Matt writes: I'm getting ready to move out to L.A. for a summer internship, after which I'd be finding a job/apartment for the long haul. I'm just curious what to expect, or any other sage advice you might have.
Interning is a great idea. Almost everybody I know who works in Hollywood started as an intern. It sucks that 98% of them don't get paid, but that's just something you have to deal with. I already talked about HOW to get an internship - either in the trade listings, websites, or just cold calling - but in terms of WHAT will be involved, it runs the gamut.
My first Hollywood internship was in marketing at a feature studio in New York. It kinda sucked because I had no interest in marketing, but I desperately needed something. I watched TV spots of practically every movie the studio had ever made and digitized them so that when an exec was like, "let's market this like we did for that movie ten years ago," they'd be able to quickly pull up the spot. Good for them, shitty for me - watching that blue bar crawl across the screen was like watching a pregnancy test all summer. I also spent a lot of time transporting DVDs and one-sheets in the company van; the studio has two offices, both in Tribeca, but about a mile apart - so they employ a woman named Flor to drive people back and forth all day. We'd sit in traffic and watch the people at the school of trapeze do crazy flips next to the river. She tried to teach me a little Spanish but I retained none. Ah well, it was better than going with the studio head's driver, who would flash a creepy grin and offer me rides every day.
During my semester in LA, I interned two days a week in development at a feature studio genre specialty arm and also two days a week at a feature production company with a studio deal. I took classes one day and one night a week (Ithaca's satellite school is structured around interning). I definitely recommend trying a couple different internships. That way, you can get double the contacts, double the experience/knowledge, and double the resume lines. Plus, if one turns out to be a total bust (which happens sometimes), you'll still have one left. People who go to school at USC or UCLA have the luxury of doing several internships over the course of school...though after a couple you'll probably get sick of it.
My production company internship was pretty good; my boss was a Creative Exec who was really friendly and willing to answer questions and talk about projects. We were encouraged to read everything, and we were asked to write coverage and scene breakdowns. We also did a lot of menial stuff - photocopying, script assembly, fetching coffee, etc. The stuff I did in the agency mailroom was actually pretty similar. But it was fun to be on a lot and see how it all worked. There were always three or four interns around, which was nice - and I actually met my current roommate there. The exec producer of the company was also really down to earth, despite the photo of him receiving his Oscar that hung proudly on the wall. He took the time to meet with every intern individually, and he also bought us all lunch one day and sat with us to answer any questions we had. I asked him what he looked for in a script, and he said: 1. a compelling visual world, and 2. a challenging performance for an actor.
The genre specialty arm internship turned out to be really boring...the company was very small and didn't really need me; I used to sit in my cubicle and play facebook and do my homework. I would occasionally make copies or read scripts and give my bosses reasons to tell the agents and managers they were passing. Honestly, though, I did about 35 minutes of work per day. My immediate supervisor was a seasoned assistant whom I kept in touch with (he actually submitted my resume for the agency job), and I also made friends with the CE and did some work for him when he wanted to find new directors who had won film festivals. I also met two interns at the other genre arm that my company was technically a divison of - and we still keep in touch.
Intern stories vary widely. I knew some people who got to go to fancy premieres and others who became super-stressed unpaid assistants who ran around fetching dry cleaning and non-cream-based soups. You also have to remember that it is not your company's goal to give you an enriching experience; it is your company's goal to make money. You just have to try and soak up as much as you can. You have to be assertive and ask questions, but not be a pest. When shopping for an internship, ask yourself - am I going to learn something? Will I have things to do? Will I learn skills like writing coverage or rolling calls, that I can use in the future? Are there other interns I can hang out with? Will this potentially lead to a job? Will my supervisors be valuable connections? No internship is perfect - but since you're not getting paid, you need to be getting SOMETHING.
Most places (and all big networks and studios) require that you receive college credit for your internship. However, if you move out to LA with a degree but no experience, you may need to spend a couple months as an intern before getting a job. Smaller companies will let you do it (two of the interns at the production company I interned at were already grads). It sucks and you'll need to get a side job to pay the rent, but it'll only be for a few months. I refused to be an unpaid intern after I had graduated - but I also had four internships on my resume already.
Also, don't be afraid to shop around. I had seven or eight interviews before settling on my two internships. It's not like looking for a real job, where there is lots of rejection; when you're an intern, you get to reject lots of companies who want to bring you on as a free laborer. Look up places that make movies or TV you're passionate about, and see if you can intern there. I have a feeling it will be inspiring and exciting to meet the minds behind your favorites.