Fame, Friendship and an Unforgettable internship: My week at TIFF
This past summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Cannes Film Festival. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t all the glitz and glamour one would expect at a world-renowned festival (here’s the complete story if you’re curious). I left the internship with a sour taste in my mouth and a more realistic perspective on the film industry. Flash forward five months, I found myself with another opportunity to attend a film festival; this time with an internship at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Having been screwed over at Cannes, I approached TIFF with a zero bullshit attitude, I knew exactly what I wanted out of this opportunity and I wasn’t going to tiptoe around it.
Now, what exactly was it that I wanted? An internship with The Hollywood Reporter. As a writer and an aspiring cinematographer, The Hollywood Reporter is a publication that I have read, looked up to, and have wanted to work with for years. Their videos and articles are engaging and entertaining while still managing to spark conversation and bring Hollywood’s shortcomings to the forefront. The signature polished look that their interviews and roundtables have inspired my own cinematic style as a filmmaker.
Having gone to a festival through The Creative Mind Group once before, I had built a relationship with the program coordinator, who had helped me through my Cannes internship. When I decided that I wanted to go to TIFF, I expressed my interest in The Hollywood Reporter and asked if she could set me up with them. A series of emails and an introduction video later, I dropped all my responsibilities (school) and found myself in a four-hour car ride, on my way to be an intern for The Hollywood Reporter’s video lounge at TIFF, where I would be helping the video team for the week. Although short, that car ride was filled with a year’s worth of angst, jitters, and excitement. I was in a state of limbo, uncertain if this internship would be just like the last—awful and a waste of my money—or if it would be the catalyst to my career.
I woke up bright and early the next morning, ready to shake the limbo and face this opportunity with courage and coffee. As I walked into the hotel conference room/ soon to be film-studio I had one thought flooding my mind: everyone here looks like they belong in a rock band. The amount of black denim I saw The Hollywood Reporter crew wearing throughout the day was truly astonishing. It looked like they came straight from an edgy Portland art gallery, and something about that was comforting. From the moment I stepped foot onto the film-studio, I felt at ease. Everyone was friendly and conversation was casual and easy. I spent the first day unloading equipment and setting up; I even got to sit in and pretend to be a celebrity while the film crew adjusted lighting. From day one, I was never just the video intern, I was a part of the team. As the week went on I did several tasks which included greeting guests, sound control, running drives, pulling quotes, and sitting in on interviews. Although small in importance, I learned a great deal from every task I did.
Throughout the day I would stand around to greet guests. This meant that I would stand with a smile, telling people where the bathroom was, or getting asked how much longer the talent would be in the interview, or if they could wrap the interview up because they had a busy schedule—and they always had a busy schedule. For the most part, this task involved me trying to stay calm as the actors I’ve idolized my whole life walked through the elevator doors with their entourage of publicists, managers, agents, assistants, stylists, makeup artists, etc. Turning the corner to come face to face with Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks was something I never got used to, but I learned to keep my cool on the outside while losing it on the inside.
In short, this task was me telling The Hollywood Reporter crew and the celebrities’ entourages, in the nicest way possible, to shut up while interviews were rolling a room over. Luckily this was not a task I had to do often. After my first day of telling Rainn Wilson to keep it down, thinking he was crew, only to realize it was Dwight from The Office after the fact, I wasn’t too keen on completing this task.
After each interview, I had to take the footage to the editing studio, which was in another hotel, so that the editors could post the interviews within the hour. This usually involved me running down the streets of Toronto as quickly as humanly possible, so that I wouldn’t miss the next group of interviewees coming in. Sometimes I would sit and chat with the editing team while waiting for them to clear a drive for me to bring back.
I watched through all the interview footage and pulled sound bites that could be used as stand-alone quotes for the next print issue of The Hollywood Reporter. My favorite interview I watched through was for the film, The Friend. Watching through The Friend footage, it was evident that everyone in that room had a strong connection to the film and that they found the story an important one to tell. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, The Friend tells a true story of loss and grief. In the film, Matthew Teague, the executive producer of the film, shares the story of losing his wife to terminal cancer. Having such a huge role in the production process, Teague and everyone else created a film straight from the heart.
The supportive energy exuding from the interview and the words being said showed the attachment everyone had to the film. In the interview, Gabriela Cowperthwaite said, “I thought that the story found its way into discussing grief by backing into it and talking about the anchor that keeps you together in your darkest days. I thought that was a beautiful way to acknowledge something we all go through, and that is grief.” This quote alone shows the passion that everyone spoke with. If the film itself—which I didn’t manage to see but will see as soon as it’s available—radiates half the amount of passion that the interview did, I see it being a story that reaches through the screen and touches everyone’s hearts.
Sitting in on interviews
This one’s not so much of a task, but a privilege that I still can’t wrap my head around. I got the chance to sit in on two interviews and observe the process. The first interview I sat on was with Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, and Robert Eggers for their new film, The Lighthouse. Now, let me tell you, the Twilight heartthrob that we all know and love, that’s not who I met. Instead, I was faced with a rather shy Robert Pattinson. I was truly stunned to see how, for lack of a better word, normal he was. With that being my first interview, I expected these big personalities to walk through the door and light up the room. Some of the stars did, but for the most part, they were just like the rest of us, humans trying to get their jobs done. It was clear that they were there on a press junket, completing one of the many more interviews they would go on to do at TIFF and during the weeks to come.
The second interview I sat in on was with Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and James Mangold for their incredible film Ford v Ferrari. I got the chance to see their film later that week and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. As someone who has absolutely no interest in car racing whatsoever, I went into it expecting to sneak in a good half hour-nap. That was not the case, I spent the entire two hours and thirty minutes either grinning ear to ear or holding back my sniffles and tears. If you would have told me beforehand that I would be balling my eyes out at a movie about cars, I would have laughed in your face and probably said something along the lines of, “There are more important things to cry about than a man and his car.”
These tasks taught me a lot about how a set like this works. As I sat in the corner watching these interviews, I would observe the film crew. I picked up on little things like how the DP and camera operators were fixed to their cameras, holding them like it was their child. The sound mixer reacted to the interviews as the sound was being played in her headphones. The digital imaging technician sat at his table faced away from all the action, in his own little bubble. My favorite part was observing the interviewer.
As someone interested in documentary filmmaking, I loved seeing how the interviewers would interact with the talent, making the conversation feel natural yet still guiding it along. I had a couple of conversations with one of the interviewers that were very insightful. He described the interviewing experience as this weird thing where even though there are A-list celebrities present, all eyes seem to fall on the interviewer. There is this pressure to say everything right and produce an interview that the audience wants. I have always had a hard time with the interviewing process, so hearing from him, this seasoned reporter, that it’s always a little scary really comforted me and pushed me to use those nerves to fuel my motivation.
Every task I did, big or small, made me feel like I was part of the team. I was contributing, in some small way, to this huge publication that I regard so highly, and that was insanely fulfilling. I would gladly stand for hours greeting guests if it meant having a hand in the influence that The Hollywood Reporter has in the industry. The entire week I was interning with them, I compared the experience to my internship with the talent agency I worked with in Cannes.
I couldn’t help but think—Had I been as close with the people in Cannes as I was with The Hollywood Reporter, would I have found value in the minimizing tasks they had me do, like standing for hours in a line for a screening to just leave once the agent arrived, or running around the city, getting asked to drop off tickets and buy groceries? After all, I did run my share of errands for The Hollywood Reporter as well. I think the difference is that I was not performing my tasks in isolation. I was part of a team and that made me feel connected. There was a balance with The Hollywood Reporter where I was still doing the grunt work but I was also getting a slice of the action and learning new things every day. That was something I didn’t have in Cannes.
The human interaction made all the difference for me. In Cannes, I only met one person from the agency while I was there, and the rest of my contact was through email. At TIFF, I spent hours every day with members of The Hollywood Reporter team chatting, laughing, learning, and getting to know them as individuals. I started forming bonds with my team members and got to know about the amazing lives they lead. Most of the video crew was freelance, so getting to hear about the diverse experiences they’ve had in the industry was really inspiring and gave me a glimpse into the possibilities of freelancing life. It also didn’t hurt that they were all insanely kind. I was never looked down upon for being an intern and truly felt a part of the team, thanks to the senior video producer..
The senior video producer was the one in charge of the three of us who were interning with her team. She was the one giving us call times, rundowns of the day, and any general tasks. She had a way with words where orders didn’t feel like orders but instead like a peer speaking to a peer. She was constantly checking in on us and asking if we were enjoying ourselves. Even when she had a million things to do, she would make time to make sure our experience was worthwhile. The people I met that week are what made my internship so memorable.
After five days of a rewarding internship, my time with The Hollywood Reporter was coming to a close. On the last day, we took down the set and headed to the wrap dinner where I would say my final goodbyes and have one of the most influential nights of my life. Before I get into the details of this dinner, I think it is important to preface a few things. My first day on set, I met one of the camera operators. I had quickly learned that she grew up only five minutes away from where I am from. Throughout the week, I continued to learn more about her life and began to see many similarities between us, especially with our interests in the film industry.
We had formed a friendship and I didn’t want it to just end after the internship. On the last day, I decided that I was going to ask her if we could stay in contact. Seeing as I am brutally shy, this was not as easy of a goal as it may sound. During that day, a suspicious amount of opportunities arose for me to ask her, but everytime, my irrational fears of rejection crept in and I would chicken out. One of these suspicious opportunities arose when we were sat next to each other at the wrap dinner. Any logical person would take this as a sign and muster up the courage to ask, but not me. Even after sitting next to her for the duration of our dinner, I still couldn’t do it.
Towards the end of the dinner, one of the video directors made a final toast. In this toast, she said to turn to the person on your right and say something you appreciate about them. After every other opportunity I passed up that day, this was the biggest sign yet, screaming at me to stop using my shyness as an excuse to not go after what I want. I turned to her and told her how much I appreciated the conversations we had and asked if we could stay in touch. She told me she would love to stay in touch and said that she would put me in contact with some filmmakers she knows who are based in Michigan. As those words came out of her mouth, I was both relieved and a bit stunned. Her response was above and beyond anything I could have ever hoped for. She knew that I was seeking more experience with camera work and was gracious enough to help me take those first steps.
At that dinner, I had this meditative out-of-body moment where I was in disbelief of my reality. I was sitting at a table, having dinner with people who have made it in the industry, people who are in a place I could only dream of being, and on top of that, people who wanted to help me with my career. None of it added up, I couldn’t understand how me, out of all people, deserved to be sitting where I was.
As people started to trickle out, I started having a conversation with the director of photography and the senior video producer. We talked about my plans for when I graduate, their college experiences, and how they got into film. Somewhere along the way, the conversation led to them telling me that I would be their bosses one day. Already emotional from my conversation with Erin, I instantly felt my eyes watering. Not wanting to make our casual conversation awkward, I successfully fought off the tears. I don’t think they realized the power those words had. It came up very nonchalantly, but hearing those words from the people I had looked up to all week, whether they meant it or not, was one of the most moving things anyone has ever said to me. I spend a lot of my time doubting my abilities, so to hear them say that gave me the assurance that I was in the right place taking the right path.
After my internship ended, I had two more days at TIFF. In those two days, I made it my mission to see as many films as I could. I was surprised and ecstatic to see how many of the films premiering at TIFF were directed by women and told stories of women empowerment. Out of the five films I saw, three had female-driven plots, two of which were directed by women. The films were How to Build a Girl, I am Woman, and Seberg. Each told a touching story of womanhood. My personal favorite was How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc. The film does a terrifyingly accurate job of depicting what it is like to be a sixteen-year-old girl trying to find your identity. It’s the kind of film I wish I had seen when I was younger, trying to navigate my womanhood in a society that told me to repress it. In each of the three women-led films I saw, the plot was focused on women in a professional environment.
In How to Build a Girl, the protagonist finds her voice through becoming a rock band critic. In I am Woman, directed by Unjoo Moon, we see the story of Helen Reddy and how she pursued creating feminist music, even after being turned away by the industry again and again. In Seberg, directed by Benedict Andrews, we follow Jean Seberg and how she used her acting career to bring attention to the civil rights movement. As I was watching these films, I was able to observe their professional journeys as women as I myself was in the midst of a professional journey.
Being able to end my time at TIFF with these three stories left me with a sense of empowerment and reminded me to be bold and persistent when it comes to my career. From the films I saw to the people I worked with, TIFF was a breath of fresh air that rekindled my ambition to pursue a career in the film industry. TIFF showed me the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with a work environment that revolves around creative collaboration. I have never felt more out of my element yet in my element than during that week. Working side by side with professionals whose abilities greatly surpass mine put my life into perspective and gave me a glimpse into where I want to be and what I have to do to get there.