What's It Like to Intern at a Production Company? | Guest Post

QUINCIE HERE—Wait, what?! Not who you were expecting, right? My buddy Tia, who you all know and love, asked me to write a guest post about my summer internships. Of course, being the good friend that I am (*insert sassy hand flip girl emoji*), I agreed. I previously appeared on Tia’s other post about internships, but here are some more specific details and tips about the industry I am working in, which is… *drumroll*... the entertainment industry!

But before I get into the nitty gritty, I’m going to quickly summarize how I got here.

I’m currently going into my senior year at Vanderbilt University (Go Dores!) and I’ve been out here in Los Angeles the past two summers working in entertainment industry-related internships. Also, apologies in advance: I can’t really speak to the “culture shock” of LA because I’m originally from Orange County. However, my non-Californian friends who are also here interning tell me that it is indeed a bit shocking at first, especially driving and traffic. (All rumors about traffic being the worst are true.)

Growing up, I’ve always been a huge TV person. I vividly remember waking up super early every Saturday to watch Sesame Street as a kid… which I followed up with the entire PBS lineup before I promptly switched channels to the ABC kids morning lineup when the PBS shows ended. Anyway, blah blah, fast forward to college. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I took a class that was called “Rhetoric of Television.” It was one of those “life-changing” epiphanies, when I discovered that the business of making TV shows is SUPREMELY FASCINATING. I’ve always loved movies, but I’ve never been a huge cinephile and am not interested in directing or screenwriting. Hence why I’m not a film major right now. However, while taking this class… I can’t explain it any better, but I just had a gut feeling that working in TV was exactly what I wanted to do for a living.

That story is a good segue into this point: Only work in the entertainment industry if you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life. Because otherwise, you should do something else with your life. It’s a hard industry. There is no clear path to success, you will work long hours and be paid very little, and many people never “make it.” If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school and pass the bar, then follow a path of very clear job titles while moving up the ladder. There is nothing like that in this industry. Even Ivy Leaguers start at the bottom. No one is guaranteed anything. It’s humbling but also incredibly daunting.

Now that I’ve gotten the ominous warning out of the way, on to more internship-specific things. I’m currently a development intern at two production companies. One is smaller and more specific in their brand, and the other is larger and makes a wider range of films. Being an intern is a lot of fun but involves a lot of non-glamorous work. However, if you really want to work in the industry, you will literally jump at the chance to get someone coffee. Take every small job seriously. Messing up someone’s order isn’t just making a mistake, it’s telling your boss that you are forgetful and careless.

The main job you’ll most likely have as an intern is doing script coverage. You should definitely know what that means before you start interning. Lucky for you, I will define it here: Coverage means reading a script, summarizing it, and writing comments about what you liked/didn’t like about it. Basically, it’s this industry’s equivalent of what Tia called a “reader’s report” in her internship blog post. An excellent summary of what writing coverage means as an intern: “You don’t get to say yes to things, but you get to say no to things.” Meaning, if the intern doesn’t like it, it is highly likely no one else will think the script is good either. (And most of the stuff you’ll read is pretty bad. If you like everything you read, your judgment is off.) Luckily, I am an English major, so I enjoy reading and analyzing stories. Yay me. Even if you are not an English major, you have to find a way to like writing coverage because it’s where you can show value as an intern. It’s not just about saying yay/nay, it’s about knowing why you like or don’t like something. Have there been similar projects made? Is the tone inconsistent throughout the script? Is there an audience who will watch this? Etc., etc.

(Side note: Unsolicited submissions to production companies DO NOT get read. Ever. Primarily for legal reasons. So don’t bother sending in your scripts! If you want a production company to seriously consider your script in this industry, you have to be represented by an agent.)

Another thing that you’ve probably heard about regarding this industry is the enormous amount of networking involved. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and knowing other people is how you’ll get internships/jobs in the future. This aspect sucks sometimes. I didn’t know anyone who worked in this industry before. Luckily, Vanderbilt has awesome and generous alumni that helped me get started. However, if that’s not the case for your school, I would reach out to every person you know and ask if they know someone working in this industry. And then ask your parents to ask their friends the same thing. I’ve heard of the weirdest connections, like, “My mom’s friend’s babysitter’s brother works here.” Whatever helps you get your foot in the door is great. And once you’re interning, work hard to get to know your bosses and your fellow interns. But don’t be uber pushy. But definitely be assertive. It’s a fine line to walk. I’m definitely still working on figuring it out myself.

I could probably write another ten pages on what I’ve learned interning these past two years, but I’ll condense some of the main points into a nice list for you all.

More tips for interning in the entertainment industry:

  1. Make the commitment to intern in Los Angeles. No offense to the other cities out there, but if you want to work in LA post-grad, intern in LA. (New York is usually an acceptable alternative.) If you’ve never interned or worked in Los Angeles and apply for entertainment jobs out here, it looks like 1) You’re not serious about moving to LA, and 2) You’re SUPER new to the industry.
  2. Learn the “language” of the industry. There is a lot of very specific lingo in this industry, and you’ll pick up on most of it as you go. However, a lot of the basic language can be learned beforehand if you just Google search! (Google will give you the answers to everything ever). Know the difference between a multi-cam comedy and a single-cam comedy? The meaning of a television “format?” The role of PA’s? If you don’t, start researching.
  3. Read the trades (Deadline, Variety, THR, etc.) and watch TV and movies! (The latter half is the obvious and fun tip.) It’s important to know what other projects are getting made in the industry. Watching everything is important so you can have opinions on what your favorites are. Also, knowing the competition will help boost the quality of your coverage comments.
  4. Learn to keep your mouth shut. I know, it is SUPER exciting to see *insert celebrity name* at the office. However, unless that news has been publicly announced, don’t tell your friends. Not about the specific scripts you read, or people you see at work. First, because you definitely signed a confidentiality agreement, and second, because you could really mess up some deals in this industry if the wrong person hears you blabbing. 
Okay, whew, that’s it from me. Thanks for reading this long post! A billion kudos to all of you!!!!!! Of course, many thanks to Tia for letting me ramble on this blog. I hope this post was helpful!

You can find me on Twitter @QuincieLi if you want to get in contact or have more questions. I love talking about this stuff!

Bye for now,