There is no bigger lie than that which says, “If you want to get into media, all experience is good experience.” Because too often, smart people get caught up in internships that spit them out into the real world with no experience, or worse, totally irrelevant experience.
Don’t go blindly reaching out for just anyone in the industry who will pull you under their wing when you’re looking for your internship or first job in film. In fact, do the opposite—keep your eyes wide open and look around for these possible red flags that might signal you should walk away before things get too rough.
If a film production company is bringing on an intern to manage a sub-set of the organization, they’re not interested in putting in the work to get the job done by an experienced professional. Remember, the goal of an internship is to learn in a hands-on setting with the opportunity to ask questions and make mistakes in a forgiving environment, not to take on the immediate stress of management all at once. Start slow in a non-managerial role, and if you’re finding that you’re handing your position well and looking to advance further, then discuss management opportunities with your supervisor.
It’s so disgusting the amount of production companies that will slap the word “internship” on a position title just because they’re looking for cheap labor. It’s not horrifying or wrong to accept an internship that doesn’t provide a bi-weekly paycheck, but if you won’t be paid for your time with money, how will you be paid? Will it be in the form of networking with the best in the industry or in the form of unique opportunities you can add to your portfolio? If your supervisor can’t tell you what your compensation will be in this internship, walk away.
If the production company offering the internship doesn’t have a website, portfolio, clear contact information, or (the sketchiest) an email address that’s not Gmail or iCloud, this is not an internship you want to take. There is nothing wrong with a start-up company or agency. After all, every successful business has to start somewhere! But as we’ve discussed, the purpose of an internship is to surround yourself with the opportunity to learn in an environment with experienced professionals. And if the business isn’t a start-up, yet they remain a mystery to the public, what makes you think they’ll suddenly open the doors to you, leading where the magic behind the company has been hiding all along? Plot twist—there is nothing behind those doors.
Unclear Job Description
The last thing you want to do is land an internship with a film crew with big dreams of running the set, only to be let down with dry cleaning pick-ups. Avoid this before even accepting the internship by requesting a clear job description. If things are looking a little heavy on the clerical side or there is any “personal assistant” work mentioned at all, discuss your concerns, don’t back down, and if they claim that “it’s how you get your start in the business,” let them know that you’ll be looking for a different start.
Have you been able to spot red-flag internships in the media industry? Let us know the signs in your comments below!
Now, I’m doing marketing at a film production company for their upcoming documentary. The team is small and everyone wears many hats, which is an ideal situation to be in when you want to experience as much as possible! I’m also freelancing in various media platforms, and every day I’m learning something new about how to stand out from the crowd in this fast-paced industry. I’m excited to share what I learn through The Media Chronicles!