A Filmmaker’s Guide to Mastering the Art of Interning
Any film or communications student pursuing a degree in the arts is undoubtedly familiar with the daunting task of finding an internship. From the moment you enroll in freshman courses, the phrases experiential learning, undergraduate research, and career readiness are thrown around at every opportunity. Unfortunately for us arts majors, what you learn in the classroom and are tested on in exams does not always translate to the workplace in the same way that STEM subjects do. So, the daunting task of finding an internship is ultimately going to be one of the most efficient and rewarding ways to set you up for success post graduation.
This brings us to the question that I and surely many other students have lost sleep over: how do you get experience when every job requires experience? Even with entry level positions and internships, it’s expected, or at least favored, that you have a strong resume that displays your skills, strengths, and—drumroll please—experience. The answer to this question is different for everyone, but by sharing how I navigated this universal struggle during my three years as a film studies and professional writing major at Michigan State University, I hope to make your path to success a little easier.
Becoming The Perfect Candidate On Paper
The journey to “success” (a word I could write a whole other article on), starts with milking every experience you have in order to sell yourself as a professional. So for fellow filmmakers, this means saying you have experience with video editing, even if that experience is using iMovie on your phone to put together a video for a high school Spanish project. It is also important to shape your resume to the opportunity you are applying for. By starting the search early, you can give yourself time to embark on any preparations needed to polish your resume. During the fall of my freshman year, I stumbled upon my dream internship at the Cannes Film Festival. Like most freshman film majors, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my love for film, let alone have the experiences needed to make me look like a strong candidate. Between the months of October to March, I dedicated my time to making sure that, on paper, I was exactly what the internship was looking for. This meant writing for agnès films, attending film club meetings, setting up chairs and posters for the East Lansing Film Festival, getting a faculty recommendation, and carefully planning out my video submission. With a few extracurricular activities and the right wording, your resume and cover letter can look just as impressive as someone who has actual work experience in the field. While there will still be a lot of progress to be made on that resume, employers and internship coordinators will see that, for an entry-level professional, you exhibit a drive and passion for the field you want to pursue. Luckily, showing passion and drive can be just as useful as holding a job title when it comes to the film industry. This means showing eagerness and preparation during the application process. Research the company and the position, come prepared with questions to ask the interviewer, and be ready to confidently pitch yourself as a professional, even if that confidence makes you feel like an imposter. After doing exactly that, I waited to hear back from the Cannes Film Festival Internship. Once spring rolled around, I received an acceptance letter for this dream internship in Cannes and was preparing for the transcontinental journey. I’m going to spare you the details of the roller coaster that was the internship and get straight into the key takeaways (if you’re curious to know what I mean by roller coaster, you can read my detailed account of the experience here).
Internships Should Be a Balanced Exchange
So, you’ve got an internship, now how do you make the most of it? Internships can be tricky to navigate seeing as they are oftentimes our first glimpse into the professional world. These first steps can lead to a very positive but also at times overwhelming experience, especially if you find yourself in an environment that tries to take advantage of young and naive professionals. Unfortunately, my internship at Cannes was more bad than good. While working for a talent agency, I was off doing belittling tasks that in no way could be transferred into professional skills or opportunities. As bad encounters began to pile up, I decided to quit my internship and take advantage of the festival access I had, rather than wasting my time with a company that clearly had no intention of getting to know me and my skill sets. While this was an incredibly hard decision to make, it ingrained in me the fact that an internship is just as much about getting what you want out of it as it is for the company getting what they want out of you. As an inexperienced professional, it is easy to undervalue your worth in order to give the company your best impression. While it is important to leave a good impression, it is also important to recognize if what you are doing will push you forward in your career path. If you find yourself in a similar position, don’t just let your doubts and concerns go unheard. Quitting is most likely not the answer (although it ultimately worked for me), but make sure you’re voicing to the company what skills you want to gain and what goals you want to achieve. If they’re not listening, be persistent (and polite of course), because you don’t want to finish the internship feeling like you’ve wasted your time, energy, and money—if you go through an internship-coordinating third party like I did, then having to pay a fee is very likely.
Getting A Third Party To Do The Heavy Lifting
I hope this has not scared you off from pursuing professional opportunities, because even the worst of experiences will end in a lifetime’s worth of lessons and growth. Although my first internship was terrible, the experience as a whole opened many doors that have led me to where I am now as a recent graduate working as a freelance video editor in Paris. One of these doors is The Creative Mind Group (CMG), an organization that pairs young film professionals with companies at film festivals for short term internships, a.k.a, the organization that brought me to Cannes. While my time with the talent agency was miserable, my time with CMG was incredible. The internship coordinators were right by my side, giving me guidance in my decision to quit and helping me figure out how I could still leave Cannes feeling fulfilled and accomplished. I ended up building a strong enough relationship with the coordinators that I felt comfortable asking if they could land me an internship with The Hollywood Reporter (THR). One email exchange after another and I was headed to the Toronto International Film Festival to work with the THR’s video team the next fall.
The THR internship ended up being the most amazing experience, which you can read about here, and was the resume builder that I’m convinced has helped me land every internship and job I’ve had since. To any filmmakers looking for internship opportunities, I highly recommend looking into CMG’s programs. Their internships include almost every side of the film industry and also incorporate the incredibly unique experience of attending some of the world’s biggest film festivals. Only lasting the duration of the festivals, their internships are not much of a time commitment and offer a fast-paced, accelerated learning experience that leaves you with months of networking and contacts in only a few days. Along with CMG, there are plenty of other similar organizations that act as a middle person in your search for internships. A few I’ve worked with in the past are CAPA: The Global Education Network and Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA). These outside organizations are a great way to search for an internship without actually searching. You give them your interests and goals in the application process, and they pair you with a company that they think is the best fit. The only downside to this route is that as a third party of sorts, there are fees that come with their services. Depending on the length of the internship, they range from $3,000 – $10,000 (these are usually internships abroad that include housing and other resources).
Everything Comes at a Cost
Monetary barriers are a reality in the internship search that you will most likely face whether or not you use an internship pairing program. While this barrier can be very limiting, there are plenty of funding resources to get around it, which is the only way I was able to embark on so many opportunities abroad. There truly are endless amounts of donors and scholarships that are eager to support your professional success—it just takes a little digging to find them. A good place to start is with the organization you are applying through. CMG, CAPA, and CEA all offer financial aid and scholarships. Your school’s scholarship page is a great place to start. Outside of school, you can also find funding through the Gilman and Fulbright scholarships. Through all of these funding resources I was able to do three internships and two study abroad programs at virtually no cost, so if it seems too out of reach, know that it’s not—and if your rebuttal is that you’re not good at essay writing, your college’s writing center will help make you look like the most eloquently spoken candidate the midwest (or wherever you’re located) has ever seen.
Parting Words of Wisdom
If there is anything you should take from this long and slightly preachy advice piece, it’s this: with enough dedication, preparation time, and self-advocacy, you will eventually find yourself with your dream company, in your dream city, potentially doing not-so-dreamy tasks, but undoubtedly becoming a well-rounded and marketable employee. As scary as they can seem, internships are an irreplaceable step to finding yourself as a professional. Personally, the handful of internships I’ve had allowed me to dip my toes into several career paths without diving in completely. While the skills I gained from the experiences are important, what I value most is getting the opportunity to figure out what I do and don’t like to do in the fields that I’m interested in. Knowing yourself as a professional, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and your likes and dislikes, turns you into a confident, articulate, and determined asset in any workplace. There is no better way to become that than with internships that give you room to learn, grow, and fail.
Now that I’ve drilled the words internship, professional, and experience into your head a few too many times, it’s time to start your search. Good luck!
Learn more about Mimi and her work by visiting her profile.