If you want to be in video production, chances are pretty good that you’re going to need to complete at least one internship before you find a job. The best part is that almost all video production internships are unpaid. In return for your free labor, a company agrees to help you along, teaching you and giving you valuable work experience. It should be a pretty fair trade on both sides, but it can start to slip occasionally. As an intern, it’s important that you stay on top of your work, while holding the company accountable for their end of the bargain.
In college, I completed three internships that ranged anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week. This was a challenge to balance with school and a part-time job, so getting the most out of my internship time was a huge priority. I worked on museum exhibit videos, local events, conference slideshows, and television, digitized tapes, prepared graphics and laid a-roll. I also swept floors, answered phones, organized music libraries, and even cleaned out offices when half the staff were laid off (but that’s a separate post for another day.) Interning isn’t always fun or glamorous or even interesting, but it gives you essentially building blocks for your career. Here’s my eleven most important facets of a video production intern.
Let’s face the facts. First of all: no matter what kind of college program you might be working through, or how innocent and passionate you might be, or how dedicated to video production you say you are, you’re probably going to be doing some pretty menial work as an intern.The sooner you realize that you are an INTERN, the sooner you can really start to make the best of the situation.
Alright. Now that I’ve said that, I want to stress that just because you are an intern, doesn’t mean you’re the company play-thing. You (probably) won’t be working on high dollar edits, but you shouldn’t sell yourself short and start scrubbing floors and vacuuming spiderwebs out of dark corners. At least not all the time. If your internship resembles more of a janitor or secretary position than a low level assistant, there might be something wrong. There also might be something wrong if you’re working 50 hours a week on client work without pay, too.
If you’re in an edit suite shadowing an edit, ask the editor questions (but be careful not to interrupt them). If you’re sitting on a couch with an in-house producer, ask them questions. If you’re going to lunch with some associates, ask them questions. What kind of questions? Ask how they got to where they are, what school they attended, what their major was, what internships they did, what other jobs they’ve had, what the turning point in their career so far has been, what they like, what they don’t like, the work they’d like to do, how they deal with clients, how they determine their freelance rates, what that little button on the Avid does, why they made a creative choice. In other words, ask anything and everything you can think of asking. And take notes.
Speaking from a technical perspective. If you’re shown something, you should take notes. If someone demonstrates how to set up a capture in Avid, write it down. Don’t ask for someone to show you every time. If you don’t understand, it’s fine to keep asking questions about the same thing. But there’s a difference between “Can you show me how to set up a tape capture?” and “I’m working on setting up this tape capture and I think I’ve missed something, can you check it out?” One shows that you’re on the road to learning it, and the other shows you probably don’t care.
You might be taking on some tasks as an intern that aren’t so great or enriching – organizing tape libraries, for example. But in almost any task, there is something you can take away from it. Instead of grumbling your way through something, ask yourself what you’re learning. If you’re doing too many menial tasks and not getting anything out of it, and you’re unpaid? Go to the person coordinating your internship, and let them know. Which leads me to–
In your (probably) unpaid internship, you should be taking something away every day you’re working. If you aren’t getting what you want, talk it out. Be polite, explain your goals, and ask if some changes can be made within reason. Any company you intern for that’s worth ever working for full-time will understand and help push you back into the right direction. Open the lines of communication right away. Meet up with whoever you report to as a supervisor at the beginning of your internship, and establish your goals. That way, they know what you want and can try to shape your experience.
Ask to get hands on with equipment as much as possible. In my past internships, I would take tutorials and manuals into empty suites and work away. Never waste any downtime. You’re in a prime situation to better your skills in a way you might not be able to otherwise. Plus, if you get stuck, you have a staff of well-trained individuals to help you.
Don’t skate by at your internship. Come in early, stay a little late. Don’t simply exist. Why the hell are you there if you aren’t doing anything? Certainly not for the pay. Do your very best work and be enthusiastic. People take notice of happy people who want to do good work, and you have a much better chance of being hired full-time if people genuinely like you.You could prove yourself to be a really valuable member of the team and a perfect choice for an editor role but if you’re a jerk face, you’re going to get passed over. If you’re a little black rain cloud that just complains about everything, you definitely will be shown the door.
You’re inexperienced, you’re going to make errors. It’s part of the company’s hazard. If you make an error, apologize and fix it right away. No need to dwell on it or get emotional. Just fix it (or ask for help) and move on. Don’t try to cover your mistake. And if you accidentally deleted the company’s Unity? Welp, you’re on your own with that one.
Get a status report. Are you meeting the company’s expectations? Are they meeting yours? What improvements can be made on both sides, if any? By setting a date to speak, you’ll guarantee you get some quality discussion that can really help you out. And you’ll definitely be on the calendar for a meeting with a potentially very busy producer or manager.
Don’t get into personal relationships with anyone, or do anything that could damage your reputation. Be respectful and positive, and stay out of trouble. And be careful on social media.
What’s missing from my list? Skillfulness or intelligence or technical aptitude? Nope, not necessary for an intern, at least not specific to video production. Companies want bright, curious, and enthusiastic people who are eager to move up and learn new things. They don’t want someone with a cocky attitude who thinks they already know everything. Sure, some facilities may ask for applicants that have a basic understanding, but they aren’t looking for an expert. When you approach a facility to inquire about internships, keep these facets in mind, and maybe you’ll find yourself behind the camera or in the edit bay.