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Student finds reward in unpaid internship

Some people enter college dreading it. Others are itching to get started. According to popular knowledge, the career-based odyssey requires infinite amounts of patience and no expectations of pay. The hours are supposedly long, the supervision is difficult and the payoff is substandard.

For upperclassmen (and even for some overachieving underclassmen), the internship is a ‘necessary evil’ to learn career skills and graduate on time. My chance to experience this rite of passage came over the past summer as I chose to follow in the footsteps of a friend and intern at the New Jersey State Film Commission.

Mentally, I was testing the prior “knowledge” on the evils of interning. Off the bat, one became abundantly clear: the commute can kill you. Choosing an internship close to home can make the experience a lot easier on some people.

Being a glutton for punishment, I packed up my lunch, threw on my shirt and tie each Wednesday and Thursday and burned rubber up the Parkway to reach downtown Newark. An hour and a half, both ways, twice a week may not seem like much until you try and balance out a pair of paying jobs and a social life. No pain no gain indeed.

Popular culture has often displayed interns as the whipping boys (or girls) who are sent scurrying around the office to carry out meaningless tasks for overbearing bosses. While I’m sure that is the case in many other internships, I was fortunate enough to dodge this bullet. There were certainly many mind-numbing chores to do (you try calling 120 film producers and not feel like a telemarketer in the end), but the skills learned are essential: people like to be treated with respect. Even the most difficult people I handled on the phone could be dealt with if I calmed them down. As for the infamous paper collating and coffee-making for the boss? Never happened. And this film office was a veritable archive of paperwork.

Instead, my bosses – Dave, Steve, Andrew and Chuck – all dished out responsibilities that they thought I could handle. This ranged from updating the scanned photo archive of potential filming locations to seeking out the cast of upcoming films that may choose to set up shop in New Jersey. I was never treated like a child and instead was given a workload as though I had been an employee of the state for years.

I took calls and gave directions to Princeton to the producers of the hit Fox series “House.” Acclaimed director Julie Taymor (the woman behind “The Lion King” stage show) wants to shoot in New Jersey? Guess who looked up land ownership for areas around the Meadowlands?

Several of my own preconceptions about filmmaking were also put to rest through this internship. Who would have thought that New Jersey would be a popular place for Indian and Japanese filmmakers to set up shop? Working for the Film Commission, I made calls to Australia, England, Japan and all over the United States. Some productions came out of nowhere to shoot, all with just a couple weeks notice. But not even big name stars can save certain films. Robin Williams and Liv Tyler were set to star in a film scheduled to shoot in New Jersey, only to have the production slam into a brick wall.

Of course, gas prices being what they are, this bi-weekly commute may seem foolish as it did not add a single penny to my bank account. Certain perks of the job clearly make up for this. I sat next to Ralph “Karate Kid” Macchio on one set visit in North Jersey. A week after finishing up the internship, I was given a paying production assistant job on a Travel Channel spot in Ocean City. Oliver Stone’s next script made its way into my hands.

Money may be nice, but the fact that I now know how to acquire filming permits and what channels to go through to secure filming rights are, to me, more important than a paycheck.

So when the time comes to schedule for an internship, ask yourself what you are looking for: a r?sum? booster with work or a day off, a paycheck or a piece of enlightenment. Some people may luck out with paying apprentice work. Others will have to suffer through the grunt work portrayed by stereotypes. But if you’re afraid the work may not pay off, talk to Carly Reichert, my friend who referred me to the Film Commission. Of course, you’ll have to put in a call to California to the set of “ER.” Happy hunting.


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