Nicole Iizuka (@nicolemiizuka) took issue with my remark that “All the interns in Los Angeles could get Raptured tomorrow and the town would function just fine.”

I asked her to prove me wrong, and she answered the challenge on her blog.

It’s a nicely put-together post. You might want to open it in another tab and read it. Go ahead. I’ll be here.

Are you back? Great. Here’s where I think she’s right.

1) Internship is a useful filtering mechanism.

When hiring assistants, Hollywood looks for internship experience. It’s not as much about what the applicant has learned on those internships, but the fact that she worked someplace without burning the building down.

An internship means a reference. A name. A phone number. Prospective employers want someone they can call to answer the most important question: “Would I regret hiring this person?”

2) Assistants like having interns working for them.

In my last assistant job, I supervised three interns. And yes, when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, it’s nice to bring in someone below you.

But did I need interns? No.

Because I couldn’t be certain they’d actually show up, all the work I assigned them was, by definition, inessential: reading scripts we didn’t particularly care about, compiling file boxes that would be shipped off to storage forever. And yes, interns answer phones when assistants run to the restroom. But so does voicemail.

These two points conceded, I don’t think Nicole has made a convincing case that Hollywood would fall apart upon Intern Rapture.

First off, there have been numerous cases and articles stating the obvious, that businesses heavily rely on a young and eager staff of free labor to keep their bottom lines at bay. While there is a general sense of deep coffers when it comes to the industry, excess spending by studio executives, actors, directors and producers living luxurious lives, in reality most companies barely budget a meager salary for their underpaid and overworked assistants. Add to that a seemingly insurmountable list of daily tasks, and companies’ unwillingness to hire more employees; we are left in a place where interns are an absolute necessity.

Without links to these cases and articles, she appears to be begging the question; interns are indispensable because they’re indispensable.

If they disappeared tomorrow, riots would break out, people would quit their jobs or suffer mental breakdowns and the generally smooth operation of the daily grind of Hollywood would go into chaos.

And after everyone’s done rending their clothes, all the things that interns do right now would be divided into three categories:

  1. Stuff assistants will now do
  2. Stuff we’ll hire freelancers to do (e.g. writing coverage)
  3. Stuff that just won’t get done

Of these, I think #3 would be the biggest category.

Revisting my first conceded point: Without interns, where would Hollywood find qualified assistants?

Answer: At top-tier schools, same as always.

The problem isn’t a dearth of qualified candidates. The filtering aspect of internship is simply a way of separating the awesome wheat from the only-okay wheat. College already got rid of the chaff.

While it’s true that ultimately no one in Hollywood really cares where you went to school or what grades you got, an Ivy League education is always going to be a helpful pre-filter. Right now, young Brown grads land internships with alums. If there were no interns, those same Brown grads would land interviews for assistant jobs.

When you take out the bottom rung of the ladder, there’s still a ladder.

Without internship experience, these newly hired assistants would have a rougher first couple of weeks. But they’d survive. And so would Hollywood.

The Intern Rapture is a thought experiment. None of this should be read as an attack on interns or the idea of internship. Interns work hard, and often benefit from exposure and experience.

There are fair criticisms to be leveled at the current system, which benefits young people who can afford to work for free. But at the same time, Hollywood internships help level the playing field; nepotism and a brand-name degree don’t count for much when you’re making copies and coffee-runs. Either you can write good coverage or you can’t. Internships are an opportunity to prove yourself.

I was an intern from a Midwestern university. I parlayed my first internship into a paid reading gig because I worked harder. I made myself useful.

But there’s a wide gap between “useful” and “essential.” I don’t think Nicole has demonstrated that interns — either individually or collectively — are actually vital to the workings of Hollywood.