FAQ: What is it like to intern in Hollywood?

One way to break into any industry is to get an internship, and while some internships pay, most in entertainment do not. I have had three unpaid internships, one at a television show (The Late Show with David Letterman), one at a movie production company (Morgan Freeman's company Revelations Entertainment), and one at an industry newspaper (The Hollywood Reporter), so I have seen a spectrum of what's out there. I was very fortunate to intern at established companies, and while I was doing the typical intern duties such as getting coffee, making copies, and running errands, I also learned a lot from being in those environments and I used my time to figure out what I liked and disliked about each field.

Because of my experiences, people have asked me, "What is it like to intern in Hollywood?" My answer is that it's educational but tough. In addition to the usual entry-level tasks, entertainment interns also must deal with long hours, demanding personalities, and having to find their own financial backings to survive. The pros to internships are that a person can get their foot in the door, meet people, and possibly land a job at the company. Overall,  if one is serious about their career in entertainment, an internship is worth it. (Writer Dina Gachman breaks down all the things she had to do as an intern, and while those tasks weren't fun or glamorous, she thinks those who complain about their opportunity need to "Grow a pair." Check out her hilarious and informative blog post here.)

However, there is a downside to entertainment internships. Unscrupulous people will employ interns for assistant positions that should be paid, some people will verbally abuse their interns, and some companies have no clout to actually help their interns advance their careers. My best advice to avoid a bad internship is to research the company before you agree to intern, and if you do take an internship and get the vibe that it is not going to help you, then know it is okay to quit. If you quit early, they will probably understand but not give you a reference, but if you think the company is shady, then why would you want to list them anyway?

California and Federal laws have strict internship rules in place. I will not go into the laws in detail, but the basic rule is that the internship should be beneficial to the intern, not the employer. (For more detailed information, see this NY Times article or this site.) While this doesn't mean that an intern can sue a company if he finds menial labor inconsequential to his career, such law suits have happened in the past. In 2011, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight because their internship allegedly did not meet the Department of Labor rules for what constitutes an unpaid internship. The lawsuit against Fox Searchlight was thrown out, and you can bet that those two never worked in Hollywood again.

So in conclusion: What is it like to intern in Hollywood? It's hard work and unglamorous, but if you're willing to do the grunt work, then the benefits outweigh the negatives. However, the benefits may not come right away, so it is up to the potential intern to decide whether or not she is okay with that and go from there.

(I make fun of entertainment internships in my short story THE FUNNY LAUGHS SHOW, which is featured in my first book REALITIES: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. The collection is available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.com)