The value of internships.
March 2021 | Max Benowitz
There’s a bit of a paradox in attending an arts school. On face value, you’re going to USC, or NYU Tisch, or any other strong program to learn and hone your craft for four years. On the flip side, unless said craft is at a ‘Donald Glover writing for 30 Rock his senior year of college-level, or your parents are ridiculously connected, there’s a slim chance that focusing purely on writing or filmmaking will get you in the doors you want to walk through. You need to intern.
My first internship wasn’t even an internship. I saw a posting on an NYU Tisch newsletter that someone named Carla Pinza at ‘Luminous Visions Productions’ was seeking an unpaid assistant. I reached out, and a few minutes later, a very old woman (that very same Carla) called me from a landline and asked me what my horoscope was. Apparently, because I’m a Taurus, and because I was Jewish (again, this woman was very old), I was right for the job. This ‘internship’ took place the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year, and despite the fact that tasks included buying a stapler for Carla, reading an unfinished children’s book for Carla, and sending a letter to Mike Bloomberg asking for $70,000 (no joke), I now had something to put on my resume.
Now, obviously, helping out an octogenarian ex-actress on the sole basis of being born in May to Jewish heritage is not the best preparation for your post-college job, but one must start somewhere. My sophomore year, I was able to talk myself into an internship at APA (a fairly large agency) because I was A) able to read quickly and write coherently, and B) because I had some internship experience to curtail into qualification. From there, it was off to the races. My resume wasn’t anything special, but it had the requisite amounts of bullet points to get me in the door for a new interview. The rest could actually stem from my personality and my education.
More than just working one’s way up from old astrologist to agency, though, internships will also inform you as to what you want to do, and where you want to go in your career. Most writers, directors, and creatives will spend at least a few years at an agency, in development, or on set in production before they can even have the financial stability and network to go off and pursue their dreams. Many will find out that those alternative jobs are, in fact, where they want to be forever. To know any of this before applying cold though, it’s paramount to get a flavor for these things.
Personally speaking, as someone wanting to pursue writing, my best internship experience was working in development – a field I would go on to work in immediately after graduating as my first full time gig. To intern in that field first showed me how creative it could be, and how much my skillset as a writer applied. By the time I graduated, I knew that before looking into the major agencies where so many want to go, I would search for a development job. Likewise, after spending a semester interning in publicity, I also learned what I didn’t want to do – something equally, if not even more valuable to realize as you begin your career.
All of this, of course, is not to say that diving deep into a creative field and soaking up all your college of choice has to offer is not necessary. It is – and if at some point you plan to pursue that creative career full time, the 4 years of college are the best time you’ll have to focus solely on that. However, while it may not be listed in a curriculum, you’re selling yourself short if internships aren’t in the plans as well. Let these two halves make a whole, and post-college, you’ll thank yourself for doing so.
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