended consequences.

        If the unpaid internship concept is abused (say, the company tries to make somebody sign a contract to work for two years) then we should all drag that company through the mud. But damn you people for trying to take away opportunities for people just starting out.

        I wonder what this sounds like to the younger kids out there just starting out with no industry contacts. Are they fooled into thinking that outlawing unpaid internships is to their advantage? If you force companies to pay for internships for unproven people, you will simply have less internships.

        Would anybody really take an unpaid internship for more than 3-6 months? Some people here seem to think younger kids are morons who cannot reason, when in fact they are not. That should be insulting.

    • Craig says:

      Dave, you’re hilarious!

      So, tell me. Where is this supposed person that is willing to do my job for free? I know a lot of people that do what I do. I can’t think of any that have my decades of experience and knowledge (not to mention talent and people skills) and is willing to work for nothing.

      As a matter of fact, most people at my level are offered quite a substantial salary by their employers. I always thought that I was paid well because it was difficult to find people as effective as I am. As a matter of fact, I always thought the only reason I was paid at all by companies was because they couldn’t find anybody to do what I do for free, not because they were nice or the government forced them.

      Now, you are saying that they have actually finally found somebody that can do my job and is willing to do it for free? Wow! That’s crazy, Dave! I guess this must be an independently wealthy person who just loves the art of VFX.

      But wait! Why doesn’t my employer just hire this guy in addition to me? Wouldn’t that make sense? That way, they have two very experienced and effective employees for the price of one. What a deal!

      Oh, you mean to say that there is a whole army of people out there that are as effective and experienced as I am that are volunteering to do my job for free? That’s amazing. Where did they all come from and how is it that they will all work for free?

      Oh, you mean they don’t really have my skills or experience?

      Guess what, Dave. If an inexperienced student is able and willing to do my job for free, then I deserve to have it taken away.

      Dave, your attitude and perception of economics is completely off-base. You may have been unfortunate in the past, and I can see how that will color your views, but that does not change how the larger world works.

      People are driven by incentives. You can pretend that is not the case and that all companies are big evil monsters if you want, but it won’t change how the real world works.

      • allegrodigital says:

        Pretty much what Craig said.

      • vfxguy says:

        Also pretty much what Craig said. Especially this part:

        “Guess what, Dave. If an inexperienced student is able and willing to do my job for free, then I deserve to have it taken away.”

      • dave rand says:

        Craig thanks for anonymously adding so many words to my text. Sadly they were never even implied by me and are not my thoughts but I can see you put some pretty heavy thinking into it all and that is appreciated. The letter was a gag to make a point and not meant to be taken literally. I apologize that I assumed that would be obvious. I need to try an recall more actively my audience. Thanks for your posts.

      • Ha ha ha ha. Wow just wow !

      • Craig says:

        @Dave Rand:

        Hey Dave. Looks like you want it both ways. You feel free to make snarky quips like that at me, but then you say that they are only gags to make a point. So, what is your point Dave? If not to imply that ‘people like me’ that support voluntary agreements, are causing people to lose jobs. Please make your point clear. What was the point of that ‘letter’?

        I have gone out of my way to make the case that you and your heavy-handed ideological laws have unintended consequences. Your arrogant insistence that I should not be able to choose to work for a company for free in exchange for valuable experience is offensive. Not to mention that, but also the implication that an individual cannot gauge for themselves what is worth their while.

        If you made broad statements and snarky comments, don’t be surprised and offended when somebody tries to refute you.

    • dave rand says:

      Get a grip folks it’s a hypothetical and not meant to be taken literally, sorry to argue out of your reach. Thanks for your posts.

      • Craig says:

        “argue out of your reach”. Wow, that’s rich. Way to be condescending, dude.

      • jonavark says:

        Craig.. you’re looking for a win here and this is just a discussion. Please feel free to tell us how you feel. Stop spending so much time on long diatribes with your own condescending comments.

        We get it. You want to work for free. Judging by the length of your posts you have some extra time so.. please.. by all means go for it.

      • Craig says:

        @jonavark:

        Looking for a win? What I am doing is defending my right to do what I want with my own time. This is supposed to be a free country. This blog is riddled posts damning voluntary actions of free citizens.

        And yes, I am perturbed by what Dave implies in his “letter” to me. Why does Dave get a free pass? I’m not condemning Dave, but his statements.

        He says …
        “Get a grip folks it’s a hypothetical and not meant to be taken literally, sorry to argue out of your reach.”

        Ummm… yeah. I know his ‘letter’ was a hypothetical. In what way could it have been misconstrued that I thought Dave was literally firing me from my job? That was obviously not the intent and I obviously did not think that. So, why this statement about not taking it literally? I’ll tell you. It’s because he knows full well what he is saying by his comment. He addresses it to me, and says: “Thanks to people like you…”. Clearly his point is to place blame on me and people with similar views. I don’t see any reason to deny this now. He has a right to do it.

        Look, I’m not particularly offended or upset about this personally, but if he’s going to sit there and blame me for people being laid-off then I think I have a right to retort.

        If he wants to backtrack and say it was just a ‘gag’ then… whatever. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean. Does it mean he wasn’t blaming ‘people like’ me?

        And what exactly does “argue out of your reach” mean? If that’s not condescending, I don’t know what is.

        Ironically, despite what you say, what I want to have is a discussion. The only person that has given solid arguments beyond “it’s against the law” has been Scott Squires and I applaud him for bringing his perspective.

        I write a lot here because I strongly believe the right of an individual to make the call about an unpaid position. Other people taking that right away from others is just wrong in my opinion. I have personally benefited from unpaid work and starting jobs on a “trial” basis. I want somebody to prove to me that these opportunities are damaging to people and the economy. I don’t believe it is.

        I’m going to start a new comment down below with a link to a HuffPo article that is (obviously) against unpaid internships, but I will offer counter-arguments to the baseless assumptions made. Feel free to add comments that go beyond snarky pink slip letters and “but it’s the law!” rants.

  13. “If you are hungry and want a foot in the door, that kind of thing may be what it takes.

    Now, the DD Florida school is a whole different ball of wax. That is students paying (or our government if there are federal grants, etc.) to intern. ”
    Craig

    “Great Things have small beginnings”
    John Textor

    • Craig says:

      Like I said, I’m not a fan of what DD is doing. The reason is because it is subsidized by the government. The reason unpaid internships work is because both people get something out of it. The company will get some work done and the student will learn some things. Both parties need to feel that they are getting something out of the arrangement.

      Now, if you throw in a third party (i.e. government) and pipe in a bunch of money, that distorts the whole dynamic. Now, DD does not have the same cost associated with taking on these interns it would have otherwise. Therefore, they can take on hundreds and hundreds of students. Some will fail, and some will be highly successful.

      Since they will be using these kids to work on actual shots, this is the same as the government giving money to DD to lower their bids on projects. This will effect other studios ability to bid and will further push us along the race to the bottom.

      Also, they are using public money to pump out more digital artists than the market would naturally attract. In other words, DD and the government are partnering up in an effort to create a glut in the VFX job market. The end goal is to make US VFX artists cheaper to hire.

      The VFX companies like that because it will allow them to better compete with subsidized companies in Europe and cheaper labor in Asia.

      The government likes that because it means more US jobs. Never mind that all of our salaries will be lower. That’s of no concern to the government. They just think in terms of number of jobs.

      I’m not sure about other people, but I’ve busted my ass for decades to learn these skills. Now, I certainly don’t think that I’m ENTITLED to my job or salary because of this. However, I do resent public money being spent in order to decimate my own earning potential. If people do it on their own, that is one thing, but governments driving down my salary is BS.

  14. […] VFX Soldier – Sony Producer Advises Newcomers to Work for Free […]

  15. You see folks here in the good ol USA not paying those you capitalize on is illegal and has been for a long time. We even fought a war over it. Praise those who don’t want to decsend. Thanks Soldier. Shame on those who are challenging this. Sorry to those who want to chip away at it…..but don’t despair there are plenty of countries left where your ideas are still very welcome.

    • Craig says:

      What war?

      • Allegro says:

        I’m guessing he means the American Civil War…. which I’m pretty sure was over the abolishment of slavery, not volunteer work… but I’m not American so I could be wrong on the finer nuances….

      • anon_anon says:

        The Devil is in the details-

        -Also, I’ve heard tell that Old Scratch has a hardon for nuance. But I’m not religious, so like you I defer to those with a more intimate knowledge of the subject.

      • Craig says:

        Ha ha. Yeah, right. Working for an unpaid internship is just like slavery. Oh wait. No it’s not. People actually sign up by their own free will. That’s just a self-proclaimed “talented VFX veteran” being all high and mighty.

        Look people. It’s not the end of the world. It is very true that somebody can get a foothold in the industry if they work unpaid in exchange for real-world experience.

        Why in the world do you think this is so evil? You don’t have to do it, but if you believe it will benefit you, then it should be your choice. I am much better off from having done an unpaid internship and I know there are a lot of people that have similar feelings. If you have the skills and talent to not need to do this, then good for you. Go get a paying job. If your level work is worthwhile for somebody to pay you, then by all means refuse to work for free.

  16. Compbrat says:

    Hey Gang ,

    Some of you need to get real.

    It’s called THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

    **FROM 1938***

    The FLSA established a NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE for any employee being capitalized upon in any way, it also guaranteed ‘time-and-a-half’ for overtime in certain jobs, and prohibited most employment of minors in “oppressive child labor,” a term that is defined in the statute. It applies to employees engaged in interstate commerce or employed by an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, unless the employer can claim an exemption from coverage.

    Each state in the union has similar law that effectively doubles up on the legal protection for workers.

    I agree shame on those artists actually trying to argue against this American right. I’m speaking for many at my shop here in a group at lunch that are just blown away at the ignorance of some of these posters.

    • Craig says:

      Oh OK. It’s a law passed by congress, so it must be a “right”.

      What about my right to agree with another private party what to do with my own time? I guess that company that had me work for them should have been shut down by the Feds, huh?

      • Compbrat says:

        I agree, those pesky and under thought United States federal labor laws that are decades old and took all that so called “experience” to build can be such a bore and should be replaced by the thoughts of some anonymous blogger.

      • Hi Craig,
        My question is veering off topic a little, but I am wondering what your opinion is of artists who work for free voluntarily. They are a private party who has decided of their own accord to stay an extra hour to sweeten a shot for no money. Should the law be enforced and they be payed OT? Or is it my freedom to decide what I do with my own time after 8 hours? Not trying to inflame, just wanted to hear your opinion.

      • Craig says:

        @Michael Levine:

        If the employee is not asked to stay by the company, then why should they get paid OT? Your contract or employment agreement should be very clear. If you are expected to do OT, then you should be paid for it. If you do it because you decide you want to, then you shouldn’t be paid.

    • Ashes says:

      The FLSA does not apply if the the internship meets the following (take directly from the US DoL webpage):

      1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
      2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
      3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
      4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
      5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
      6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

      If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.

  17. Dave Rand says:

    I encourage those who have not read the mission statement of this website to take a moment and read it. You’ll see that some of the platform expressed there could be perceived as a threat to some for sure. I agree with everything Soldier has stood for on these pages. I can understand why some don’t. Those who’s paychecks depend on half coming from their local governments that have “borrowed” our industry and moved it to their shores. Or those who want to “break in” to the sexy VFX world by working for free unknowingly taking part is dismantling their own futures, or those who may actually post here that are in managment or with the studios and feel threatened by these pages and what they stand for. I feel some of these folks haunt these pages regularly but we need their arguments so we can practice at defeating them and solidify our own beliefs and cause many to lose their apathy and take part in improving the future of visual effects for all countries.

    No country has a perfect set of laws but here in the United States our labor laws were fought for by generations of people inching their way from a bottom we need not return to, a bottom much of the world has made even deeper. Sadly many of these laws have been eroded of late by the simple and caclulated process of opening one door at a time on the past, doors that took generations to close, like child labor, no minimum wage, no overtime, lack of job safety, discrimination, equal pay for equal work, abandonment of social security and robbing of pensions, dismantling of unions brick by brick. and yes even unpaid internships, or simply not paying your employees at all while the projects they work on go on to make 100s of millions of dollars (a sad state I’ve experienced first hand).

    It’s not long before statements are made in public like:

    “It’s hard to break into this industry, but I did it. I did it because I was willing to work for free” Michelle Murdocca

    seemingly relatively tame, but then there’s:

    “not only will our labor be for free but we’ll actually have students paying us for the privilege to work on our films” John Textor

    and soon presidential candidates are shouting:

    “Child labor laws in this country are stupid” Newt Gingrich

    So you can say that we should bend on some of these laws and argue that there’s actually a lot of good in ignoring federal labor statutes but that’s how it starts, that’s how the locked doors get opened. Sadly it’s a lot easier to open them than to close them.

    What’s more alarming is that when you look at the divergence of productive and wages over the past thirty years and see the correlation to the erosion of labor’s leverage. It becomes clear. Lately America has been readily selling off it greatest treasures to the highest bidder along with millions of jobs and millions of livelihoods.

    Oh Dave you’re being ridiculous! what does that have to do with interns working for free you say?

    That’s how is starts, one door at a time. No need for me to explain any more to anyone on this topic.

  18. Scott Squires says:

    There are 2 different issues here:
    1. Employers don’t always want to hire inexperienced people.
    As a result they frequently want a ‘free’ trial period. These employers simply have lazy and inexperienced people doing the hiring. The company has the resumes, references and demo reels. That’s more than most non-vfx companies get. Based on the provided material they should be able to select who they think is the most suitable candidate and hire them in a starting position. In this industry it wouldn’t take much to have the composite supervisor sit them at a machine with Nuke or whatever and quickly access the top 3 candidates. Microsoft and other companies provide candidates with logic tests and other things to weed them down. Occasionally you will hire a person who doesn’t work out. That’s part of business.

    Now any company hiring someone with no experience has to realize that there will be a ramp up period and likely some training. Most of the larger companies have training programs and instructors. Not to teach them on standard software but to cover proprietary software and to cover their particular workflow. R&H has an apprentice program where they pay people a given rate to learn and be evaluated.

    2. Inexperienced people want their foot in the door. Specific schools don’t have as much weight as they might in other jobs. So they have to go above and beyond to create a reel and to learn auxiliary skills (such as Python, etc) They should take advantage of internships if they can while in school. After that they should focus on places willing to pay at least a base rate. Same as other jobs they have to get employees by their resume and interview. And they have a reel as well which other jobs do not have.

    Because if a company isn’t willing to pay at least minimum wage or some reasonable starting rate, then they’re really not that interested in you or the employees that work there. If the company has to pay you and is providing some mentoring then they will be considering it an investment. And they will take it seriously. And they will also seriously consider when/if they really have to lay you off and they will put more effort in trying to get work in. Without that any intern job could just turn out to be coffee go-fers

    Some companies make it habit of using temp workers and letting them go before too much time has elapsed. Or they have people part time just to be under some hour limit where they wouldn’t have to pay benefits. This is what Apple does (did?) at there Apple stores. If they kept people below 32 hrs then they didn’t pay any benefits.

    And don’t kid yourself. Many companies look at any way they can get free or cheap work done and exploit people. That’s why there are laws. Without that GE and every other hugely profitable company would be stacking free interns to the rafters. And don’t think that a bean counter won’t consider replacing experienced people with inexperienced people. It happens in our industry. They can get three people for the for the cost s you are. And even if each of them is 1/2 the speed the company still thinks they come out ahead.

    Many companies make it a habit of asking for lunch work or just work a little later. And after a certain point that becomes the new normal there. It’s expected.

    • Craig says:

      @Scott Squires:

      Scott, you make good arguments. Thanks.

      Of course, I’m going t challenge you on some of your assumptions. Not because I’m a jerk or contrarian like some seem to think, but because I have a different experience and point of view.

      Here is one big blanked assumption that you make: “Because if a company isn’t willing to pay at least minimum wage or some reasonable starting rate, then they’re really not that interested in you or the employees that work there”

      OK, first off, that is completely unfounded. If someone is hired for an unpaid position all it says is that the company is not that interested in *paying* you. If they let you into their building and allow you to use their equipment and have access to their software, network and employees, they sure as heck ARE interested in you. You don’t just let anybody in your front door.

      But furthermore, what does it even matter? Somebody that would offer to work for free obviously feels they would get some benefit from the experience. In my case, when I was young, I had to cold-call the company and essentially beg them to give me an unpaid internship (you can find the whole story elsewhere on this page). Was that company *interested* in me? I would guess not. Were they *interested* in me by the end of the internship? Well, they really liked me, but I doubt they were ready to offer me a job because I was still in high school. Did the internship benefit me even though the company was not *interested* in me? ABSOLUTELY. I learned so much that summer and I had some real experience to put on my resume.

      Also, here’s the thing that somehow people get stuck on the most. A company does have to pay to take anybody into a company. Taking on an intern / inexperienced person uses up resources. I mean, the computer and desk alone is an expense right there. Also, you mention substantial training and mentoring. That is a very real cost to the company that is directly benefitting the intern.

      I just can’t understand why things are so black and white for a lot of people here. Let’s imaging a sliding scale. At one end of the scale, you have somebody that is unskilled and inexperienced enough that they are willing to pay an institution tens of thousands of dollars a year in order to be mentored by teachers and work on fake digital projects (student). At the other end of the scale, you have somebody that gets paid tens of thousands of dollars a year to be mentored by professionals and work on real digital projects (entry-level employee).

      Now, something must happen along the way where a person’s situation changes from having to pay to work to getting paid to work. So, when does this happen? Is it all at once when that person gets handed a diploma or ‘certificate’? Of course not. We have all seen applicants from even reputable schools that have weak demo reels. Top VFX companies are usually very selective and send most to the big reject bin.

      A person’s value is based a sliding scale of many factors like skills, experience, personal disposition, etc. Given this pretty obvious reality, why is it OK to ignore the people that hover in the middle of that scale? Surely there must be people that have a mediocre reel and no experience that would greatly benefit from getting a foot in the door and chance to rise to a challenge.

      You know, for a lot of people, all they need is an opportunity to shine. Lots of talented people don’t graduate from schools with the best demo reel. Heck, lots of talented people don’t graduate from schools at all. I didn’t go to school for this stuff. What I needed was somebody to take a chance on me. When you are hovering in the malaise of mediocredom, sometimes all you need is the opportunity. I resent people who are willing to take away this kind of arrangement from the people who need it most. The already successful people don’t need a break, so they are free to pontificate about how other people should not be “exploited”. In reality, they are stunting the careers of a lot of people and making it harder to get experience. If your unpaid job turns into a “coffee go-fer” and you are not getting anything out of it…quit!

      Loads of people graduate and have the skills to get a paid entry-level position and they absolutely should get paid. Everybody should try to get paid if they feel they are worth it. Don’t donate your time to anybody if you feel you are not getting anything in return.

      Scott, going back to one of the first things you said: “These employers simply have lazy and inexperienced people doing the hiring.”

      Again, this is not true. Being hired on a “trial” basis gives a company the ability to give more people a shot than they would otherwise. You said yourself that companies make investments in new hires. It would be a really big waste and drain to continually hire people on a trial basis and not take it seriously.

      If I really wanted a certain entry-level job, I’d prefer that they accept more people than they can take and give me a chance to prove myself as opposed to them just selecting one lucky winner. Again, I relate my experience where an internship was awarded to another student, but I asked the company to give me a chance. At a certain point in your career, the most important thing is getting a foot in the door and getting experience. A trial basis may be the perfect opportunity.

      I hear what you are saying about hiring cheaper people to replace more expensive experienced people. Oh yes, that sounds horrible. We are doomed. But Scott, the thing is that concept has existed for all of time. Or at least since the free market has been around. So, why I am still making 4-5 times what an entry-level person is making? Why is my job not being done by 4-5 kids right now? No, seriously. I think the companies have had enough time to think about it. My salary has been very high for a number of years now. It’s not like they didn’t know I was very expensive. In fact, I know a lot of my colleagues are expensive as well. Yet, we only have a moderate amount of entry-level people in my department. My company is free to replace me each time my contract is up, yet I remain and my expensive co-workers remain.

      This has nothing to do with unpaid jobs here. I’m taking about full-fledged 40K per year entry-level people. Why is my job still around? I’ll tell you why. It’s because your theories are just fears. Chicken Little much? Just like the idea of unpaid internships in it’s abstract sounds like a horror, in reality they are just good opportunities for those that need experience.

      I’m not kidding myself. I know companies look at any way they can get free or cheap work done, but that does not mean they can and will exploit people. I think it is you who are kidding yourself. If any of the companies I’ve worked for could have saved lots of money by hiring multiple cheap and inexperienced people to replace me, then why have they not done so? I really want to hear what your answer is.

      I dunno, this is a pretty good example of an irrational fear that leads to laws prohibiting people from working an unpaid gig in order to better themselves. Thanks for telling us all what to do.

      • Compbrat says:

        Craig, could you comment on why the federal government made a mistake creating a federal law banning this? Also could you comment on the post above Craig’s I believe it answers why this is black and white here in the USA. I mean we could have allowed each company to have one slave, or some women to have the right to vote but not others, or some companies to have EPA regulations but not others. Then could you tell us what country you live in? You’d mentioned Kansas in a post but that was one of those gags to make a point, like the one you missed above… right, the lobster thing? No one is attacking you but just your argument in favor of free labor.. Its my guess you live in a different country given your lack of knowledge of basic federal labor laws and the reasoning behind them here in the USA.

      • Allegro says:

        @Compbrat as was posted above, internships are *not* against federal law.

        Ashes says:
        July 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm

        The FLSA does not apply if the the internship meets the following (take directly from the US DoL webpage):

        1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
        2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
        3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
        4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
        5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
        6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

        If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.

      • Compbrat says:

        I have one more request Craig. Could you explain how it would work here in the USA if the federal law was dropped.? Meaning what would prevent a new standard from evolving where it became common for all positions to require the applicant to work for free for three-six months as you’ve so generously allocated that time slot.as in “intern” before getting hired. Can you explain how this would not put a drag on wages and on the economy as hundreds of thousands of people were not working for free…some going from one job to the next waiting and hoping that eventually they get paid… explain why that would not happen in Craig’s brave new world.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat

        Sure, no problem. I live in the good ol’ US of A, though I have worked in VFX outside this country in the past.

        As to commenting on why I feel the federal government made a mistake creating a federal law banning unpaid internships/jobs, I feel like I have been commenting all along. I have been making arguments and using examples, both theoretical and from my real life.

        If feel like I am starting to repeat myself, though. The gist of the law is that a person cannot agree to work for a company for free in exchange for experience and mentorship even though both parties are doing so willingly.

        Just like Michelle Murdocca relates in her interview, I also have experience invaluable benefit from volunteering to work for free. The notion that either somebody is only either qualified to work (school) or be paid to work (job), where there is no middle ground is completely baseless. If anybody honestly thinks about it, of course there is a transition point that we all pass.

        I would argue that colleges in general do a good job of preparing people for paying jobs. That is the whole idea. But just because somebody has a degree does not mean they are instantly employable. What is your GPA is low and your showreel is weak? Heck, what if you got a degree in English, but you later decided to get into VFX?

        The spirit of the law denies that there is any middle ground between schooling and employment. This is simply not the case and not how the real world works. Again, think of it this way, for any given batch of applicants there are two piles. Those who make the cut and those who don’t. What do these piles mean? Are they sorted by education level? No, they are sorted by an objective evaluation by the company in terms of cost/benefit. If the company feels that an applicant’s skills are worth paying for, then that applicant will be made an offer commensurate with their ability level. On the flip side, if an applicant fails to impress, they get diddley-squat.

        I think everybody can agree on the basic economic premise above.

        Now, let’s talk about those people who just missed the cut. There are always those people who show some potential, but get denied for various reasons. They were just not worth the risk or investment. Chances are this is not an experienced person, but somebody just starting out that needs experience and time to improve.

        Tell me what is morally wrong with offering to let some of these people into your business to use your equipment, learn your pipeline and tools and get mentored by your employees in exchange for performing tasks?

        I find it pretty funny that you keep bringing up slavery as if that is any kind of comparison. You do realize that slaves were forced to work, right? This is about mutual benefit. If the applicant find to benefit for such an arrangement, they do not have to accept or even apply for an unpaid position.

        However, who do you think you are to speak for all people out there trying to better themselves? How is it that you feel that you can disallow them from making such an arrangement? You are literally taking away valuable opportunities from people that need them the most.

        People need to get a grip here. This is not a way of life. These kinds of things are stepping stones that propel people forward in their career.

        OK, about the lobster thing. Yes, that was a satirical story to make a point. I think my point was clear. Dave’s gag comment was also clear and it implicated me as being the problem with this country. If that was not his point, then yes, I misread his comment. But I have yet to see him explain what his point really was if not that very thing. It’s OK if that was his point, though. I just don’t see the reason to deny it.

        What shows that I have a lack of federal laws? Because I have a different opinion that what the laws are in the books? Hey, prohibition was once a law, too. In fact, they went so far as actually amending our Constitution to force people’s behavior. But just because it was the law of the land, didn’t make it right now did it. On the same token, much of segregation was instilled in actual laws. Are you just upset that I disagree with the law? You seem astounded that I dare disagree with a law. Guess what? Sometimes I jaywalk. Please don’t turn me in.

        I happen to think the reasoning behind a ban of unpaid work is unfounded. Just like Scott Squires fears of entry-level people taking over the jobs of experienced people. That concept (and fear) is not particular to our industry and it has been around for as long as people were paid wages. Yet, it has never materialized? Why? Because, it is generally just a effective fear that preys on our insecurities. Sure, it could happen, but as a whole it is just a senseless fear. People often make laws out of fear, not reason.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        Why don’t you take a crack at answering the question I posed to Scott? If a company could hire a gaggle of minimum wage kids to do my job for cheaper, why have they not done so? You may assume that I’m an outlier and am amazing at what I do and thus I’m uniquely indispensable. Well, thanks very much for the compliment, Compbrat, but I work with other equally skilled and compensated coworkers in my department, so that can’t be the only reason.

        Awaiting your answer…

      • Compbrat says:

        “If a company could hire a gaggle of minimum wage kids to do my job for cheaper, why have they not done so? ” I was giving Scott a chance to answer this one. He probably did not because he never said it. You have a bad habit of twisting what people say to help you make your point.

      • Compbrat says:

        @Allegro sorrry missed you pointing out to me that interships are not against the law… Just to be clear that is not what I said or implied anywhere. What I clearly stated was “The FLSA established a NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE for any employee being capitalized upon in any way” but thanks for posting the info in more detail.

  19. Craig says:

    Here is a link to a recent story on HuffPo I just found by a quick google search about unpaid internships:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/03/canada-internships-illegal-income-inequality_n_1563303.html

    The article is clearly written with a biased point of view.

    Here is one example:
    “Langille said that as unpaid internships have become widespread, the country has seen a decrease in the number of entry-level jobs and in some cases a youth unemployment rate of almost 20 per cent. In many cases, interns are hired instead of junior staff members.”

    Hmmm… is there a direct causation from unpaid internships to the unemployment rate of youth? Or is that unemployment rate more likely a result of the broader recession? This is a very weak argument that relies more on sentiment than facts.

    Also:
    “If an employer can get away with not paying a young person for their labour, then they probably won’t”

    ABSOLUTELY!!! But guess what also is true? If an employer can get away not ever giving employees raises or bonuses, then they probably won’t. If an employer could get away with paying everyone minimum wage, they probably would. So what? Paying somebody what they are deemed worth the a company is only fair. If not paying them is fair, then it should be allowed. Who deems whether something is fair? The person taking the job.

    What exactly is it that causes your employer to give you more than $7.25 per hour? Are they just being nice? Is the government forcing them to do it? Of course not. The whole idea of a job is to offer your services that are value to a company in exchange for a wage. If your skills are worth much more than a company is paying you, then some other company would probably like to take that opportunity to scoop you up for a higher wage so they can take advantage of that value.

    Yes, the article states that internships are on the rise, but so is the number of people filing for unemployment in this recession. What do you think is better? Some kid working at a real company for free to gain valuable experience or that same kid sitting at home playing X-Box?

    The article goes on to quote this one academic:
    “Young people are hitting this wall that is really damaging in terms of establishing one’s career and launching oneself into the labour force.”

    Oh really? That a nice opinion, but what about those examples earlier in the article that demonstrate young people gaining valuable experience and then getting scooped up for full employment in their chosen field? This article states that “Statistics on internships in Canada are sparse at best” so how are they able to make this claim?

    Here is another magnificent quote that seems naively intuitive to those that don’t take the time to think deeper:

    “Who is going to be entering these sorts of positions? It’s going to be young people who have the financial support, who have their families backing them. That attracts a certain demographic and it skews towards students from wealthier backgrounds. There’s class implications in this that play into income inequality,” said Langille.”

    This college professor claims that unpaid internships favor wealthier kids. On it’s face, that seems to be true, but is it? And are unpaid internships really any different from how the rest of the world works?

    Yes, it is true that kids that can stay at their parent’s house and get free room and board while they work an internship. And obviously wealthy people can draw on their own bank accounts to support them when they work for free. Lesser off people may have to hold another job while working for free or they may be prevented by taking the internship altogether.

    But let’s think about this for a second. What is the difference between this and the fact that wealthier kids can afford to not work and spend their time at their parents home working on their demo reel? People that have to work to pay the bills do not have as much time to build up a demo reel than people that don’t have to work. Working an unpaid internship is not a job. It is not meant to be a job. Just like putting in the hours doing blender tutorials online, it is about putting in the time and effort.

    Here’s the crux of the issue, though. When unpaid internships are illegal, there are much fewer internships. Making the naive assumption that companies would give the name number of opportunities paid or not is a fatal flaw. Especially in hard times, when money is tight, you can bet your bottom dollar that companies are tightening their belts, too.

    Look at it this way, an unpaid internship is a much better deal than shelling out tons of cash to pay for a trade school. One is just time and effort, the other is time, effort and money.

    ******
    How about we take the scenario of a guy that is in his thirties and has a wife, and two kids. He works as a underling architect, but he really wants to break into VFX. He has talent and drive, but no direct skills or experience. What are his options?

    Well, I think a lot of us here would suggest that he just start getting his hands dirty with free online software like the learning edition of Maya or Blender. Fire up YouTube and start following tutorials. Subscribe to trade magazines, websites, blogs, and user groups. Start reading them to get a feel for the industry and to aid in learning. I’d venture to guess that most of us would not suggest going back to school. Although that might be a good idea for some, there are so many resources available today, that one can learn the skills on professional software on his own.

    But when is this guy going to find the time to do all of this if he has a full-time job and a family to support? This is not simply learning how to edit images in Photoshop, this is complex software and a huge undertaking if he wants to be good enough to eventually be employed.

    So, what is the answer? If he really wants to do this, he’s got a couple of options:

    First, he could spend a few hours each evening and on weekends while keeping his day job. Given how much there is to learn, that’s a packed schedule, but if he’s really committed he’ll get there eventually.

    Second, he could find a way to take a few months off work and eat, sleep, and breath VFX in order to learn more in a shorter amount of time. (side note: I actually did this before I got my first VFX job. I cashed out my IRA, taking a penalty, in order to be able to dedicate a few months to creating a demo reel)

    The choice is his, but you’ll notice that both options require a sacrifice that in reality an investment in himself. He is not being paid to learn on his own. It’s too bad, but that’s called life.

    Now, given that this guy has to make sacrifices in order to break into a new field, what happens when he’s got a decent demo reel, but no contacts and no experience in VFX? If he sends his reel to as many companies as he can, but nobody offers to hire him, what is his next step?

    Is it to continue to take time off real work or use up nights and weekends in order to marginally improve his reel? If what he lacks is contacts and experience, spending a few more months on his reel is not going to make much of a difference. What he needs now is an opportunity -yet his reel and experience are not enough to convince anybody to take a chance and hire him outright.

    If he wants somebody to pay him money to do VFX, he needs to make himself more attractive to potential employers. That is done in basically two ways:
    1. Improve the quality of his showreel.
    2. Get real-world project experience.

    Since this guy cannot get experience without getting hired, that leaves only one pro-active option and that is to put more time into his reel. Improving a reel takes a big commitment. He may take a few more months off of work or continue to work nights and weekends to come up with something that will impress someone to hire a guy with no industry experience.

    So, tell me. What is the difference from this guy investing huge amount of hours working on his reel alone for free and him taking an unpaid job for a few months at a real studio? I would argue that taking an unpaid job would be the smarter move instead of sitting at home working on a reel. Both involve a time commitment, but you need to earn your way into a paying job.

    Taking the stance that is is morally wrong for a company to allow this guy to work for free in exchange for invaluable experience is ridiculous. Arguably he would be much more employable, much faster if he had experience at a real studio.

    • Compbrat says:

      I have one more request Craig. Could you explain how it would work here in the USA if the federal law was dropped.? Meaning what would prevent a new standard from evolving where it became common for all positions to require the applicant to work for free for three-six months as you’ve so generously allocated that time slot.as in “intern” before getting hired. Can you explain how this would not put a drag on wages and on the economy as hundreds of thousands of people were not working for free…some going from one job to the next waiting and hoping that eventually they get paid… explain why that would not happen in Craig’s brave new world.

      • Compbrat says:

        sorry just busy at work and meant to type
        “I have one more request Craig. Could you explain how it would work here in the USA if this federal labor law was dropped.? Meaning what would prevent a new standard from evolving where it became common for all positions to require the applicant to work for free for three-six months as you’ve so generously allocated a time for “interning” before getting hired. Can you explain how this would not put a drag on wages and on the economy as hundreds of thousands of people were suddenly working for free?…some going from one job “test” to the next waiting and hoping that eventually they get paid??… Explain why that would not happen in Craig’s brave new world.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        No problem. That’s really simple.

        The reason it would not be common for ALL applicants to be required to work for free for 3-6 months if the law were dropped, is the same exact reason that all people at your company are not paid the same.

        Let’s see now. You are assuming that virtually ALL entry-level people will be offered nothing but unpaid work for 3-6 months as opposed to only a small portion on less qualified job-seekers.

        That means that there is a pool of cheap labor (entry-level) out there that companies can take advantage of, yet you say all companies will offer absolutely zip to them all as far as wages go.

        You are completely discounting how the free market works. If all of those workers had the same exact skills and were pretty much identical in every was in terms of employment, then you may have a point. But that is not reality. Young people vary greatly in skill and experience and can add huge value to companies and companies compete for the best people. This is the essence of our entire economy, dude.

        Let’s say you are right and no young people ever get any paid when they start out. If a business Alpha wants to hire quality candidates, what can they do to make that happen? Well, they do what they do with you. They decide to make if worth your while. Maybe Alpha company decides to attract the best and the brightest by offering them a free lunch every day. That would work. But then again, so would giving them a lunch ‘stipend’ each day. So, let’s just say that a company ‘bribes’ the best young people to come work for them by throwing them a few bucks a day. To a young kid, that sure would help, huh?

        Now, the other companies in the industry see that they are consistently picking from the bottom of the barrel. So, does company Beta do? You guessed it, they create their own incentive to one-up the other company. Maybe they double the stipend from something like 10 bucks to 20 bucks a day. This is not that crazy of an idea if you are really trying to attract good candidates. As Pixar says, it’s all about the people.

        So, it seems reasonable that companies would start to create incentives to get the most effective employees. Where does all this one-upsmanship stop? How far do they go with these ‘bribes’. Well, I’d argue the equilibrium is the point where the company still felt that hiring an individual was to their benefit compared to the cost. What is this bribery? It’s called a salary.

        Also, if you think that companies will not hire people after they intern, but will just continually cycle through unpaid people, then why do most interns get jobs as a result? In that HuffPo article why are these restaurants and other business hiring these people? Could it be that they actually did invest in them, although not monetarily? Could it be that they would rather hire someone they know can do the job well rather than starting over at each turn with a newbie?

        Fears of unpaid internships are irrational and unfounded.

    • Marcus says:

      You’re looking too specifically at our industry. There’s tons of ways to easily gain experience and exposure nowadays, both free and expensive. That is however not the case for other fields, where you NEED on the job experience at a proper company to get anywhere. Putting in hours in an office/kitchen/factory is not optional. That’s where unpaid internships might become a problem and indeed favor rich kids as there is no demoreel or online courses you can work on at home that will hand you anything meaningful to give you exposure.

      With our field still being fairly mercenary-like, unpaid work is just as good/bad as when someone is a poor business person. I also got started in an unpaid internship which was part of my otherwise mostly CompSci studies – and I learned more in a few weeks of high pressure, result-oriented work than I could have ever learned in the 3D classes offered at the university. On the flipside, my starting wage at the first “real” job in this industry was higher than many guys that did the same work as myself. So while the unpaid work was what it was, I was able to profit on it and continue to drive up the salary by being somewhat smart about negotiations, etc.

      Really, a VFX artist who is bad at business is probably more detrimental to the industry at large as the occasional unpaid internship. But we had that discussion before as well🙂

      • Craig says:

        @Marcus:

        Thanks for your input. Another example from somebody who benefitted from an unpaid internship. I would venture to guess that it greatly helped you not only get your first job, but also to increase your starting wage.

        You are absolutely correct about people that are bad at business. If you are somebody who takes an unpaid internship for a year or two, you are likely the same person that will start at an entry-level position and never get a significant raise. What are you going to do? I know many people who hire a negotiator for their VFX contracts. I’ve never felt the need, but if you are bad at speaking on your own behalf, then by all means give it a shot.

      • Craig says:

        @Marcus:

        Oh, and I might add that I don’t particularly agree with your assessment about industries that NEED on-the-job experience.

        Why would somebody in an office/kitchen/factory need job experience to get hired? I worked as a busboy at 4.25 an hour and the waitresses didn’t share the tips.

        Low-skill jobs are not the type of jobs that need vast experience to get a foot in the door. What about mailroom/dishwasher/dock-loaders? These are entry-level position that do not require prior experience. Can you come up with a better example?

      • Allegro says:

        @Craig
        I’d say that a kitchen is a relevant comparison…

        Just as a busboy wouldn’t need previous training, neither would a runner at a cg studio…

        A sous chef and a vfx td are reasonably comparible though…

      • Craig says:

        @Allegro:

        OK, sure. That’s we can go with that comparison, but Marcus says that it is not easy to get experience and exposure in that field. I would seriously beg to differ. Low-skilled jobs are not hard to obtain for those that actually want them.

      • Compbrat says:

        @Craig…So the free market would fix it, except for the low skill jobs? I see, not too many of those. Is roto a low skill job?.. that’s what I started with as a paid employee. Who should decide where to draw the line (no pun intendted)? AS a matter of fact who’d decide which entry level jobs in VFX would be where we’d draw the line? Never mind the rest of economy now failing because no one is getting paid and while they are on a free trial especially this economy where the there’s 1 in 5 out of work, so we should fix that by stopping payment on entry level jobs?. You really think your free market theory would fix all that. Are you and economist ready to challenge 70 yrs of federal legislation while you shoot from the hip on these pages. Considering it ws just yesterday you realized there were laws in place? You seem to be a professional blogger.. you still need to tell us what country is your home country and I’d like to add what is your job title? I’m a compositor in Los Angeles..it’s easy.

      • Compbrat says:

        Also would you favor abolishing the minimum wage? Are there some other areas of US labor laws that need adjusting to allow your free market theory to flourish?

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        Wait. You just said “the rest of economy now failing because no one is getting paid”. I thought unpaid internships/jobs were illegal here. How are you blaming them for the economy failing then? Sounds like you are just ideologically against the idea.

        About low-skill jobs, I’m not quite sure what you are asking. I said low-skilled jobs are generally not hard to come by. Do you think anybody would do a low-skilled job for long if they did not think they were getting anything out of it?

        Your 70 yrs of federal legislation does not impress me. For a couple of hundred years it was illegal to sell liquor in Sundays. Laws can exist for a long time. Doesn’t mean they good or bad.

        I just love it how you put things: “stopping payment on entry level jobs”. What are you talking about? You have this truly dystopian fear of society collapsing if people were able to make their own decisions. The sad thing is that you actually do think that would happen, yet you have no proof.

      • Compbrat says:

        “…the rest of economy now failing because no one is getting paid” never said that is happening now, what I said was in a world where entry level can be considered unpaid internship we’d definitely see an increase in unpaid jobs especially in times of weak economic growth. There was a great book written by Upton Sinclair in this country called the Jungle. It was a great report on how things were before labor laws were introduced. You should read it. Times have changed for the better since those days. WE don’t want to return. You can if you like but not in this country. I suggest you stay away if you don’t like the labor laws here. As for my questions looks like you have no answers…that’s fine… just keep changing what I say to suit you argument instead, or you don’t really understand English to well seems the cultural differences slip by you. That’s fine we’ve established for some time now that is how you roll. Since you’re regularly painting everyone’s picture for them on these pages lets see if we can use that same logic. I’ll take a guess and say you don’t even work in visual effects, maybe you used to but the jobs dried up in your area of the world. The more your write the more you help our argument. Good luck to you and sorry it did not work out for you. No need to be bitter.

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        Wooo! You sure are getting hot under the collar, Compbrat. Is that why you call yourself a brat? Are you a privileged person that never needed a break? Did you pay for school to get into VFX? Just curious.

        I congratulate you on conflating a whole world of issues.

        Let’s see… Upton Sinclair. Yeah, he was a Socialist who wrote a overly-dramatic shock novel to get people’s attention. His claims like people falling into vats to become sausage were never verified. Do you think reality TV is real, too?

        Putting somebody in danger at their job is different than allowing somebody to work for free if they so choose.

        Society does learn and progress all the time. Believing that it is only because of government force is a mistake.

      • Compbrat says:

        I wonder if the book caught you off guard as your scurried ot Wikipedia to check on that as you did the federal labor laws you were obviously unaware of during your rather lengthy critiques because if one googles your text that’s right where it goes –wikipedia But you left out the part at the bottom where it states…The Jungle caused considerable public awareness and the Roosevelt administration initiated the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which established the Bureau of Chemistry that would become the Food and Drug Administration in 1930. It’s also considered a classic and is on the reading list of most schools and universities in America an many abroad.

        Yes I am a brat according to my husband. You don’t so much make me hot under the collar as you compel me stand up for my own country and it’s labor principles. I thank you for that motivation, and I’m sure many of the readers of your posts do..even though it’s not your intent it’s certainly the result of your compelling logic. I loved your free market theory on India especially great stuff, man you’ll try to spin anything into your yarn!! Thanks!! . I have some questions for you though. Do you draw a paycheck from a country where half of it comes from the taxpayers? Is that why you don’t want to say? Because it would be somewhat hypocritical to do that while criticizing socialism and labor laws the way you do.
        Are the projects you work on from American studios and does that generate a level of unwarranted uneasiness and place a chip on your shoulder due to the content of these pages?

  20. Paul says:

    You guys done?! Please turn the lights off the lights thank you!

    • Never mind I’ve just learned Craig’s an unpaid intern blogger for Sony, sadly they’ve decided to pull his plug today so he moving on to the work as a free intern blogger for Rush Limbaugh.

      • Craig says:

        I only mention Sony because Michelle is from Sony. As others have pointed out, Sony does pay their interns.

      • Compbrat says:

        Craing think Lobster farm in Kansas and these statements will make sense to you. I’m now certain you can not be American as our humor flys right over your head.. So what country are you from and what is your job title? I think that’s a fair question seeing as you are so ready to criticize American Labor Laws. I’m a compositor in Los Angeles …it’s easy…

      • Craig says:

        @Compbrat:

        Your humour? You think you are being funny in some way? Wow. By comments like this and your “Talented VFX Veteran” moniker you give yourself, you certainly seem like an elitist arrogant person to me. No wonder you feel that you can prohibit what somebody does with their own free time.

      • Compbrat says:

        Oh Montreal…now it all makes so much sense.

      • Compbrat says:

        ..but I am just guessing. BTW I have no idea who Talented VFX Vet is either….

  21. deanareeno says:

    I needed to get a little perspective on where Michelle Murdocca is coming from in her quoted response, so I looked up when she started working ‘for free’ based on her IMDb entry . From that info I’m surmising 1994 as there are no entries prior to that and she lists most of that year’s entries as ‘uncredited’.

    That’s 18 years ago. I don’t remember reading anything during that mid-’90s time frame that indicated there was widespread abuse of unpaid workers in the VFX industry.

    I understand where Michelle and Craig are coming from, in that for the two of them, initially working hard ‘for free’ actually ended up paying them huge rewards in the long run. They are sincere when they tell you it worked for them, because, well, it did.

    The problem is that while in 1994 it might have been good advice to be ‘willing to work for free’ in VFX to get a foot in the door and impress, it’s not good advice for someone in 2012, generally speaking (and more specifically, obviously in Textor’s vision for DD).

    There are still good companies, but there are also more vampires around than there were in 1994. Sure seems that way, anyway.

  22. Ashes says:

    I wouldn’t use IMDB as your only source for finding out the professional experience of someone. Ms. Murdocca has been working since about 1988. She even worked with interns back in the mid 1990s and helped people start their careers.

    I still stand by my position, that a short unpaid internship for someone with NO professional experience in the field they would like to work in can be a good thing. Of course, I am also only in support of these internships if they follow the law and qualify as internships.

    • deanareeno says:

      IMDb was a quick source for my own clarification, as I didn’t know who Michelle was prior to reading this post.

      To back up your first paragraph (assuming the info at the following link is accurate):

      ‘She began her career in 1988 at Videocraft Film & Tape in Boston, where she produced commercials, documentaries, industrials and corporate videos.’ – http://goo.gl/MOuWo

      Just replace ’18 years ago’ with ’24 years ago’ and ‘1994’ with ‘1988’ in my first reply — my point still stands.

      To your second paragraph: we agree.

  23. Just heard from my friend in India. Some of them read this blog but are too scared to post. I thought I’d add his thoughts on this. “..here in Mumbai (Bombay to some) we were reading the posts and can’t be strong enough in our advice to never surrender your hard won labor law..we work all the time with no pay no sleep. overtime is a dream for us. Everyone has to work for free and have connection to get the job. We dream of your life. I would give anything to work in the USA. We are not even allowed to give our names to our American partners for fear they will poach us from the shop. You have no idea what you have…DON’T let it slide away. You will never get it back.”. There you have it

    • Craig says:

      @Talented VFX Veteren:

      “We are not even allowed to give our names to our American partners for fear they will poach us from the shop.”

      Hmmm… seems like the free market trying to work to me.

      I’ve heard Sony can’t keep quality work coming in from it’s Imageworks India. That’s not because the Indians are unable to improve, it’s because they can’t keep their workers. Once they get experience at Sony, they then have the leverage to move on to other companies and ask higher salaries and they do.

      India has so many other other problems that contribute to its economic insanity. Unfortunately, it is known as the corruption capital of the world. India has vastly more intense government control and regulation of the economy than here in the US.

      Despite what you may assume, I do advocate labor unions. I just to not think that they are always good as they can become too powerful and outlive their usefulness in any given situation.

    • Talented VFX Veteren says:

      You are the assumer. Thanks for actually attempting to argue that last one, taking the bate, your writings have been very helpful. Are you related to Sarah Palin?

      • Craig says:

        @Talented VFX Veteren:

        Oh, gosh. I took the bait, huh? You sound like a smug arse to me.

      • Talented VFX Veteren says:

        When all arguments fail resort to name calling . Hey really looking forward to more of your free market theory on today’s post from Soldier on India!! Btw using “arse” my guess, and it’s only a guess … is Montreal …if so no wonder your so pissed off. If true though, how can you condem socialism and labor laws when not only does half your paycheck come from the government subsidy program but you work in an area that has the worst VFX labor law history in the business?

    • Anonymous says:

      Craig you have made a few good points, but injecting falsehoods into what people have said and having the need to counter not by arguement but by person is so transparent it takes away from the small amount of good points you may have made . You seem to be angry with America. What country are you from?

    • Craig says:

      @Anonymous:

      What are my injected falsehoods?

      • Compbrat says:

        I believe each person disputed this on their own above as you regularly twist what people have written. on this page alone. You’ve even apologized for this in the past. If you like I’ll take some time tonight and list them all for you.

  24. Ymir says:

    Any effects house that expects interns (or anyone) to work for free should not lament when the studios ask for unlimited changes, for free (or part of a fixed bid).

    • Allegro says:

      Exactly. The same way that an artist negotiates a contract with the vfx house, the vfx house negotiates a contract with a studio.

      If the vfx house negotiates unlimited changes then c’est la vie. If a vfx house wants to be profitable however…

      • Compbrat says:

        ….they just go bankrupt and open under a new name after shafting all the artists of their pay…in Montreal that is c’est la vie to my pay….

      • Compbrat says:

        because sadly in the real world you don’t get the job if you don’t play by the studios rules so the artists, having the least amount of power, usually loose.

    • Ashes says:

      The two are not even close in comparison. They are completely different types on contracts with completely different motivations.

      • Ymir says:

        In principle they are the same. No one should expect anyone to work for free, who is not willing to work for free themselves.

      • Ashes says:

        Um, no, they aren’t. Individual employment contracts and vendor contracts between separate corporations aren’t in the same league. Very different set of circumstances. If you can’t see the difference between the impacts of those two, then really, you’re not going to do anything productive in make things any better in the vfx industry.

  25. Scott Squires says:

    Wrote a long post yesterday that got lost in the login process.
    Will try remember some of the basics here.

    Good companies know what’s legal and whats not. They also know what’s moral and what’s not. If a company truly is offering an unpaid internship that doesn’t qualify then how many other things does the company ignore? I consider that a red flag and suspect that many other issues there are ignored. Not a good sign even for the paid workers there.

    If a company is unwilling or unable to pay for an intern then they really don’t place much value in these people or even their effort to get these workers. $7 x 40 hrs = $280 a week or so for minimum wage. Seems a small price for a company that had a true interest in doing so. Yes, the company has some overhead of looking after these people and doing supervision but if they’re unwilling to put actual money into this then they don’t take it seriously. They’re more likely using free time one of the leads has and bringing in a half dozen people to do low level work, for free.

    I had the same issue with the IA and IBEW when they both said they didn’t have money for a website. That implied to me that they weren’t interested. (The iA has since come through) Because if a company or organization has money and a budget yet are unable to set aside a meager amount to cover a new venture or talent, then they aren’t serious.

    If companies were truly interested in bringing in people as newcomers then there are better ways to do so.
    R&H has their apprentice program. Diseny has a talent development trainee program.
    http://storyboardsecrets.com/blog/disney-opens-talent-development-artist-trainee-program/

    These companies understand that much of their whole business operates on an eco system of trained workers. And they are willing to pay a little money knowing that this investment will pay off very well.

    Schools – Schools training vfx people should do a better job of covering a real working environment. If DD we’re truly serious they could easily provide students with elements and shots from the previous show to work on. Give them deadlines. Have them work together. Compare their results to what the compositor on the shot did and how they did it. Have the students work on a short film with vfx with feedback from the student director. (I’m surprised by the colleges that don’t build on the synergy of what they have. Theater dept, film dept, animation, etc. all seem to be separate entities with no intermixing)

    If you go to school for television then they will have a small television studio where all different jobs are working at this simulated studio. Students get hands on experience in a reasonable environment. There’s time to adjust. Time to re-examine and to learn. Flaunting names in credits and throwing them in is not going to cut it. And trying to save money by using unpaid students or interns only benefits the companies.

    For the vfx worker who feels they need to work for free – Make sure you get a good vfx education. Make contacts at school. Produce a great reel. These days the tools ,equipment and training are fairly cheap. Some of these are even free (trial software, etc). Where you once had to actually work somewhere to get this type of experience with specialized tools and equipment you no longer have to.Intern while you’re a student where it makes sense. Work with other students on short films or demo material.

    Even if you take an unpaid internship there’s no guarantee that you will learn what you need to learn.

    As to the question why don’t all companies simply replace their people with unpaid interns – There have been a number of cases where bean counters looked at the prices being paid to workers and have in fact tried to replace some of the workers. Their reasoning being if we can pay new people 1/3 of the price, even if they’re 1/2 the speed, of an experienced person, they still think they come out ahead. I’ve seen it happen and it’s never good.
    They do retain many of the higher paid workers because they know they need to and because they need people to take up the slack of the new people. The idea is not to replace everyone but if they can shave a percentage of people off payroll they will certainly consider it. And if management is focused on looking good in the short term they have no qualms in doing so.

    And yes, there can be gray areas but I would recommend to newcomers to value yourself and focus on applying for paying jobs rather than simply jumping on an unpaid internship.

    • Craig says:

      @Scott Squires:

      I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but again, you mainly rely on good intentions and wishful thinking instead of how the real world works. Of course we all wish everyone in the world to have a good paying job that they love. You can’t make that happen by law or blogging. I hope to have time this weekend to really dedicate to making some concrete arguments.

      I will take the time to make a quick comment on a couple things that stands out to me right way. You said:

      “Schools training vfx people should do a better job of covering a real working environment.”

      Uhhh… yeah that would be great. It would also be great if they guaranteed that every graduate had the talent and skill to be worth hiring. So, what do you do if you graduate from a school and only have a mediocre reel and not much of a grasp of a real VFX work environment? What if you are not impressive enough to convince a VFX firm to hire you?

      What do you do, Scott? Do you go back to another school and pay more money in hopes to get a more impressive reel? Do you hold out and not work at all until somebody takes a chance on your mediocre reel (watch out, there are more graduates coming into compete in the job market all the time). Do you take a job that you hate and just wait it out until you are “discovered”? Your reel and experience are not going to get more impressive with time on their own.

      Once you are solidly on your career path, it is easy to forget how hard it can be to break into the industry. Once you have experience, nobody can take that away from you. By preventing people from working for free, you are taking away their freedom to gain extremely valuable experience. Experience when you have none is worth a lot. Just because you and others here don’t need it anymore, does not mean others would not greatly benefit.

      People love to pontificate about what “should” happen – as if their wishful thinking actually helps anybody in the real world.

      I did not go to school for this stuff. I spent years studying this on my own before I was paid to do it. I worked an unpaid internship and also was hired on a trial basis. Nobody guaranteed me anything, but what I was given was opportunity.

      Many people forget that the USA is often called the “Land of Opportunity”, not the “Land of Guaranteed Results if You Wait It Out”.

      Your last sentence very eloquently displays your lack of real understanding of the problem:

      “And yes, there can be gray areas but I would recommend to newcomers to value yourself and focus on applying for paying jobs rather than simply jumping on an unpaid internship.”

      I think it would be pretty obvious that the people that would apply and work in an unpaid internship are the people that cannot actually find a paying job doing what they would like to do. Are you assuming that people trying to get into this field do not apply for actual entry-level positions? I don’t get why you would make this assumption. Please explain.

      And what do you mean by focus on paying jobs? Are you saying ANY paying job? Even jobs that are no closely aligned with VFX? Again, the people we are talking about here are people that *cannot* find an entry-level position to begin their career in this field. We are not talking about what you would do. Because you have experience, a paying job will come around eventually. Not so with people with no experience.

      I’m not sure why you don’t quite seem to get the contradictions and irony in that your advice to people who cannot find a paying job is to focus on finding a paying job. Is that really advice? Assuming this is already the prime objective of that person, what good does it to to tell them to keep doing it? How long will they wait? Is there nothing they can do to improve their chances or marketability?

      And one more thing:

      “Even if you take an unpaid internship there’s no guarantee that you will learn what you need to learn.”

      Gosh, that was profound. Hey. There are no guarantees in life. There is no guarantee that you will even like a paying job. There are no guarantees that a girl you start dating will become your wife. This is how life works. We do what we think is in our own best interest. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Your apparent penchant for guarantees says a lot about you, but not particularly useful to others.

      By making it illegal for somebody to agree to work for a VFX company for a few months to gain experience limit’s their freedom to take a chance on themselves and implies that you know better than the rest of us.

  26. Scott Squires says:

    When I started it wasn’t easy. There weren’t many vfx jobs to be had and very few vfx features were being made. No demo reel. No vfx schools. No colleges with vfx classes. Knocking on doors and going from place to place with resume in hand. I’m sure I said I’ll do anything same as many new people now. But most companies then as now – either had no work or didn’t want to open the flood gates to everyone who walked in the door and said they’d work for free.

    1. Know what you’re getting into before you target a career in vfx. Just like art, music, writing, filmmaking, etc. there are much fewer jobs than people interested in those areas. Getting hired requires talent, understanding, luck and perseverance. It’s possible you will have a hard time finding a job. If that’s not for you then don’t go for it.

    2. If you do go to a physical school with the intention of working in vfx then try to pick one near vfx companies and see if they offer internships in school. That’s a valid way of getting additional learning and connections and happens while you’re in your school years. Disney and other places have a long list of undergraduate internships.

    3. Make sure you educate yourself and have the skills and talent to stand out from others. If you’re the same as a thousand other people applying for a job then the odds are not great you will be hired. If you’re not good in what you graduated in (be honest) then you’d better improve or consider another career.

    3. Apply to every paying vfx related job you can. Don’t only target a small subset of companies. Know that it will take time. Most companies do not have job openings year round.

    4. Should you exhaust those options consider anything connected that will be able to pay the bills and provide actual learning experience. (i.e. work in games, multimedia, graphics, etc) Consider the pay and what it will add to your skill set and resume.

    5. The last thing you should consider is an unpaid internship once you’ve completed school. You may be much better off working on doing new shots for your demo reel or taking additional online classes during that time. Most effects companies can not and will not take on unpaid interns (i.e. non-student). You can discuss observing which may be an alternative but with NDAs that’s unlikely as well. Check to see if you can qualify for any valid internships (i.e. if you’re taking additional classes). The places that do offer unpaid internships may not be able to provide the training you need and may not really add much value to your resume. If you’re simply swapping out text in a Photoshop file for Fred’s Title Shack that’s unlikely to help get you hired at any of the actual visual effects companies. I won’t say there’s no gray areas here but I fail to see the point of considering this step until you’ve exhausted all other avenues.

    As I pointed out internships may not provide any learning. Very dependent on the place and people involved. I do consider this important because if you’re given away the thing you have (time) for free you’d better be getting something out of. If you’re working for free to file papers you’ve gained absolutely nothing. You’d be better off working on your skills on your own or doing something else that pays money. Should you find yourself doing something along these lines then you should be constantly re-evaluating the situation. Many companies will be fine keeping you as an unpaid intern for a year or more. Obviously it’s in their best interest to not pay you if they only consider the bottom line. (Likely the first reason they brought you on). If you’re not learning anything new then move on. You owe the company as much as they’ve paid you – nothing.

    Now it would be nice if Disney and all the other companies that offer undergraduate internships consider apprenticeship type of programs. These would be low pay for a limited time period (i.e. not to displace existing workers) They would be used for training and determining if any of these people would be good to keep in a full time job. With the economy the way it is not everyone has the opportunity to be going to school near these places and they tend to be unemployed longer. This would give those students who graduated but are still in limbo a chance to continue to learn and increase their odds of getting jobs. Look at R&H with their apprentice program.

    • Craig says:

      @Scott Squires:

      Scott, some very sound advice there.

      As a matter of fact, I think I agree with just about everything you said.

      Even this statement:

      “You may be much better off working on doing new shots for your demo reel or taking additional online classes during that time.”

      BUT…. you may not be. Sitting at home and working more on a reel and even paying money for more tutorials online may be helpful to some for sure. There is always more learning to do. I have been doing this for a couple decades now and I still do online tutorials. But just because everyone can learn and improve their reels, doesn’t mean that is the best way to jump start a career. Most people that are at that stage do not need to do more tutorials. They need a shot. They need experience.

      I’d like to point out your determined effort to believe that an unpaid internship will be unrewarding. True, filing papers is not likely going to be a great internship. But that is up to the individual to determine based on the particular situation. I’d argue that there would be a line out the door of applicants to file papers if they were doing it inside the walls of Pixar or ILM. The bottom line is that if it doesn’t sound like you would benefit from taking an unpaid position, then don’t. If a position does not end up being what the company claimed, then quit.

      Again, you keep insisting that internships may not provide any learning. Well, I seriously doubt that, but even if it was true, a major point of an internship is to get experience at a real working facility. Learning this stuff takes years to get really good and most of us learn only one way. That’s by spending hours alone on the computer. People that would go for these internships would be people that want to get a foot in the door, not people who expect the company to teach them how to do VFX.

      I agree with your general assessment and advice that young people need to evaluate an opportunity in terms of cost-benefit before they do any work for free. I would assume that most sane people would do this anyway.

      “Many companies will be fine keeping you as an unpaid intern for a year or more”.

      Ummmm…. that is true, but what is your point? My current company would be fine paying me minimum wage, but if they tried that, I’d quit. I don’t exactly see what you are saying here other than trying to paint all companies as evil. Why are you trying to scare people with these years of unpaid paperwork. I don’t know anybody that would agree to do that. As is a common theme here, you do not give people credit for having brains and making calculated decisions.

      Here’s something interesting:

      “Now it would be nice if Disney and all the other companies that offer undergraduate internships consider apprenticeship type of programs.”

      I agree. It would be nice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think DreamWorks and R&H do this? Instead of wishful thinking, why not address economic realities. If Disney could offer unpaid internships, then perhaps they would have a program like that.

      I find it interesting that a kid can go work for Disney unpaid for six months as part of an expensive school internship program, yet another kid the same exact age not in school is prevented from doing the same thing. So, it’s OK to pay to work when you are in school, but if you are not attending an expensive college, then it is illegal for you to have such an experience.

      I think most of what you say here is good advice, if not common sense. I strongly disagree with your opinion that an unpaid internship is the worst thing you can do. I feel bad for people who blindly follow that advice.

    • Ashes says:

      Awesome post. One thing I would add is, if you can’t get in to a vfx house as an artist, see if you can get a job as a PA or coordinator. Most houses will let you use the machines and software in the off hours. Artists are usually very willing to help you out with learning the software or letting you practice on some shots. They’ll give great critiques and if you work hard, will mention you to the sups and producers. So, you’re chances of getting hired on as an artist will have just gone up.

      • Craig says:

        Definitely. That is good advice. In my experience, veteran artists are very generous with their time when it comes to people they see that are trying hard to get into the business.

      • Scott Squires says:

        Yes, very good points regarding trying to get in as a PA or coordinator if not as an artist. These are paid position where you have a chance to see the operating of a company up close.

  27. Scott Squires says:

    Craig, It’s easy for people to get caught up in their jobs, even unpaid internships and not re-evaluate. I offer that advice even to people who get paid. Not that people are dumb but just as a simple reminder. I’ve seen people stay at jobs they hate so they could make sure they showed a full year on their resume. My suggestion is it would be better to spend less time at the place you aren’t learning or that you hate and spend it doing something productive.

    I don’t say internships are the worst thing you could do. I simply stating to look at other avenues before doing so because some people are given the notion that they are required to put in a year of unpaid internships before they can get a job. It’s not a requirement by any means. Strive first to get a real paying job.

    Filing papers may let you in the door at at a place like ILM but you may soon discover that it takes you longer to be taken seriously. Ive seen people rise from humble beginnings even at places like ILM but they had to be willing to learn and in all cases they were being paid even in a low position.

    • Craig says:

      Right. We are in complete agreement that people need to evaluate their positions. I do this at least every time my contract is up. I had the impression that most people did occasionally think about these things, too, considering how much time we put in at the office.

      You give good and thoughtful advice, but I’m not convinced of your argument that most people don’t pay attention to their own lives.

      I guess I’m just not really aware of all the people that are “given the notion that they are required to put in a year of unpaid internships before they can get a job”.

      Is this true? I have never heard this as a generally understood requirement. I’ve worked for a number of companies that have hired kids right out of school. I figure the reason these kids get hired is that they are a good value for the money.

      • Scott Squires says:

        I think people pay attention to their lives overall but change is difficult. And as people get busy I find many people focused on the day to day issues and suddenly realizing they spent more time in a given position than they expected or possibly even wanted.

        I see a number of people looking for internships after school. It may not be most people but that’s certainly mentioned by others to look at getting an internship. It tends to be rattled off as the way to get in. Same way that quite a few people think they have to start in roto to do any vfx work.

      • Craig says:

        @Scott Squires:

        Okaaaaay…. Again. It is good to remind people to keep their options open and keep informed. But that is not even what we are debating here. We completely agree on this. In fact, blogs like this are a terrific way to keep a pulse on the industry.

        I find your arguments getting weakened to the point of hearsay:

        “It tends to be rattled off as the way to get in.”

        And yes, starting in roto work is a very legitimate way to get into VFX work. Are you belittling people that do that now as a stepping stone? Again, I think you are applying your own learned and experienced situation to that of others.

    • Craig says:

      One more thing before I go.

      “Ive seen people rise from humble beginnings even at places like ILM but they had to be willing to learn and in all cases they were being paid even in a low position.”

      Well, I’d assume that somebody that was willing to take an unpaid position would be very willing to learn and work hard, so that really should be a given and not part of your argument.

      So, are saying that people can rise from humble beginnings, even from low positions, but it probably isn’t worth it if that first low position is unpaid? I’m unclear of what your point is.

      Obviously, it is better to get paid for a position than not get paid.

      But if ILM was offering a humble and low unpaid position, you would advise against taking it? Am I also correct in assuming that you not only would advise against it, but you believe it should be illegal to take it?

      • Scott Squires says:

        ILM doesn’t offer unpaid internships as far as I know. I think they even paid a little for student internships at one point but I wasn’t directly involved.

        Someone I know worked on the janitorial staff (paid) while doing some of her education. She learned a lot and was able to shift over at a convenient point. I don’t think she originally planned to get into vfx but took up the opportunity. She now works at Pixar. I’ve seen people in the reception position and security departments (both paid) likewise move into production positions. Much depends on the size of the company and management. Some companies are very open to it and others are not. How easy that would be to do today with ILM I couldn’t say.

        The reason there is a law is because it’s far too easy for companies to prey on people. And we’re talking companies in general. When people are without work they look at ever opportunity – working for free, working from home, going to a for profit school based on their ads, etc. all with the hope of making it through to a paying job. And yes, some companies will postpone moving people from interning to paying position. “Now’s not the right time, we’ll be getting a new project next month, as soon as we release this game, etc.” If an intern leaves they would just replace them with another. Look at the fashion industry and some of the reasons for the crackdown. To these companies interns are not to be trained but to be a percentage of their workforce, unpaid, meaning more profits.

        Are there some companies, including some vfx companies that would do the right thing and use that as an opportunity to train people and evaluate people. Sure, but how do you police that and what percentage do those companies make up? And if a company is truly interested in bringing in people, training and evaluating them then the $300 a week is small potatoes to do so.

        Just re-read the disney program note. You can have graduated within 3 years and still qualify.
        http://storyboardsecrets.com/blog/disney-opens-talent-development-artist-trainee-program/
        These are paid positions.

        Some studios offer similar apprentice programs for writers and I believe those are paid as well.

        Better to try for those situations or as noted other paying positions in the companies before considering an unpaid and unqualified internship.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Our labor laws protect workers the same way speed limit signs protect drivers. Although not life threatening you can get the point. Most all our labor laws came from union efforts and it’s the reason we enjoy a quality of life at the workplace that is dramatically different than countries that have never built up this kind of protection. You can take all the speed limit signs down and let the free market figure it out but you’ll get what history has proven and exemplifies even today. Take a look at the devastation Wall Street just caused world markets after being deregulated . Take a look at soldier’s next post on India. Because of union influence we have these standards in America and there is still plenty of room for upward mobility. The reason everyone why so many want to work here.

    So many forces at work trying to take this things apart. Little arguments that want to erode what took 100 yrs to put in place. I believe America is a better place because of these things….

    Weekends without work
    All breaks at work, including your lunch breaks
    Paid vacation
    Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    Sick leave
    Social Security

    Minimum wage !!!! If an employer can’t afford 7 fucking dollars an hour they have no right to be a business.

    Civil Rights Act/Title VII – prohibits employer discrimination
    8-hour work day
    Overtime pay
    Child labor laws
    Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
    40-hour work week
    Workers’ compensation (workers’ comp)
    Unemployment insurance
    Pensions
    Workplace safety standards and regulations
    Employer health care insurance
    Collective bargaining rights for employees
    Wrongful termination laws
    Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
    Whistleblower protection laws
    Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) – prohibits employers from using a lie detector test on an employee
    Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)
    Compensation increases and evaluations (i.e. raises)
    Sexual harassment laws
    Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Holiday pay
    Employer dental, life, and vision insurance
    Privacy rights
    Pregnancy and parental leave
    Military leave
    The right to strike
    Public education for children
    Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 – requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work
    Laws ending sweatshops in the United States

  29. Dave Rand says:

    I read a lot, especially about history, I find that shit fascinating….Here’s some facts I don’t know if you know it or not..

    Before the USA adopted it’s labor laws mainly due to the influence of unions. if you don’t believe me, you can look it up. We really had no middle class by modern standards at all. If you like these things thank a union.

    Weekends without work
    All breaks at work, including your lunch breaks
    Paid vacation
    Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    Sick leave
    Social Security
    Civil Rights Act/Title VII – prohibits employer discrimination
    8-hour work day
    Overtime pay
    Child labor laws
    Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
    40-hour work week
    Workers’ compensation (workers’ comp)
    Unemployment insurance
    Pensions
    Workplace safety standards and regulations
    Employer health care insurance
    Collective bargaining rights for employees
    Wrongful termination laws
    Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
    Whistleblower protection laws
    Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) – prohibits employers from using a lie detector test on an employee
    Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)
    Compensation increases and evaluations (i.e. raises)
    Sexual harassment laws
    Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Holiday pay
    Employer dental, life, and vision insurance
    Privacy rights
    Pregnancy and parental leave
    Military leave
    The right to strike
    Public education for children
    Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 – requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work
    Laws ending sweatshops in the United States’

    and last but not least

    ******************************Minimum wage****************************

    The reason we make decent pay as visual effects artists is because we work in an industry that is very highly unionize a fact, you can look it up. That industry is alive and well—all the parts with leverage now, and a history of leverage. It’s a fact, it’s written, you can look it up.

    You can rally around the benefits of working for free all day long but If a business can’t pony up $7.25 an hour for an employee in the USA they can’t do business in the USA. It’s the corner stone of the labor laws that took a century to build, laws that brought us through the greatest achievements in human history and left plenty of room for upward mobility.

    We deregulated Wall Street and they took the world apart. There’s a wicked force in this country now to chip away at the stuff on the list to help pay for those mistakes. Most of us won’t budge and won’t go backwards because we ……love to read, ….history mostly …find that shit fascinating.

    Now if that’s a fact…am I lying?

    • Craig says:

      I’m not impressed. I read, too. I’ve never said unions are bad. But they are not always good.

      The reason we make decent pay in VFX is not because we “work in an industry that is very highly unionized”. You say “look it up”, but how do you look up something like that. I know Hollywood is unionized, so what?

      The reason we make decent pay is because it is hard to do what we do. It really is. Look it up.

      I’m really good at what I do, but can easily get overwhelmed by constantly increasing shot numbers and complexity.

      You are absolutely wrong about this (and the minimum wage, BTW). I am looking forward to having a couple hours to spare so that I may write more on this.

  30. what does range mean in math for kids

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