Bitchin' About: Internships

Saturday, July 07, 2012

I have answered to many a Craigslist ads for internships and "experience only" posts. Before this whole down economy thing happened film/video was one of the few careers where you needed to intern prior to having a successful job. Now however, with successfully graduated students working as baristas at Starbucks and waitresses at Chili's, internships are popping up all over the place.

And it

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Let me start out by saying that I am not adverse to working for nothing. Yes, it sucks. Yes, all my good charm will not pay my rent, cell phone bill, or gas but if I learn what I need to, get the experience I desperately need then in my eyes I'm not really working for nothing.

The thing is there is a difference between an internship and free labor.

The things I have learned from answering Craigslist posts and unofficial internships can fill a book and not in a good way. My experiences have taught me things; things that I suppose only experience can teach you. But now-- I'm sick of it.

I'm sick of trying to email my resume to a business with a friendly and knowledgeable cover letter explaining my predicament and my objectives only to have them either 1.) completely ignore me or 2.) say "Yes, we would love to have a video done for our shitty company!"

When the second happens I get very excited. I set up an interview with them, go fully dressed with a copy of my resume and all my tattoos covered. I am the epitome of the perfect, professional interviewee. I arrive, say "Yes sir. No ma'am. Please. Thank you." I shake hands firmly, make eye contact, and sit slightly leaning forward. Then if/when I get the job I end up sitting in an office with a computer running Windows 98 and twiddling my thumbs.

Then, I burn my bridges.

At one internship I got the job because not only was I able to do video but with my English background I was also able to write articles for them.


For most of the month I was there I  cataloged old newspaper articles, alphabetized, filed, sorted. and as an intern I had no problem with this. I understand that sometimes I will be getting coffee and making copies and I'm okay with that. However, when it finally came time to edit a video I had to bring in MY laptop and use MY software because the computer they provided me with had nothing on it that would help me complete my job.

I guess I should mention that it was an unpaid internship and during this time I was really working the freelance circuit. For those who have never had the displeasure of working freelance it's completely different than a normal 9-5 job. Sometimes they call you hours before they need you and the shifts can last anywhere from 4 hours to 16 but I was getting paid well for the hours I worked and couldn't just pass the opportunity up.

So one Friday, during my thumb-twiddling time I got a call for a freelance job. Having nothing to do at the internship and not being able to pass up some actual money I accepted. I told my "boss" and left for the day.

When I arrived Monday I had received a slightly unpleasant email reminding me about the time I had committed to them. I told my "boss" I was sorry (I'm not one for confrontations...usually). But then, I got another offer to work the following Friday as well. Once again, I couldn't pass it up. My "boss" was supposed to be out of the office anyway so I figured not showing up to warm my seat wouldn't bother her as much as the last time had. I sent her an email and went to my freelance gig and didn't even think twice about missing my internship.

When Monday rolled around however I was in for a most unpleasant email. My "boss" wanted to talk with me about my "priorities" and the commitment I made to this internship. She reminded me that I was the one who needed the internship for credit and I shouldn't shirk my duties. I read the email getting increasingly angry the farther down I got. When I finished I emailed her back with a piece of my mind.

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Not only was I learning absolutely nothing but everything I had done thus far was only because I had to use MY own equipment. Had I not had a laptop I wouldn't have been able to contribute ANYTHING to their company. I told her that I didn't have the luxury of only working nonpaying jobs and that i would not turn down a paying job to sit in an office with nothing to do. If I had a project to work on, or was behind on any of my work I wouldn't accept a job but being that I finished everything she had asked me to do I saw no problem with it. Also, I told her that I already had my internship hours done for credit. I didn't need the internship for college credit or otherwise and then I walked out.

And that ladies and gentleman isn't even the worst of my interning experiences.
The whole concept grossly upsets me.

Then, I see these kinds of posts on Craigslist and I lose all faith in anything.

This isn't even one of the worst I've seen. But the whole idea that I just have thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting around and would just LOVE to do work for you for free is laughable. 

Firstly, I don't have thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Why? Because cheap, ignorant people like you don't want to pay me for my expertise. And hey, I know I'm no Walter Murch but I'm also not going to charge you $1000 per hour. I'm just asking for a little compensation for my time, my gas, my equipment, and my knowledge. I don't think that's too much to ask. 

Secondly, it seems that more and more people think that shakily capturing footage on your iPhone is movie-making. It's not. And I know there are people who can do that--turn their phone movies into art. Some people have lenses for their iPhone and edit their movies and some are great and creative. But for the most part, it doesn't work like that. Yes technology makes it easier for more and more people to capture their home movies but it doesn't make it art and it doesn't make it good.

Thirdly, when you have no equipment, no knowledge, no previous experience, and no money do NOT expect me to give you the next Citizen Kane. I have had "bosses" tell me that my finished video is OK but next time it should be better. Next time the audio should be better. The green screen should be better. If only I worked harder at it.

Next time it won't be better because we don't have an external mic, we don't have a proper green screen, and we don't have lights to correctly light it. It looks like shit because that's what I have to work with.

It's not even about making excuses. I don't need to shoot on a RED. But some things are necessary when you want a quality video. I mean, have you ever seen the end credits on movies? There are people for EVERYTHING. And doing their job isn't a matter of pushing a button called EDIT or DIRECT. It takes time.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is: if you or your company offers an internship...

  • Don't take advantage of them.
  • Make sure they are learning something.
  • Please, please, please make it worth the interns time. 
  • And if you don't understand what it is you want them to do and cannot do it yourself then you shouldn't be offering an internship at all. 

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