By Daniel Blair, Guest Blogger
I’m a senior in the Film Department who wants to produce movies—Hollywood movies. Fortunately for me, the University of Utah offers school credit for internships in Hollywood through The Ladder Program, directed by Heidi and Steven Banks.
Steven Banks is a professional screenwriter and University of Utah graduate who teaches a screenwriting workshop at the University about once a year. I took his class twice. Spring 2010, the class was titled “The Hollywood Storytellers” and focused on how script development works in the entertainment business. Spring 2012, the class was titled “Pitching in Hollywood” and focused on how to pitch a story in order to sell a script that you have not yet written.
I enjoyed Steven’s insider perspective on the film industry. I imagined Hollywood as a giant impersonal machine, but Steven explained how most people involved are really trying to make good stories. He talked about The Ladder Program after class one day and I became fascinated with the idea of actually experiencing Hollywood while still in school.
Once accepted into The Ladder Program, Heidi began helping me and the other interns fine-tune our resumes and brush up on our telephone interviewing skills (with practice interviews). Heidi also helped me compile a list of production companies that matched my filmmaking interests. I researched these companies on Deadline Hollywood, the main Hollywood news site, to make sure I was up-to-date on their projects. After I was thoroughly prepared, Heidi turned me loose to contact production companies and apply for internships.
The internship preparation and hunting was hard work. I started contacting production companies in early July, two months before I arrived in Los Angeles for the fall semester program.
I called and emailed, but most importantly, I followed up.
I quickly learned it’s not that hard to get in contact with production companies, if you know where to look. Their phone numbers and addresses are listed on IMDB PRO. Other interns used the ‘Hollywood Screenwriting Directory’ to find contact information. If you are looking for an internship or job opportunity in Hollywood I recommend looking through the Temp Diaries Job List. They post new positions almost every week and the big production companies post here regularly. Just make sure you know where you will be living as a long commute in LA can be brutal! Through my research, I also learned that many production companies only accept interns enrolled as students in university programs. Keep this in mind!
Cold contacting these companies was a little scary at first, but for the most part the “gatekeepers” were very friendly. I later learned almost all of the receptionists and assistants I spoke with had been interns and had a soft spot for neophytes. Some of them had even been interns just a few weeks before I called!
This is not to say the process was without its snags.
I was stood-up twice for a phone interview with a company that eventually offered me an internship. Follow-up was the key here. The interviewers told me they appreciated that I followed-up with them to reschedule the interview, because it showed them I was really interested in their company.
All this hard work paid off.
By the time I arrived in Hollywood at the start of the Fall 2012 semester, I had too many internship offers! All of the places were great, so I had to take other factors into account.
I chose two production companies that had recently undergone serious changes to their structure (moving locations and a new president). I figured that companies in a state of flux would be more accessible to interns. I was right and it worked out great. The transitional nature of the companies meant that my learning curve was happening at the same time the regular employees were getting used to their new space and coworkers. I shared office space with executives at both companies, a stark contrast to interns at other companies who often found themselves in rooms further from the action.
At Silver Pictures, my main job was to read scripts and write reports on them. It was like doing book reports all over again, except on some of the hottest scripts in Hollywood for people who make really awesome movies. The summary or ‘coverage’ went to the producers who would then decide if the project was worth pursuing. Some of the scripts I read will be movies in a couple of years. I’ll make sure to point that out to everyone I know when they’re released.
The most important part of this internship was understanding story structure and being able to analyze a script’s strengths and weaknesses (critical thinking skills!). As a new intern I received Blake Snyder’s book ‘Save the Cat,’ which is a guide for understanding story structure in film. It’s not enough to say a script is good or bad; you have to explain why.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most interesting things I learned was that almost everyone in the office had been an intern or a production assistant (or a paid intern) before they were hired. This was important because they had real world advice on how to move from being an intern to employee in the entertainment industry. A Vice President, who was an intern 10 years earlier, sat down with me and explained the ephemeral Hollywood corporate ladder. He talked with me about networking and offered advice about internships—he suggested that doing an internship with a talent agency would make me a desirable studio employee. He even talked with me about how he put together “The Book of Eli”—everything from finding the script to casting the directors and Denzel Washington. Talking with him about scripts and story was the most fun thing I did in Hollywood.
At Threshold Entertainment, I worked in business development. My job was to research and contact companies outside of Hollywood to develop their products or brand into animated media. Threshold was focused mostly on media markets outside of films, such as commercials, amusement park rides and TV shows and it was interesting to see the business side of the entertainment industry. I learned so much about research and networking it made my head spin. We practiced how to get past “gatekeepers” and talk directly to the head of a company by researching their past and current projects. My manager was amazing at knowing exactly what information she needed to present to talk directly with a company’s decision makers.
I learned how to find market shares of industries, how to use industry conferences to locate experts in a given field, how to contact people on LinkedIn for business relationships and how to research foreign investors and potential business partners. Here, I learned the entertainment industry extends far beyond film and TV to just about every business imaginable when commercials and advertising are included.
The most important skill I picked up at Threshold was my ability to use search engines and scour the Internet for hard to find information. This was very similar to finding contact information for production companies. Every industry I looked into had its own network of connections and publications that would quickly get you up to speed on their projects.
My internships were both incredible learning experiences and invaluable tools in planning my career path. Instead of an ethereal idea of what the entertainment industry was, I met people who had made it into the industry and listened to their advice on how to pursue my dream job. While the internships were not glamorous, they built my confidence with real world experience and helped me plan my future.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series “So You Want To Do An Internship?: Networking and The Informational Interview.” We’ve got the rest of Daniel’s story, and it will continue this week. If you’re interested in The Ladder Program and want more information, click here.