Monday, February 20, 2012

Film and TV internships for college students

Chloe writes: I'm currently a sophomore in college in Boston and my ultimate goal is to enter the entertainment industry, preferably in television or entertainment news (but I also have an interest in screenwriting). I feel stuck because I don't really know how to go about pursuing this dream of mine. I don't have any contacts, I don't reside in L.A., I spend my summers home in Atlanta, I attend a liberal arts college that doesn't have any connections to its own L.A. campus, I've applied to several different internships and haven't heard back, etc. My school's Career Services office has been particularly unhelpful. Am I doomed because I don't have any professional work experience? Can you offer any advice?

First off, you're just a sophomore. You have time! Though college students seem to be doing internships earlier and earlier, it's most common to start in your junior year. Schools with specific majors like film, television, screenwriting and journalism often have LA programs and/or internship databases with contact information, but these aren't vital to securing an internship. Also, if you're interested in news, you don't need to be in LA, since every decently-sized city has a news station. Even if your school were a bit more rural, you could plan your classes so that you could intern at a news station. I went to Ithaca College, and many of my friends traveled to Syracuse and Binghamton for broadcast news internships during the school year. A few were even working as on-air reporters by the time we graduated! You could also stick with summer internships in Atlanta. Generally internships run Jan-May, May-August or August-December, so you may find that companies have all the interns they need for the current semester right now. Start looking for a summer internship in April if you can. (It's too early to start looking for a summer one now.) Your lack of work experience shouldn't be too much of a problem, as long as you can interview well and write a solid, succinct cover letter. A part-time job will show prospective employers that you are reliable and can show up to work on time - but experience isn't essential (Remember that you're working for free). You can fill up your resume with college extracurriculars.

Here's how you can find an internship in film/TV/news:

Start looking for phone numbers/email addresses/people to contact.
Since you're looking for an unpaid internship and not a job, you should be able to be a bit more picky. Think you where you'd like to intern (for example, what company released a movie you love? What local news station is your favorite?) and then see if you can find a phone number from their website, an industry directory, Google results, etc. Simply ask to speak with the person who handles internships and then ask if you can submit a resume. For film and TV productions (in a variety of locations), check out Production Weekly and the Production Reference Services report. For development internships, a free trial subscription to IMDBPro can be very helpful for companies in LA, as can the weekly UTA Joblist (which is widely distributed - see if someone can forward it to you). Check to see if your school has an internship database - but don't necessarily limit yourself to these places. Also, don't be surprised if your Career Services office is massively unhelpful...the entertainment industry is very specialized, and people outside of it don't seem to know much about how it works. A journalism professor might be more helpful than a Career Services person.

Check your alumni network.
Many schools maintain an online alumni database that you can search based on profession. You'd be surprised how much mileage you can get out of "Hey, I went to Miami too!" My school's database also lets alumni check a box saying that they're willing to help current students and recent grads - so that's a good indication that your email is worth sending. You can also ask your professors about any recent grads they're still in touch with who may be able to help. Fellow classmates can help too. I actually got an internship in NYC through a contact from a younger classmate!

Apply online.
Like with jobs, you will probably hear back from less than 2% of the internships you apply for online - but it's worth a shot. I got an internship at a studio genre label by applying through its website. Check the "Job Sites" section to the right of this blog and start searching for internships at those sites. The bigger ones (NBCUniversal, Time Warner, etc.) should have a few listed. Also, remember that many companies fall under the umbrella of larger companies - so click on Viacom to apply for internships at MTV, for example. Again, you may never hear back from these people...sometimes I think jobs and internships are posted online but not actually filled by online applicants - but I know first hand that it is at least possible to get an internship this way. In terms of following up - you can try once if you want, but after that you should let it go. Don't pester.

Consider an LA semester or summer program.
I offer this advice with the caveat that they can be incredibly expensive and aren't absolutely necessary for an internship...but I probably never would have moved to LA without my school's LA's program. Especially if your school isn't a specialized communications school, an LA program can offer more specific classes and easier access to internship opportunities. During my semester in LA, I interned at two companies, wrote a pilot and wrote a feature. Productive, huh? Be wary of programs that aren't affiliated with real universities and ask yourself where your money is actually going...I don't want you moving to LA with a ton of debt since you probably won't be able to pay it back for a very long time. But if your parents are willing to help, and/or your school doesn't offer specific classes like screenwriting, an LA program might be worth looking into. Just know that you can definitely find an internship on your own without the help of a school.

You may want to focus your goals; The path to working in scripted television is very different from the path to working in television news. I suppose you could do a news internship this summer and a more scripted kind of internship the following summer to see what you like better...but at some point you will need to choose a path so you can start making contacts in the right field.

Good luck! Click here to read all my previous posts on internships, including this one about what makes an internship legal.


Dan Williams said...

Just a thought. You seem to know so much about internships in L.A. and there was segment last night on "60 Minutes" about a sort of "internship broker" program.

Anyway, the guy got a grant and got a group of persons who were unemployed, like, for three years, and got them up to speed, and then got them internships with companies. These persons were in their fifties, qualified, just couldn't find a job. The grant paid for the internship period, then many of the persons were hired after, maybe, three months.

Would you be interested in doing something similar? You could keep files on the clients, and let companies in L.A. know about it, and maybe get a grant, keep files on the clients. You could write a feature about it, a comedy. It might become a TV series.

Steve Trautmann said...

There's also a site called Intern Sushi that is a liaison between companies and students looking for internships.

Lisa Hunter said...

If you're interested in entertainment news and live in Atlanta, a summer internship at CNN seems like a no-brainer.

Lisa Hunter said...

Also, if you're in Boston, try to meet the Harvard Lampoon people. LOTS of them end up in Hollywood writing rooms.

Dan Williams said...

Thanks to Steve Trautmann for bringing "Intern Sushi" to our attention. Hadn't heard of it before.

It's good. Still, there seems to be room for an "intern specialist TV broker" in the market, if I'm reading IS's focus correctly. IS deals in internships across many industry sectors. So maybe a "TV internship broker service" could be a success, especially if a grant is secured to pay the interns for a three-month-long internship.

Just thinking. It's a bridge between college and the room.