INTERNSHIPS HELP FILM, TV BRIDGE A GAP
The college campuses from Maine to Maui are so well-populated by young people eager to make their way into television that there would seem no possible reason for the industry to do any recruiting. Signs saying “Stay Home” or “Think Taxidermy” might be more appropriate.
But there is a yawning chasm of mutual ignorance between academia and the working world, between the job-seekers and the job-suppliers who hope to identify the liveliest and most promising among the seekers.
Internships that try to bridge the chasm are an increasingly attractive solution in many industries, newspapers included.
Two years ago, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences started its own ambitious internship program, offering two-month summer residencies to more than two dozen collegians in a variety of job specialties from art direction to videotape editing, with a $1,200 scholarship to help with the expenses.
This year’s applicants could for the first time, try for internships at talent agencies as well.
“Our deal with our sponsoring companies in the industry,” says Price Hicks, a veteran KCET producer who is now the academy’s director of educational programs, “is that the interns won’t spend the summer standing at the Xerox machine. They’ll sit in on all the meetings and get as close to hands-on participation as they can.”
At a recent lunch, Hicks and three intern alumni discussed the program. It works, the three agreed, because the internships were more than polite visitations.
Tracy Kettler, a 1985 intern who majored in telecommunications at the University of Indiana, was interested in daytime programming and was assigned to a weekday syndicated program called “What’s Hot, What’s Not.”
“I started researching segments the first day,” Kettler said. Eventually she was generating her own segments on nutrition and related themes aimed at women. The show was part of a larger daytime package which flopped, but meanwhile, Kettler had crammed months of experience into a few weeks.
Subsequently, as she wryly admits, she has tasted the volatility of the working television world. “Eight jobs in a year,” she said. “I’ve become a Jill of all trades.” She has lately been working as a script typist on a new show aimed at network prime time.
Mat Kozinets, Toronto-born, moved to Arizona at 12 and attended USC, where he majored in cinema. He won an internship in art direction, and in his case it has led to a permanent job (permanent as these things go in television, anyway) working with the art director on a replacement series, “The Life and Times of Molly Dodd,” that may go on the air in January.
“Is there life after an internship? Yes,” Kozinets says, “and it’s a kind of experience you couldn’t have gotten any other way.”
Allison Brecker graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and is now at the USC Law Center, studying to be an entertainment lawyer. She interned at the potent Triad talent agency and is still working there part-time, having turned down a full-time offer so she could pursue her degree.
“Agencies are usually suspicious of outsiders. It’s a very competitive business. But Lee Rosenberg at Triad let me attend all the meetings. Triad had seen the internships as a recruiting device to find bright, ambitious young people, and they took it seriously. It gave me a kind of access I’d never have had otherwise, and that includes access to job information and networking.
“The image of the agent is Sydney Pollack in ‘Tootsie’,” but it’s a very serious business. The thing about an internship is that you see it with an intimacy you couldn’t hope for even if you were a regular junior employee. The classroom doesn’t even come close.”
“Faculty people,” Price Hicks remarked, “have sometimes been unimpressed by the idea of a summer in Hollywood.”
“If they think it’s just star-gazing, they’re crazy,” Allison Brecker said.
“It takes a special initiative to apply for an internship,” Tracy Kettler said. “Maybe that’s the point.”
Will the internship program lead in the long run to better television? It is small leverage against a massive institution, but there is undoubtedly something to be said for careers that begin with grounds for pride and hope.