Three companies behind the annual Orange County Film Festival (which I've never heard of and, judging by a search of the archives, OC Weekly hasn't either) are being sued in Orange County Superior Court for running “a student 'sweat shop' masquerading as an 'internship.'” Now the Weekly IS familiar with that … er, I mean … FilmEd Academy of the Arts in Irvine, FilmEd Entertainment, Cinematic Arts Experience and its founder David Junker treated interns like “indentured servants” and paid employees “slave wages,” former intern Alex Iseri claims in the suit.
Iseri, who is represented by Scott Richter of West Hollywood, claims Junker and his companies conned him and other students into internships followed by low-paying jobs under the guise they were being mentored in filmmaking. Iseri is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, unfair competition and California Labor Code violations.
Junker could not be reached for comment. But the Cinematic Arts Experience website states it was founded by him in 2003, partnered with FilmEd Academy of the Arts and together they organized the annual Orange County Film Festival that showcases the work of student filmmakers.
Iseri's complaint claims the companies also produce and market video yearbooks for high schools. He says he was recruited during his junior year at Foothill High School in 2004 by Junker for a video yearbook summer workshop and class.
While at Cal State Long Beach in the fall of 2005, Iseri says he was asked by Junker to intern for him and learn filmmaking. But Iseri claims in his complaint that he and other interns instead worked on the video yearbooks without receiving class credit and wages of $100 a month for 160-250 hours of work. “To put this in perspective, these outrageously low wages equate range from 40 cents to 62 cents an hour, the minimum wage last seen in the 1940s!” reads the complaint.
Iseri claims Junker hired him full-time in 2006, but based on the up to 100 hours a week he claims to have put in he was paid the equivalent of $1 per hour. Iseri adds he and other interns were tasked with teaching summer classes without compensation. The long hours and little or no pay extended to staffing the Orange County Film Festival around the holidays, the complaint adds.
Junker threatened to withhold a recommendation to potential future employers if Iseri complained about the working conditions, according to the suit, which adds the boss always cried poor when failing to come up with wages but made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the video yearbooks.
The complaint says the IRS in April found Iseri was illegally classified as a private contractor–probably to avoid employment tax liability–and that the Labor and Workforce Development Agency has been notified of the alleged employment violations.