Internships have been on my mind lately, partly due to the fact that four new interns started this week in my department. It wasn’t so long ago that I was in their shoes, walking into DreamWorks on my first day. At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, let me tell you something about being an intern – it sure as hell ain’t easy.
Internships, particularly in the entertainment industry, can be a thankless job. It’s easy to fall to the wayside because the reality is that as an intern you’re only going to be there for a brief period of time. There are so many people trying to break in, to get their foot in the door, that companies in the industry can take their pick of the little. Internships are a valuable step in entering the film industry if not just for the work experience but for the connections that could potentially lead to the full time gig, so taking advantage of the opportunity is key. Since I’m now on the other side of the internship equation, I wanted to share a few things I learned while serving in the “for credit” crowd.
1.) Be gracious. I was lucky enough to have interned at two of the coolest places in the business – Marvel and DreamWorks Animation – as well as some smaller companies. At the very least, I got to see how the sausage was made and at Marvel, I actually got to write the recap pages that were printed in issues of The Incredible Hulk. Make sure to stay thankful for the incredible opportunity to contribute, no matter how small the contribution.
2.) Be assertive, not obnoxious. At the end of the day, your boss at your internship is either going to be your biggest proponent or the person who’s going to tell HR to not hire you in a million years. It’s good to have your own opinions and to share them, but know the boundaries of the workplace. Don’t be insistent, but if someone asks for your thoughts, make sure to keep those great ideas handy.
3.) Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. With so many interns rotating through the office, unless you really go out of your way to meet people, you will be forgotten. Don’t be rude when you do it, and make sure you’re not interrupting some super important meeting, but don’t be shy about saying hello. When I was at Marvel, I walked into Axel Alonso’s office (now the editor in chief) and made sure to tell him how much I enjoyed X-Statix, a series he worked on years ago. Later on, I met him at a convention and he remembered who I was. Simple as that.
4.) Make friends with the other interns. You never know where they’re going to end up and if they’re going to be the gatekeepers to your next job. Not everyone gets hired at the company at which they intern, so by making friends, you’re casting a wide net when you start searching the job market.
5.) Don’t burn bridges. The easiest way to get canned is to complain to everyone who will listen about how you aren’t going to get hired at the company. It’s a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. You’re there to establish relationships, so don’t leave people with a sour taste in their mouths.
6.) Keep in touch. After your internship is over, make sure to keep in touch with the people you met during your time there. If it wasn’t for the fact that I kept in contact with my supervisor at DreamWorks, I would not have gotten a recommendation, much less an interview, to come back for a full-time position. Don’t use facebook as a means of keeping in touch. If you want to establish a professional relationship with someone, use LinkedIn instead. No one needs to see any “red cup” pictures.
6.) Be curious. Ask a lot of questions. Do a little digging. After all, you’re there to learn. Use the resources at your fingertips to learn as much as you can. The best way of going about it is to have a goal in mind for what you want out of the internship and investigate every means of accomplishing that goal.
7.) Keep an eye out for exploitation. This one’s a little hard to accurately gauge. Admittedly, I have been lucky and have not experienced this firsthand but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t the potential for exploitative labor in this industry. If you feel like you’re not getting anything out of the experience and the company is just using your for free labor, then you need to reevaluate if the internship is worth it.
8.) Enjoy the perks. You may not be a full time employee (yet), but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the perks of the job. Special screenings, events and food are all frosting and you should take advantage of them to their fullest. I walked away from my Marvel internship with crazy amounts of free comics and at DreamWorks I got to go to an advanced screening of a movie that wasn’t even out yet.
I hope that for those of you who are still busting your butts in the ‘for-credit’ crowd, this has been at least somewhat useful. It’s easy to feel discouraged sometimes but when it comes down to it, your work ethic and demeanor are what will get you ahead. Good luck, and good interning!