Your Insider Guide to Entertainment Internships

July 02, 2018
• by
Nicolas Zhou

When I first became a Business Cinematic Arts (BCA) student, I had no idea what sort of professional route I wanted to pursue. I knew that this degree provided me with a pretty big range of options, but figuring out where to even begin can be so overwhelming when you haven’t worked in entertainment before. I’m stoked that Marshall has given me this opportunity to share my experiences, so join me as I recount my ups and downs through the Hollywood intern universe. Hopefully you’ll be able to use my “wisdom” as a tool when navigating those seemingly scary internships.

My very first internship experience was with Revelations Entertainment during the summer following my freshman year. Revelations is Morgan Freeman’s production company and even though he’s a juggernaut in Hollywood, this is a pretty small production company. I personally loved working in a smaller company as my “Intro to Hollywood” internship, because I’ve found that it operates like any other entertainment office, but the magic happens at a much more manageable scale and pace. It’s a great way to gain applicable experience in film and television without freaking yourself out. To give you a perspective on the industry, my duties in this position were pretty standard for Hollywood. I picked up lunch orders, cleaned the kitchen, and ran errands. On a particularly ~spicy~ day, I even climbed a 10-foot ladder to clean a light fixture with my supervisor double-checking: “You have health insurance, right?” If you’ve ever watched The Devil Wears Prada, I was basically Anne Hathaway’s character in that movie. But unlike Ms. Hathaway, *spoiler alert* - I didn’t get a fabulous makeover, nor did I quit. I paid my dues and did what was asked of me, and I look back on this job as one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. More on that later.

Luckily, my hard work didn’t go unnoticed and I was referred to my next internship by a Revelations employee! Sadly, it wasn’t Morgan Freeman himself but nonetheless - I was given the opportunity to work for the Scripted Cable Development department at NBCUniversal, specifically overseeing the development of scripted content on USA, Syfy, E!, and Bravo. It was through this internship I really fell in love with the development process. I found it so exciting to be involved with the first step in birthing a show - to be the first green light in telling important stories. And in those rare cases that a show gets to see the light of day on television, there’s an overwhelming sense of pride that your work is impacting lives - you raised this baby yourself, how could you not be proud? Moving on, my duties mainly consisted of me acting as the assistant to the managers of scripted programming. I was in charge of creating and managing their daily schedules, taking phone calls, and basically just making their lives easier. I was also more involved in the actual creative process - sitting in on meetings, writing coverage for incoming scripts, and provide feedback on cuts of future episodes. Getting to share your thoughts and potentially influence the course of a new show is so eye-opening as you learn what constitutes a well-told versus a poorly-told story. Yes, I still had to restock the kitchen so everyone could have cold water bottles, and yes, one time I had to park an executive’s car because he was late to a meeting but honestly? This was a happy medium for me.

Fast forward to today, and now I’m a publicity and awards intern at the SAG Awards. I think if you imagine my internship experiences on a spectrum of creative involvement, they’ll make a lot more sense. If Revelations was on the far left where I basically only ran errands, then the SAG Awards internship is on the other end where I feel like I have a massive amount of creative input. To expand, one of my main duties is to conceptualize and manage the content for the SAG Awards social media. In fact, the interns from last year even got to run the Instagram Story on the day of the Awards! Additionally, SAG Awards is a part of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents and protects most actors in Hollywood. Essentially, anyone from your cousin who was in that one yogurt commercial to Meryl Streep could be a member of SAG-AFTRA. So another one of my duties is to help with some SAG-AFTRA operations, like making sure that members who are on the nominating committee can attend screenings to be informed voters come time for the Awards. Since it’s a (surprisingly) small office and I’m the only intern, I feel incredibly close to my supervisor, the assistants, and the producers of the SAG Awards - I love how the dynamic in the office is more tight knit, which has really shaped my whole experience so far.

My greatest takeaway from these internships was something I never learned through a classroom or textbook: attitude is everything. As an intern there’s a 99.99% chance you’re going to be asked to do seemingly menial tasks – especially in the entertainment industry. But it’s important to know that every cup of coffee you pour and every light fixture you (risk your life to) clean has its purpose, and it’s not usually to test how good of a housewife you could be. When you’re asked to do these tasks, people are really looking to see how you respond. Are you complaining about doing work you don’t necessarily like? Do you think this task is too small for you? Your superiors take note and immediately put you in the category of good or bad intern. And in an industry like Hollywood that basically operates solely on relationships – you can’t afford to be in the bad column. Which brings me to my next takeaway: relationships are the most valuable currency you can have.

Now before you accuse me of being a two-faced snake, hear me out. Believe me, whenever professors or guest speakers would even say the word “networking” my eyes would start twitching and would roll so far into the back of my head that I thought I would explode if I heard another person tell me that I needed to leverage relationships in order to succeed. But one of the most valuable - and surprising - things I’ve learned is that you can impress people by just being yourself. Your normal, human, self. In fact, it wasn’t until I felt like I was being “normal Nicolas” that I started doing well in my internships. In my experience, it has never been about an eloquent elevator pitch or making sure you always having a stunning business card. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to sell myself to someone in 1 minute – because I’ve always believed that it’s about showing, not telling. Anyways, I have personally found that it’s about staying curious, proactive, and helpful in a professional manner that gets people excited to work with you.

Navigating the internship waters can oftentimes be tiring and confusing. But if you have a passion for storytelling then this is the industry you need to be in. And if you somehow endured my rambling and made it all the way to the end of this blog entry, then feel free to stalk me on the USC Student Directory and reach out - I would love to help out or just be someone to talk to about these things. Anything for a fellow Trojan, right? FIGHT ON YALL!

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