Internships Open Doors for New Talent

“One might not expect the day-to-day responsibilities of the average film industry intern to be very glorious, but my experience was a bit different,” opines Colin Wiley, a recent graduate of New York University’s film program and a beneficiary of the Academy’s Internship Grants Program. Wiley worked as an editorial intern on the Spike Lee film “Miracle at St. Anna” in 2008, and said the whole experience left him with a real sense of accomplishment.

“There were many occasions when I realized that I was working on something that really had a chance to touch people’s lives in a special way,” recalled Wiley. The internship also led him to the opportunity to work on another of Lee’s projects.

Wiley is just one of many students with aspirations to work in the motion picture industry who have been able to make their way into the field as a result of an Academy-funded internship.

Each year, numerous interns receive financial support as part of the Academy’s larger Institutional Grants Program, which seeks to foster educational activities and opportunities between the public and the film industry while encouraging the appreciation of motion pictures as both an art form and a vocation. This year, $500,000 was divided among a record 73 film-related nonprofit organizations, including universities, museums and career development programs. Internships accounted for more than $160,000 of that money, distributed among 21 colleges and universities across the nation.

"Providing funding for student internships is a very important part of the Academy’s educational outreach initiatives,” said Academy Grants Coordinator Shawn Guthrie. “The Institutional Grants Committee strongly believes that high-quality internships are one of the best ways for the next wave of young industry talent to get their feet in the door. Good internships are those that give students the opportunity to do real work, and if a student is doing real work, they need to – and should – receive some kind of meaningful pay.”

Indeed, according to a recent article in the New York Times (April 2, 2010), the United States Department of Labor is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and is expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

In order to be considered for Academy funding, eligible colleges and universities must submit an application along with a two-page proposal and supporting budgetary documents by the annual January deadline. The strongest proposals are sent on to the Institutional Grants Committee, which in turn selects the most worthy programs to receive funding and determines the amount to be awarded.

The Academy plays no direct role in the operation of the program, or in matching individual students to internships, or in deciding how much money each student is provided for their internship. For example, schools may fund multiple internships all at the same monetary level, or they may vary the amounts based on the level of financial need among the students. The only stipulations set forth by the Academy are that all of the grant money must go to the students – none of the money can be used for program overhead – and that the internships must be related to the theatrical motion picture industry.

The Internship Grants Program has produced a number of success stories, both in terms of the internship experiences themselves and student interns going on to further their goals in the motion picture industry. A few examples:

Andy Uhrich, a recent graduate of the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program, received considerable hands-on experience from his internship in Spring 2009 with Anthology Film Archives, an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video with a particular focus on American independent and avant-garde cinema. Uhrich was tasked with inspecting and preserving Anthology’s collection of films by Sidney Peterson, an American surrealist filmmaker, who in the late 1940s and early 1950s made a series of experimental short films with students at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute).

“I have long been a fan of Peterson’s work, so the opportunity to handle the original film elements, shot and spliced together by Peterson himself, was a fantastic experience,” says Uhrich. “And working on Peterson’s films was an invaluable opportunity for me as an archivist to get a sense of the specialized knowledge needed for preserving experimental and independent films.”

This summer, Uhrich is working at the Chicago Film Archive, which specializes in documentaries, amateur and industrial/sponsored films related to the Midwest. He will begin the PhD Film Studies program in Indiana University’s Communication and Culture Department in the fall.

Hillary Elder, a second year MFA student at UCLA, was selected for a one-on-one internship with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Stephen Burum (“Hoffa,” 1992).  They met once a week for eight hours a day for 10 weeks. Elder learned various lighting techniques, operated a Panaflex GII camera system, and had in-depth conversations with Burum about the art of cinematography.

“Steve is such an incredibly talented cinematographer, and it was very apparent from our first workshop that he wants to give back to future generations of cinematographers by passing on what he knows about the craft,” Elder recalls. “I felt for the first time while enrolled at UCLA that I had a mentor – a mentor who really cared about my progression in cinematography – which is invaluable to me. I knew from the beginning that this internship was going to completely change the way I approach cinematography and that I was going to learn a tremendous amount from it, and I truly have.”

Karen Smalley worked as an intern on “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” in 2004 while enrolled at UCLA. “I was lucky enough to get on a project where dailies were screened on film – a rarity then and almost unheard of now,” explains Smalley. “I built leaders, did edge coding and helped to sync both film and Avid dailies.”

Smalley’s internship experience had a significant influence on her subsequent career-related decisions. “Even though we worked in a very inclusive environment, the majority of the creative editing took place behind closed doors. We generally worked in a more technical arena. It definitely influenced my choice to sidestep the traditional post-production career path and find work as an editor.” In fact, during the past year, Smalley has been working with Roger Corman, for whom she is currently co-editing “Sharktopus.”

In 2002, Emily Hak was a student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She interned at Artisan Entertainment, working in the company’s DVD department.  Her duties included ordering and tracking masters for subtitle creation and delivery, assisting in special feature shoots and commentary records, creating and naming chapter stops, checking final discs prior to manufacturing, and accounting tasks. Today, Hak is the Director of International Creative Services for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, responsible for international packaging, trade and POS for all international markets.

“The most valuable thing I learned from that internship is that hard work pays off,” says Hak. “I believe that any success I’ve experienced in my career is mostly due to my work ethic and positive attitude, both of which I learned from my internship at Artisan Entertainment.”

Don't Show Again