College Guide


April 04, 2012 10:00 AM Students, or Free Workers?

By Daniel Luzer


Apparently some students at Florida State University can get a very exclusive three-year opportunity to intern for Digital Domain, which does the digital work for many major movie productions.

Students will “have the chance to volunteer for Digital Domain assignments” so they can get “valuable experience.” Actual employees aren’t so happy with this nice little arrangement.

According to an article by Richard Verrier in the Los Angeles Times:

Digital Domain, the award-winning effects company behind such movies as “Tron: Legacy” and the “Transformers” films, recently touted its new animation and digital arts institute as a “pioneering public-private partnership” with Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts.
Students pay tuition of up to $28,000 a year and can receive course credit through internships at Digital Domain — at least 150 hours over two semesters — that are voluntary. “What’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college,” [Chief executive of Digital Domain Media Group John] Textor said in a recent presentation to investors. “Not only is this a first … but 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida is not only going to be free, with student labor, it’s going to be labor that’s actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films.”

Um, this kind of sounds like a form of slavery, only in this case you’re not just working for free; you’re paying to work for free.

Many visual effects artists object to the relationship. One, who apparently wished to remain anonymous, explained to Verrier that “It’s … actually the perfect analogy for the industry. We sell dreams. We create fantasy. But in the end, it’s smoke and mirrors.” [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on April 04, 2012 6:37 PM:

    But for management, it's a dream come true!

  • Bob on April 04, 2012 7:37 PM:

    It was the dim, dark ages (1984) but between my Junior and Senior year I had a 6 week 40 hours/week unpaid internship at a media company in NYC. I paid for my own commuting and living expenses and, yes, for three credit hours toward my BS degree from Syracuse University.

    Ultimately, it was a great experience and helped me land a job after graduation. Besides, isn't the difference between this and the semi-slave labor of graduate assistants only a difference of "degree?"

  • Frank on April 05, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Oh my gosh, it is ridiculous to have an unpaid internship while in college...wait a minute, no it's not. What is ridiculous is this article...

  • Crissa on April 05, 2012 7:46 PM:

    What jobs are these students going to go off and do, if 30% of the workforce they're entering into is students, working for free?

    I'm all for internships... But what percentage of this country can afford to work for free for 6 weeks or 6 months? At least it's only three weeks of work over six months, but it's crazy. 30% of their workforce?