I love helping people achieve their dreams. Maybe to a fault sometimes. I enjoy sitting down with people and hearing about their ambitions and offering whatever I can to help, sometimes overextending past my capabilities. However, implementing a productive internship program has always been a goal of mine.
I’ve had numerous bright eyed, bushy tailed interns hoping to launch their careers through the traditional film career path of human slavery turned established professional. Some of my interns have become established professionals through my efforts, but the majority of the interns that have passed through didn’t. Those that eventually became professionals wasn’t a direct result of their internship with me.
Internships are a difficult thing to navigate. What are you getting out of it? How long should you stay? Is it a waste of time?
In response to the last question, it is a waste of time for very specific people. Most people aren’t in that category. I surely wasn’t, so I searched for my own internships.
My first film internship at Austin Film Society opened my eyes to what it took to run a non-profit film-advocating organization build a film community. At the Texas Film Commission, I learned about the immensity of pushing Texas production to Hollywood through location packages, state incentives, and aggregating Texas film resources. At Storyline Entertainment (HAIRSPRAY, CHICAGO, “SMASH”), I learned about developing entertainment projects, studio structure, how many bad scripts get to high places, etc. PA’ing on Hallettsville taught me what it took to set up a film office, research product placement opportunities, and handling production paperwork (I wasn’t even credited for my work).
I learned these things, not because my internship managers taught me, but because I decided to look past the menial tasks I was asked to do: answering phones, stuffing envelopes, throwing out the trash, washing dishes, organizing shelves, shipping packages, scanning photos, painting walls, doing miscellaneous errands, donating my car as a picture car, etc. There’s always a bigger picture idea to learn, even if it means what NOT to do. Productive interns see what’s important and apply it to their own work.
Those lucky enough to establish themselves as professionals through their internship have usually EARNED IT. Not only because they work hard, but because they had DIRECTION. They knew what they wanted to do. They made it clear to who they worked for. They knew what opportunities worked best for them. They made wiser choices.
Many interns come into internships to find out what their direction is, and that’s fine. However, I would encourage those interns to not just think about it. Throw yourself into an area (directing, production design, editing, etc.) and see if you like it or are good at it. Start eliminating the things you don’t want to do. Then give your internship managers an update. They may want to use you in any of your narrowed down interests, hopefully, in a structured environment. But if you don’t update them, they can’t help you.
Engage your interests. Narrow them down. Update the movers and shakers. Repeat.
This is how I determined that I wanted to be a producer. The interns that eventually established themselves did this process in some way without me. Good for them. Once you find your career direction, you’ll notice how much easier life will be. Then, the hard part will be doing your job well instead of figuring out what you want to do.
So, go out and choose your direction. Do it early.