Be Nice to Your Interns

This morning when I was making coffee in my company’s break room, I had a memory of something that happened at my very first internship in January 2007. Four years ago doesn’t seem like long, but it feels like ages ago. I was barely 20 and a sophomore in college. I was ecstatic to have landed an internship at one of the biggest production houses in the city. Places like this were why I moved to Indianapolis to begin with. This particular place was downtown and my first year of college when I worked as a waitress, I used to drive by it on my way to work, wishing I was going up into their third floor office instead of the Steak N Shake connected to the Circle Centre Mall. But it served as motivation – I had to keep working doubles on the weekend (triples during GenCon!), keep up my grades and work, and eventually I might make it up there. I managed to land the internship much earlier and easier than anticipated thanks to my seemingly lazy fellow students. Justine (the other intern) and I went to the company for a required job shadow and ended up being the only ones with foresight to hand off our resumes. I went in for an interview a couple months later and the shine from their numerous Emmys blinded me before I could even check in at the receptionist. The interview ended up being a formality to my delight and I was set to begin after Christmas.

So where does coffee play into this? Well, on my first day I met the Associate Producer I would frequently work with (aka be commanded by), Ashley. I don’t really mind talking about her now because I should probably frame the rest of the story – this company went seriously downhill during the time I was there (not due to me) and eventually shut its doors by 2009 (not my fault) and last I heard Ashley was a nanny or something in a different state in a different timezone. The downward spiral is a whole ‘nother blog entry. Anyway, Ashley was never really a video person, a recent graduate of a random liberal arts program with no video experience, but I respected her. I met her in Edit 2, I think, where she was making herself seem extra busy on an Avid. She was going through the assets of a project and noting their licensing and timecode, something I probably could have been instructed to do. She was terse and brief in explaining what different levels of rights meant. She kept having to ask people walking by which area of the screen to click on, so I stopped asking her about Avid.

My first task assigned by her was to clean the kitchen. I didn’t care, I was in a place where Emmy-winning videos were made. I was good at cleaning – GREAT at cleaning! I would clean for these award winning individuals! Ashley came into the kitchen when I was finishing up and started to make some coffee, making a mess in the process (I didn’t care, Emmy award winning messes!). She hit the start button and started to leave when I noticed the pot underneath the machine was still about 25% full. I called to her – hey uh, the coffee is going to overflow, it needs a new pot. I would have switched it myself but it was a single machine so there weren’t empty pots sitting around and it would have taken a bit of slide-of-hand with another cup, and I couldn’t find any. Her response: NO IT ISNT, COME WITH ME. My first day at an intimidating production company with a bitchy producer made me respond: “Yes ma’m.”

We came back from whatever nonsense we had gone to do (I think I followed her from office to office as she asked some questions and tried to seem important). The coffee was still coming out and the pot was full. There was coffee flowing everywhere.

Ashley: OH MY GOD WHAT DID YOU DO??

Now, I was a waitress from the age of 16 to 20. I have made and served thousands of pots of coffee. If there is one thing I’m good at, it’s making coffee. Also, I am no moron.

I sprung to the machine. A mug had appeared in the sink so I caught the remainder of coffee in the mug while I dumped out part of the pot into the sink. Oddly, I’d seen brand new servers do this before with opaque coffee pots (they didn’t check to see if it was empty before starting a new one), so I was able to apply a life skill to the situation. Ashley grabbed paper towels and started cleaning up (I think if it had actually been my fault she would have left me to do it all). People came in and asked what happened and I heard her say at least once that the intern made coffee wrong.

Throughout the internship, our relationship was very much dominant/submissive. Ashley liked to be in control. There was the time when contracts or tapes were being mailed out and she had them laid all over her office in a disorganized manner and expected me to help her fill out the FedEx forms and package everything. A couple things went to the wrong place despite my best efforts to understand what she was trying to do.

Then there was the break in. The tape library for the company was on the floor above where the main office resided. Since the building was so old, there were a lot of various passageways in the musty old building and the doors were wooden with old locks. Justine and I were working together on sorting and organizing the massive music library in that room, and we always carefully locked up the door afterward. Justine was so careful to lock the door and I always watched and checked, I didn’t want the archives of Morgan Freeman and Peyton Manning interviews destroyed. The next day, the break in was discovered and everyone was standing around talking to police. Ashley looked at me. “The INTERNS were up there yesterday!” It ended up not mattering – the police said the lock was destroyed – whoever it was had forced their way in. I don’t think anything important was stolen. All I remember is Ashley and the disdain in her voice: THE INTERNS. DUN DUN DUNNN.

This post sort of makes it seem like she made my life hell for 5 months but in reality I didn’t work with her that often. I worked with other producers who were actually video people and could answer my questions, editors, audio people, etc. And in fact, on one of my last days we were shooting some web content for a company and all ended up having to star in the clips, and she and I had quite a bit of fun on those shoot days. I guess maybe she warmed up to me. This internship was my favorite, despite the fact the company crumbled around me and I wanted to end it early after I spent a day cleaning out offices of recently laid off producers. But again, that’s a whole ‘nother blog entry. I learned to ask questions, be curious, assert yourself, and probably a lot of qualities a good assistant editor should have.

One thing I didn’t expect to learn from this internship was about how I will treat interns I may have working alongside me at future jobs. I didn’t expect to be actively applying knowledge learned from an internship I had as a sophomore. If an intern is working for free for a company and showing that they care, they should have your full respect as any full time employee should have. Treat them well. They’re people, they’re just new. They’re eager to learn from you. They don’t want to be blamed and balked at, they want to feel like they belong. They are giving their time in exchange for experience. Give them a good experience. Invite them to lunch, ask them questions, figure out what they want out of the whole thing. It’s a two way relationship. I look forward to anytime in the future when I might get the opportunity to pass on some of the great knowledge and habits I’ve learned from some great editors in the edit suite and online.

Treat your interns well. They might become your future employees. Or even your employers.

And they’ll remember the time you blamed the damn coffee spill on them.

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