It’s fall and new intern season! Getting excited for Nancy Meyer’s THE INTERN and seeing the new group of bright eyed and bushy tailed faces walk through our door last week made me want to pass along some advice about interning in Hollywood.
There are not many shortcuts one can take in the film/tv business, and unless you are lucky to know a neighbor, uncle, or parent’s college roommate’s sister who works in the biz and can get you an assistant job, you will most likely be starting your career as an intern. It doesn’t matter if you have a screenwriting MFA from UCLA or even years of real work experience, be prepared to start at the bottom where no one even trusts you to make a good cup of coffee (full disclosure: I’m not a coffee drinker but I do know my way around a Keurig). Now sculpting the “welcome to Hollywood” experience from the other side of the desk after starting my career as an intern two summers ago, I would like to share with you my Do’s and Don’ts of being a rockstar Hollywood intern.
– Take an internship where you will learn something.
A girl I interviewed had left her previous internship because she wasn’t getting what she wanted out of it. I applauded her for not settling and wasting her time somewhere where she wasn’t going to learn anything. God forbid you work for free and get no knowledge in return. There are enough companies in town that you should be able to find one where you leave with more than “coffee/copy bitch” on your resume. If you spend 2 weeks working somewhere and don’t have a clue what meaningful contribution you are making to the company, leave.
– Ask a lot of questions.
Don’t know the difference between a production company and a management company? Ask! This is the time to ask anything that will sound silly if you were working as an assistant. I could talk my way through a reactor startup but I couldn’t tell you who the major agencies were in town. This doesn’t mean don’t do your homework. Google things, read the trades, and ask smarter and smarter questions as you learn. The more questions you have and the more advice you seek, the more you stand out to people in the office as a “go-getter”.
– Read your internship guide.
Most internships will give you some sort of handout about being an intern at the company. It contains the most basic information you need to get through a basic day at the company and not mess anything up. Don’t ask a question that is answered in the guide.
– Take pride in your work.
Most likely you will be writing lots of coverage, or working on projects. Treat this as if were your job and turn in top-notch work. Reports rife with grammar and spelling mistakes do not yell “star performer”. If you perform like nothing is expected of you then you will never stand out.
– Keep your ears open and pay attention to what the assistants/coordinator is doing.
My 2nd biggest pet peeve at my company is when an intern does not know what to do when answering the phone. It’s like watching a deer in the headlights. A) your internship guide most likely has some good gouge on how to answer the phone the way the company likes to and B) mimic what you have heard the coordinator/assistant do a hundred times over. Hollywood is an apprenticeship-based industry. If you have been sitting in the office for weeks without paying attention to everything being said or done, you should retrain your focus.
– Keep in touch with the company where you interned.
If your internship was instrumental in providing you the knowledge, resources, or referral needed to go onto a budding Hollywood career, keep them updated with all the amazing things you are doing! Not every intern will lead a successful Hollywood career but the people you have worked with would love to hear how you are doing. If you are lucky, you will find a mentor who you can trust throughout your career.
– Mess up the lunch order.
You will not be remembered for doing this job correctly but you will definitely be remembered if you mess up lunch. This is an easy one to get in a lot of trouble for messing up, but also an easy mistake to avoid if you implement my code of “attention to detail”. Double-check the food with the order before you leave the restaurant and fix and discrepancies.
– Make the same mistake twice.
This is my biggest pet peeve. If you make a mistake, learn from it and don’t let it happen again. Ask extra questions for clarity, get advice from someone at the office, do whatever you need to. If you repeat a mistake then I lose all faith in your ability to do your job or learn a lesson.
– Guess an answer you don’t know.
Don’t assume or guess an answer to a question you don’t know. Say, “I’ll find out.”
– Expect a job or a referral.
Not every internship will lead to a job. Sometimes you are a rockstar and the company wants to scoop you up. If they have the room that is great! If you are at a smaller company there will most likely not be room to hire. Everyone at your company, both the executives and assistants, have relationships with lots of companies around town. If you are a rockstar intern no doubt they will refer you to a company that is hiring. That being said, they won’t magically know you are dying to work at CAA so you have to build that relationship and let your goals be known.
Follow these Dos and Don’ts of interning and you too can jumpstart a successful Hollywood career.