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Entertainment Internships Provide Star-Quality Career Exposure

Unless you're related to a celeb, the hardest part of finding a career in the glam and glitz entertainment industry is simply getting your foot in the door. But for ambitious students, a college internship can be as good as a size 13, steel-toed boot custom-built for kicking that door right off its star-powered hinges.

Interns at entertainment companies -- be it a movie studio, a television network, or record label -- not only see who's calling the shots behind the scenes, but get to work with these well-connected industry figures.

"Everyone you work for is a possible job reference," says Tim Burgess, the director of career development at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Burgess speaks from experience: Annenberg students routinely intern at MTV, Dreamworks, and many of the nation's other top entertainment outlets. He's also seen more than a few overachievers parlay their internships into full-time jobs after college.

"Students that have a great attitude, are willing to learn, and work hard will put themselves in a great position for future jobs," Burgess explains.

But for students who dream of attending Oscar galas, maintaining that positive outlook can sometimes be difficult, as an intern's early duties often include administrative work like opening mail, answering phones, and running errands. But as Burgess points out, "If you can't do the crappy jobs well and with a good attitude, they won't give you the cool jobs."

For an entertainment intern, cool is indeed the rule. Publicity interns at Twentieth Century Fox Films regularly get to attend red-carpet premieres for the films that they help to promote, sitting just a few rows from the stars themselves. Miramax Films interns, meanwhile, help coordinate the press junkets where the stars of a new movie meet with film critics and other members of the media, which can mean watching Christian Bale go head-to-head with Roger Ebert. Interns at The Late Show with David Letterman even have the responsibility of compiling the news stories and celebrity gossip that will eventually provide the jokes for that night's monologue, as well as meeting and helping to accommodate the nightly celebrity guests.

Students Flock to the Peacock
Julie Arbitman, a human resources executive in NBC's New York headquarters, explains that the duties of the 150 interns that work each summer at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters vary greatly from one individual to the next, as each department manager creates their own special program for the students working for them.

Citing Saturday Night Live and Dateline as two of the more popular destinations for NBC interns, Arbitman said, "Those interns working for the television programs have the opportunity to work in the editing rooms, sample production, and work with producers of various shows."

Another highly coveted NBC internship is that offered by Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Brooke Jaffe, a May 2001 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, became interested in working at the popular late-night talk show after writing and performing with a campus comedy troupe. One mailed resume and a poised interview later, she'd scored a gig with TV's favorite 6'4", Harvard-educated redhead.

As a Late Night production intern, Brooke was amazed to see firsthand just how little time a daily program has to finalize the different elements of a show.

"I had the opportunity to see how the graphic design department puts together images for different sketches, how [music director] Max Weinberg and his band go through the process of rehearsing, how the writers work collaboratively, and how the executive producers come up with guests for the shows.

"Plus, the excitement of watching someone be interviewed by Conan and witnessing that very real and live interview is wonderful," Brooke adds.

More Is More When You Want That Job
Marisa Buchanan, a May 2001 graduate of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) is a self-professed "internship junkie," having worked five separate broadcast news jobs while in college, including a summer abroad in NBC's London bureau. Marisa's initial duties at the overseas office were logging news reports from around the world, researching and archiving stories, and assisting the various correspondents from the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw who came through London on assignment. By the end of her summer appointment, Marisa was writing and tracking her own stories -- work experience that she believes was crucial in landing her a post-graduation job as an associate producer at the NBC affiliate in Detroit.

"I know I could not have gotten a producer position right out of college without the internships I have had," says Marisa. "Each one taught things that I use today on a daily basis. You really can learn a lot just by being where the action is, observing how things are handled, and trying to contribute when you can."

For Irene Yadao, the action was at the offices of Vibe Magazine, where she worked as a personal intern to the music editor the summer before her senior year at San Diego State University (San Diego, CA). The internship didn't just train her in entertainment journalism, it gave her a chance to be part of the scene herself -- well, sort of.

"I attended a CD release party for Lil' Kim one night and spotted Jay-Z and [the late] Aaliyah dancing in the crowd," Irene says. "While I'm not normally the type of person to make a bee-line for a celebrity, I thought it might be interesting to go up to them and see what would happen. The minute my friend and I made a move, their bodyguard kind of pushed us away.

"It wasn't even a warning move," Irene added. "He just used his arm as a sort of barricade to push us."

Which goes to show: To make it in this biz, an internship is a great start -- but sometimes it takes a little pushing and shoving of your own to make it.