A TOUGH-LOVE GUIDE TO INTERNSHIPS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

This remarkably frank article is must reading for everybody wanting to break into any segment of showbiz:

internship

by Dina Gachman

Beware: you are about to enter one of those “I used to walk fifty miles in the snow to school” rants, but when it’s all over, you’ll emerge with a renewed faith in humanity and a fierce drive to succeed. You’ll be a better person. Either that or you’ll still be exactly the same as you are right this second, which is fine too.

Let’s begin.

Back in my day (stay with me here), unpaid internships were a given. In the entertainment industry, which is the ridiculous, wonderful, idiotic industry that I chose, everyone took on unpaid internships. It was a way to get your foot in the door, build a résumé, and network during college so you could hopefully get a paying job after graduating. We never confused “internship” with “job.” That’s both a good and a bad thing.

People should get paid for their work. If a company is having you come in forty hours a week and they’re paying you nothing—you need to leave. In an ideal world, all internships would be paid, but the world is shifty and unfair, so many internships pay in experience and free coffee. If a giant corporation can afford to pay interns a little something, they should. Smaller companies often can’t do that, but they need the help, and to compensate for your work they can—and should—take time to mentor you and make it worthwhile for you to photocopy their papers and answer their calls for free. Maybe it’s bad that we suffered through our two- or three-day-a-week internships without suing or protesting and asking for pay. Maybe we were wimps. I don’t think so though.

I’ve been on both sides of the internship divide. I’ve been the lowly intern (many times), and I’ve been the person who hired the interns. The latter position is much better, obviously, but I didn’t get there by leaping straight from college into a fancy job where I could boss people around and make myself feel superior by tormenting them. I didn’t torment people because I knew what it was like to be an intern, and because I’m not a tyrant. I should probably be a tiny bit more tyrannical, but when you’re raised by a Southern mother who constantly warns, “Don’t be a Hateful Hannah!” during your formative years, it’s not so easy to channel your inner Nero.

I tried reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War when I was angling for a promotion at the job that eventually laid me off, but I got through three chapters and realized I didn’t want to become a cold-hearted, calculating, ancient Chinese military general in order to get ahead. I did get a raise and a promotion, but then I got laid-off, so maybe I should have finished the book.

That was the job that put me in charge of hiring the interns, which was an eye-opening experience. Some of the interns were hardworking and conscientious, and others were perpetually late, flakey, and calculating—maybe the calculating ones had read Sun Tzu. The wiliest intern I dealt with was not named Bane, but that’s the name I’m giving him and you’ll soon see why. Bane had a great résumé and an upbeat attitude, and he knew a lot about comic books, which, this being Hollywood 2009, was reason enough to bring him on. The first few weeks were great, but then he turned— and his dark, duplicitous nature emerged.

“Can you make two copies of this script for me?” I asked Bane one day. This was a totally reasonable request. He’d copied scripts before, I’d copied scripts before—interns copied scripts. Bane folded his arms across his chest, which was covered by a faded X-Men T-shirt. He’d quickly gone from dressing like he cared to dressing like a guy who wore faded comic book T-shirts to his internship.

“It’s not my job to copy scripts,” Bane shot back. If I had finished reading The Art of War, I probably would have beheaded him or at least publicly shamed him in some barbaric way, but instead I stared at him, thinking of a response. And then, like a bolt of lightning, one came to me.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. Bane took the script, pouted all the way to the Xerox machine, and made the copies. A few days later, I was sitting in the conference room with Bane and two other interns, because I was trying to be some sort of mentor and make the unpaid internship worth their while by answering questions and listening to ideas during lunch. “I’m never going to be someone’s assistant,” Bane declared. And then, for a brief second, it sounded like he was speaking through a cage-like, venomous mouthpiece when he said, “I want to run shit.”

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