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In Defense of the Internship

April 27, 2009

intern

A week or so ago (which, as you know, is an eternity in Craigslist years), someone proposed flagging all internship posts under ‘writing gigs’ as scams that should be removed.  I was so annoyed by that person’s presumption that I actually wrote a response, though I didn’t post it. The original post has since been flagged and removed, so how’s that for irony?

The sheer number of posts on Craigslist from people seeking free labor is overwhelming – but there’s a distinct difference between opportunities to learn necessary skills, and vampires who want to suck your proverbial blood and spit you back out with nothing to show for it.  Craigslist can be a legitimate resource, but it’s also a forum open to the entirety of the internet, so there’s bound to be a lot of garbage. If you’re really serious about making it in the entertainment industry, it’s a matter of gutting a lot of oysters until you find a pearl.

Despite all the modern technology, the entertainment industry (including publishing) is still very rooted in old world ways. Add to that the current economy, and it’s not all that surprising that no one pays for the grunt work.  Like the apprenticeships of yore, you have to work your way up, and starting out as an unpaid intern is just part of the process.  There’s no such thing as an ‘entry-level’ position in this business – even the lowest paid position requires some kind of previous experience.

At first I was very resistant to the idea of working for no pay, but I love my internship, and though I’m in a fortunate position of being able to afford to work part-time without a paycheck, I wholeheartedly recommend it, even if it means putting in extra hours at the Barnes & Noble.  It’s so nice to actually go to work and enjoy what you do, to learn on a daily basis how the business works. I love reading scripts, giving notes, approving or rejecting query submissions, sitting in on meetings – and this week I’m going to be involved in sound post-production. Yes, a paycheck would make it even nicer, but that will come later.

Okay, fine, I’ve convinced you; so now how do you wiggle your way into this very structured hierarchy? As I mentioned before most internships are for college students only – as a way to alleviate their guilt over not paying, companies extend course credit.  There are, however, opportunities that don’t require proof of school attendance, and many of them can be found on Craigslist – if you know how to look.

How to tell the scam from the bona fide? Sometimes it’s obvious – sometimes it’s not.

First of all, ignore any and all posts that want you to help write or polish a screenplay. There are plenty of people who make a good living as script doctors, but they’re professionals hired by producers to fix an already optioned script.  As soon as I find out how to get that gig, I’ll be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, take a look at some of these posts:

Hollywood-based media company seeks interns to write/blog for the fastest-growing celebrity and entertainment website in the world. You will work with a staff of writers and editors with national newspaper and magazine experience, publicists and even celebrities themselves to deliver timely and engaging entertainment news. Are you ready to work the red carpet?

Candidates must be passionate about pop culture and knowledgeable enough to know their Li-Lo’s from their Rpattz’s. We seek writers with spunk and bite – you should be quick, versatile and able to deliver stories that are accurate and authoritative. Did we say quick? The world of celebrity never sleeps!

If you love writing and celebrity gossip, and are looking to break into the world of media and entertainment, this is the perfect opportunity for you.

Now this one sounds good, but there are a couple of things to note: 1) There’s no company or website link. You have no idea who you’re applying to. This is not uncommon, but a little suspicious; 2) It sounds high volume – a lot of work very quickly,  which can be overwhelming for those just starting out.

On the plus side, if the job is legit, there sounds like plenty of opportunity to be published online, as well as learn from the more experienced. In this case, I would go ahead and apply, but stay cautious and ask lots of questions. The more research you can do on potential jobs, the better.  Links to real websites are always a plus:

Need a college intern over the summer (or possibly ongoing) to research and develop fun, witty articles about professional surfing/skating/MMA. Stardum Entertainment is an on-line magazine aimed at providing its audience with an entertaining, engaging website on a wide spectrum of topics ranging from Mixed Martial Arts, Surfing, Skating, Music, Movies, and more! Can offer up to 6 units of college credit. A great way to develop an extensive writing portfolio while earning credits over the summer. Please inquire about the position within or visit http://www.stardum.org and contact us via e-mail. Thank you and good luck!

This one tells the company name, and offers a website to get more information. If  surfing, skating, or mixed martial arts is your passion, this one is definitely worth applying to.

We are a Talent Agency who represents Music Composers for film and television.
We are Looking for an intern to work 6 to 8 hours a week in our office. This is a non paid administrative position supporting the staff as needed. Ideal for some one who wants to get hands on experience and to see the business end of the industry. Reliability is key. Those who call our office will not be considered. Please email your resume and cover letter. Thanks.

Random capitalization, no contact info, and a ‘do not call’ policy. Hm…

Best bet is to start with any post that includes information on the company, so you can determine if the company suits your needs or interests. Of course, once you’ve applied, it’s a whole different story…

Oh, and don’t sleep with your boss – it’s just tacky.

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