TV Production Internships

There isn’t a production company in the world that doesn’t need extra hands.  Especially when you’re coming down the home stretch of pre production. With last minute script changes, location permits, meals on set to arrange, props, wardrobe, set construction and the like – the final days before actual production can feel like your head is stuck in the spin cycle of a washing machine.  Your budget is tight and as a producer you’re not going to even think about going over budget when you haven’t yet shot one minute of footage.  Interns to the rescue.  However, I’ve found that there are some production companies and producers who not only don’t understand the benefits of an intern but the responsibility that comes with hiring one.  If you’re just using your interns to take out the garbage, or file paperwork, then you’re doing both of you a disservice.

When I work with interns I make sure I give them some one-on-one time and the benefit of my years of production experience.

1.     Never, never let an intern sit idly.  Yes, it’s tempting, with the pace of production, it can have the apparency that it is easier to do it yourself than to take the time to teach a ‘newbie’ to do it.   In fact, it takes more time for you to continually do a task that is so far out of your job description, than it does to just spend the initial 30 or 45 minutes to give the data to an intern.  So, take the time, give them a little bit about the business and let them get on with it.  They’ll surprise you.  And if they perform the task and it’s not quite right – don’t accept it.  Don’t assume the viewpoint that you might as well do it yourself. That is so not the point. Thank them for their effort, point out what was right about it, and then tell them what needs to be changed and why.

2.    Take time each week to teach your intern something they don’t know.  Even if they’re not ready to do that particular job.  Give them something to look forward to, or something they can work on during their own time.  For example, show them how to research, give them a list of all the vendors you use, and have them check out their websites so they’ll know in the future who you order your lights from, where props can be rented, who are the food services people you use, etc.  Let them get familiar so if they do happen to be the only person back in the production office while you’re on a shoot or in the edit session, they’ll be able to help you out without too much preamble.  Seriously, who has time for preamble when you’re on location?

3.     Put your intern in a centrally located spot in the production office.  Stuffing him or her to the outer Siberia of your office will teach them nothing.  Put them in the middle of the fray where they’ll be able to hear and experience everything.  They’re working for free- if you can’t give them money then show them the love- put them in the middle of what’s happening.

4.    Once your intern has proven s/he has the staying power, include them in meetings, invite them to outside office functions and they’ll feel like they’re part of team.  Morale will be boosted and we all now, boosted morale equals increased production.

5.    Give them different things to do.  If you’ve got a ton of transcriptions from tapes you’ve shot – don’t give them ALL to the intern.  It’s tempting; after all they’re a warm body. But if you take the internship seriously, you’ll want to help develop a well rounded production person who can crawl they’re way up the ranks like the rest of us.  Give them a sense of all areas of production.  Not just typing up transcriptions and answering phones.  Have them log tapes, type up production schedules so they can see the logistics and maneuverings that go into creating a production schedule, have them create crew call sheets and then go over it with them.

There’s lots more an intern can and will do – but it’s up to you as the producer to take time out of your hectic schedule each day to give them some guidance and show them the love.  And on a final note, there can never be too much of “what goes around comes around,” – remember we all had to start somewhere.  Make their first experience a good one.

4 Comments
  • Chelsea Prince
    Posted at 23:13h, 16 September

    This is the type of attitude I wish a former boss had, but fortunately I turned my negative experience and channeled it into a Web site I founded, InternCircle, to foster positive internship experiences and opportunities. Please contact me at cprince@interncircle.com if you would like to contribute a column to our advice section at InternCircle, you have a voice that connects with people.

    Best,
    Chelsea Prince

  • AF
    Posted at 09:24h, 28 September

    If only most companies in all industries had as much common sense as is contained in this post, many of those businesses would be richer and the world would be a better place for so many people.

  • Phil Holbrook
    Posted at 11:51h, 11 June

    Maria, this is a fantastic and informative post. I have an intern right now, and it’s nice to see the things I’m doing right. However, it’s even cooler to see the things I’m not necessarily doing right. Thank you so much for all the helpful tips. I really appreciate it and I’m sure my interns will as well!

  • Conrad Evarts
    Posted at 15:52h, 06 July

    True, true. Many youngsters owe you a big thanks.

    My first internship in college was at a tiny TV station in Idaho’s Silver Valley. The news director moved on right after I started, so I did a reporter’s job all summer and learned a great deal, enough to switch from print to broadcast journalism, because they accidentally did exactly what you suggest.

    My second internship was in Culver City for a big radio network and I made great sacrifices to be there, spending money I didn’t have. I remember sitting on Venice Beach with a box of mail I was supposed to take to the talent wondering what the hell I was doing there. I found one of his paychecks in the box and I should have looked at it, then I would have learned something. I guess I did learn two important things; that this guy was a freaky pervert and that I’m not wired to live in L.A.

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