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From the Field
Internships and Your Production Career
By Sandra Gordon

On Monday I was speaking to a class of students at Chicago’s Kennedy-King College, when one student asked a question I had not anticipated. We were talking about internships and how they can not only prepare you for a job outside of school, but how they can introduce you to important people, and how they can be the first step toward starting your career.

Before we opened it up for questions, I gave my two-cents about internships in the viewpoint of both the intern, and the employer. At this point in my career, I have had the opportunity to play this role from both sides. As a college student, I held a number of internships. First as a college Sophomore, I was an intern at the Chicago ABC affiliate WLS-TV in the creative services department where my duties varied between writing cue-cards for in-house promos, writing copy for late-night-movie ads, and answering crazy phone calls from housewives who watch way too many soap operas, or Jeopardy! fanatics who missed the final question. As a Junior studying in London, I worked on a weekly series for the then new World League of American Football, starring the London Monarchs. At the same time, I was placed at a documentary company and worked on documentaries as well as an up-and-coming British sit-com. That same year, I spent a summer in Chicago in the Locations Department for the Columbia Pictures feature “Mo’ Money” while holding a job as a waitress at Bennigan’s.

In my professional life, I have hired both production assistants and interns for almost every company I’ve worked for. I’ve seen some rise to the top, and I’ve seen some fail miserably. I shared stories with the class at Kennedy-King College to site examples of what not to do, to keep your status and to give yourself the opportunity to turn the internship into a future job. I’ve recently written a book on establishing production careers and used stories from my experience as well as stories that other experts have shared with me during my research. After all of this discussion, the question asked by this student still took me by surprise.

She explained that some of the students have the opportunity to work at a local cable station as employees, not just as interns. Her question was “If we work in this type of situation, isn’t this good for our resumes too? Doesn’t this mean that we won’t need to start at entry-level?”. Of course the first part of her question is entirely true. If you work in production, your experience is worth something whether you are paid or not. The fact is, you are working in your field and learning by experience. However, working on a low-budget cable station, or even on a big-budget production for that matter, does not automatically promote you to Producer. It seems to me that everyone is in a hurry to move to the final step, without experiencing life in the beginning and the middle. How are we to learn the intricate details of our jobs if we skip right to the end? When I was interviewing co-workers and friends for my book, one Producer summed it all up for me. She said “A film major thinking that he will get a job as a director right out of college is like a business major thinking he will get a job as a CEO of a company as soon as he graduates.” The biggest mistake that I see recent graduates make, is in being know-it-alls on the job before they really, truly know it all.

The bottom line is to take advantage of your internship opportunities. Use the internship for what it is--
1) A place for you to get your foot in the door
2) A place for you to test the waters to see what it is you want to do with your career
3) A place for you to learn proper protocol and to see how the business works
4) A place for you to network and to meet the people who will help you to grow
5) A place for you to mature and to work not as a student, but as an employee for the first time.

The bottom line is to slow down and enjoy the moments. Show your employer that you have what it takes to succeed. You may be only a coffee-getter, just make sure that you’re the best coffee-getter that they have ever seen so that they will think of you whenever they drink coffee. You’ll leave them wondering, “If he was THAT good at getting coffee, what else might he be capable of?” You’ll leave your mark and enter the next phase of your career.

About the Author

For a copy of Sandra’s book ACTION! Establishing Your Career in Film & Television Production, visit your local bookseller and ask for it by name. Or buy online at or Publisher is Applause Cinema & Theatre Books

Sandra Gordon is an EMMY Award winner with a background spanning work in Locations, Production Coordinating, Production Managing and Producing for feature films, television documentaries and dramas, as well as industrials and live international events. Miss Gordon is currently a producer at the Whitehouse, a post production facility in Chicago. For more information see