Let’s can Cannes: Buying an internship is just ludicrous

The Cannes Film Festival Internship claims, “It’s so much more than an internship!” That’s because it’s also a scam.

As a sophomore who hopes to make a career of media production, I’ve spent this past year looking at dozens of internships and other entry-level media career opportunities. In my search, I’ve learned to make the most of what is available to me. Working as an unpaid intern (for which I thankfully received Vassar Grant funding) made it clear that cutting costs wherever I could (i.e., living on ramen, canceling all streaming service subscriptions, only drinking tap water with every (ramen) meal, etc.) and working a second job would be necessary parts of my life until my schooling is complete. I wasn’t bitter about it, though—that internship was something I truly loved, and I’ve never been above working through the struggles. I learned a lot, received a credit and was grateful to work for a company that supported a good cause. I also understand that the company, a small non-profit, simply could not afford to pay me.

But as my search widened to larger and larger companies, I realized that this low pay scale was a recurring theme across many media-based internships. So-called “opportunities” require you to work between 20 and 40 hours a week for credit and no pay, or pay below the minimum wage in cities like New York where the cost of living is sky-high. As I grew accustomed to seeing these postings, I came to face a grim reality: many of these internships are built with this invisible wall in order to keep a certain economic class ahead. These barriers make it almost impossible for lower income students to pursue success in a media career through a traditional path.

However, regardless of how much money you have, anyone in the media business will tell you that success in the industry rests not on what you know, but who you know. So, any chance to make connections and meet leaders in the field would be a dream come true, right? Well, that’s where the Cannes Film Festival comes into the picture, and makes it into a nightmare.

If you don’t already know, Cannes is one of the oldest film festivals in the world—a yearly gathering of the best cinema has to offer. So, when I heard about an information session at Vassar that would discuss their fee-based internships, I was more than excited. Until I realized exactly what they consider a “fee.” …And that the entire experience was a formulaic rip-off.

Firstly there’s the outrageous cost: $3,995. For almost four grand, they allow you to work for them eight to 12 hours a day for the duration of the two-week festival. This price includes lodging and breakfast. And that’s about it. It doesn’t include either of the two other daily meals and certainly not the roundtrip airfare to France. So, expenses for a participant would easily reach $5,000 to $6,000. By the way, this sort of extremely expensive “pay us to work for us” system holds across all of their internship opportunities, be them in the realm of culinary arts or business management; if you want to gain experience with them, they expect to be compensated.

At this point, you may be wondering how Cannes gets away with this highway robbery. More importantly, even if you have the money, who wants to pay to work? Well, that’s due to what Cannes is really selling to its potential interns: the chance to meet and canoodle with celebrities. In every step of the application process (which I did not complete due to the $50 fee required to finish the application), you are bombarded with pictures of interns smiling at cameras and frolicking at a beautiful beach with celebrities galore in the background. They claim to offer the networking opportunities of a lifetime, as if between shifts you would be allowed to pitch script ideas to Jude Law and James Franco. Having read copious amounts of employee reviews, the truth of the situation is this: you’re there to work and look happy doing it.

They want you—a starry-eyed student who wants nothing more than to make it big, and is willing to do anything to get there. Cannes knows that students with such ambitions would be willing to throw themselves into debt for a fraction of a fraction of a chance to maybe meet someone who can help them be a star. That is why they charge so much money and that is why they do not care about the optics of it. Because, at the end of the day, if you pay this $4,000, get selected, show up and realize that this entire thing is basically a Fyre Festival ticket with manual labor, you can’t do anything about it. You won’t complain at the festival; you may not even frown as you stand there contemplating your indentured servitude. Why not? Because you’d jeopardize your own career by seeming like an “ungrateful worker,” and given what you’ve already given up to be there, that can’t happen.

Students, you deserve better than this. Opportunities may not always be well-paid or exciting, but they certainly should never cause you to put yourself in extreme financial debt. Save that money and invest in yourself and pursue an opportunity that wants you to succeed.

One Comment

  1. Hi…i am Vassar Alum and I started this program in 1989..probably before you were born. I am still running it 33 years later. We have had thousands of film students participate in our program in Cannes…many of them more than once and many of them Vassar students. I don’t know why you are choosing to denigrate a program created by a Vassar Alum…and why you are denigrating it without any actual knowledge of the program. The students “work” four hours a day and choose the type of work they want to do. The “work” placement is to give students an opportunity to have a purpose at the Festival instead of simply wandering around aimlessly. It is a complicated event and working it gives perspective and access. In the remaining 20 hours the students attend screenings, parties and networking events, they participate in roundtable discussions curated by SAGIndie specifically for the students, attend celebrity in conversations and industry panel discussions and occasionally sleep. The Cannes Film Festival is an industry only event and without participating in a program such as ours the opportunities to attend are non existent — students also arrive days before the Festival begins and participate in an orientation with workshops on the business of film. I’m sorry you feel this program is expensive…it really isn’t. For 18 days on the French Riviera at possibly the largest gathering of film industry professionals in the world…it is relatively inexpensive. My daughter’s 8th grade one week trip to France was more expensive than this…and they just tooled around Normandy. Look at comparable programs for middle and high school students…in public schools…the trips to D.C. and Boston…you will find they are pretty expensive. I would be happy to discuss this with you if you really feel we are taking advantage of students…but spending four hours in what you call “indentured servitude” and what we call chatting with industry professionals while bring them a sandwich or cup of coffee or working with our publicist or videographer or checking people in at our membership desk … or helping out at a glamorous Cannes event…seems like a fun way to participate in a very cool event. I’d be happy to speak with you directly to tell you more about why we are so passionate about this program. X Julie

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