Interning In The Industry
As Georgia’s reputation as a nexus for film and television production has blossomed over the past decade, Atlanta’s production studios have been a magnet for college students seeking to get a foot in the door of the industry by scoring an internship. Several of the city’s studios have developed robust programs that give aspiring directors and producers a taste of the industry.
CRAZY LEGS PRODUCTIONS
Lucy Keller aspires to be a movie producer. A film studies graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, during the past year, she has served as location production assistant (PA) for “The Walking Dead” and “Doom Patrol.” In between college and her PA gigs, she served as an intern at Crazy Legs Productions in Atlanta. Keller says that internship provided her with an incredible leg up in launching her professional film career.
“You can’t learn what a set is really like in school, and student films are not comparable,” said Keller. “[Crazy Legs is] very good at educating their interns and very willing to explain things over and over.”
Keller is one of many young film industry hopefuls embarking on careers after serving internships with Atlanta production companies and film studios. Some of the other studios with structured intern programs include Third Rail Studios in Doraville and Creative Sound Concepts, an audio production studio. All of the internships are unpaid, but those who have been through the programs say the experience and networking opportunities are invaluable.
Crazy Legs’ intern program has been around the longest amongst the companies Oz interviewed, running for about nine years; it’s also the largest. This semester, ten interns are learning a wide variety of aspects of the film industry. That number varies, depending on the studio’s needs, but it usually ranges between eight and eleven.
Kim Hinson, Crazy Legs Productions’ office manager and executive assistant, oversees the studio’s internship program. Hinson explained that the interns serve for an entire semester. There are three groups per year and each is made up of both local college students and students who move to Atlanta from other areas specifically for the internship. Interns are required to commit to working at the studio two days per week.
“Our interns all go to set and they assist the PAs,” noted Hinson. “That is usually what interns want: to be able to go on set and observe, and to meet the people who are making the films, and to make all the connections they can while they are there. What we have going on each semester determines how many interns we have.”
Landing an internship is a competitive process. Crazy Legs has varying requirements, depending on its projects. Résumés arrive constantly. Ten students were accepted into this spring’s program from about 35 applicants that were interviewed. Many more did not even make it to the interview stage.
“What I am looking for are people who are interested in all aspects, because every two weeks we are going to set, then for the two weeks we are not on set all the interns are going to be in the office,” said Hinson. “I’m looking for people with a broad range of interests, because they are going to be working on everything from development to post production. The ones who want to work in production and work the 12 to 14 hours a day will have the opportunity to do that, and then they still have the opportunity to work in the office and help out there.”
“They learn that they don't all have to go to L.A.;
there are opportunities here.”
- Mayra Garcia, Third Rail Studios
Most interns are looking for hands-on experience, especially on set. An internship is a way to break into the industry. Only those who are hungry to be in the film industry are willing to work unpaid internships, and they are looking to make contacts, noted Hinson. “Our employees here have so much knowledge and experience, and are very successful in their fields. They have a lot of knowledge to share. The benefit to the interns here is face time with and exposure to these people in the industry, and that can hopefully lead to jobs for them.”
Studios often hire former interns. Of Crazy Legs’ 30 full-time employees, eight are former interns. The studio makes an effort to hire former interns, including on a contract basis for specific projects. “If you have been here putting in the time and effort, we are going to do everything we can to help you,” stated Hinson.
There are plenty of success stories. One former intern went on to work on a project for the Disney Channel in Los Angeles, another is working on the “Dead Silent” television series, and another spent her summer working on the Ryan Reynolds film, Free Guy, which was filmed in Boston.
“The interns who come here and use the program how it is intended, which is to work hard and absorb as much as they can while they are here, are the ones who are successful,” explained Hinson.
Getting to the point of working on post internship film projects takes a lot of hard work. According to Hinson, the first day as an intern is not very exciting. Students go through an orientation process, which takes a few hours. They learn about communication between the different departments and take care of administrative tasks. During the interview process, Hinson makes it clear that the internship program is what a participant makes of it. Interns are encouraged to make the most of their downtime and get to know people in the company’s various departments.
“When they have some down time, when they don’t have a task with a deadline, that is the time to take the reins into their own hands and talk to people in the various departments; to take the time to get to know the people they are working with. The advice I give to all of our interns is: we have a lot of people come through our doors. You are here to make an impression. You want people to remember you, because six months or a year down the road when you are looking to get hired somewhere, you will want us to give you a recommendation for that job.”
For a long time, Keller kept her film aspirations hidden from her parents; she told them she wanted to be a doctor. “As soon as I found out that UNCW had a film studies program, I said, ‘Mom, dad, I’m not going to be a doctor anymore. I’m going to make movies.’ They said, ‘You’re going to what?’ It was an interesting turn, but it’s working out and they have come around.”
Suzi Fera completed two semesters as an intern at Crazy Legs in 2018 after graduating from UNC Wilmington. She noted the valuable aspects of the internship included the on-set experience, learning what it takes to be a capable production assistant and building a network to reach out to long after the internship came to a close.
“Before I moved to Atlanta, I didn’t know anyone in the business,” admitted Fera. “Through Crazy Legs, I was able to meet and impress people working in the industry. It really jump-started my career.” Now, Fera has worked as a PA for a reality show on Lifetime and has an associate producer credit for “Ghost Nation” on the Travel Channel, which she described as an incredible learning experience. She hopes to eventually direct and produce narrative, scripted television.
Keller also praises her internship as a major learning experience, including all the logistical and social minutiae of interacting with each department. “It was a great way to learn, because they weren’t paying us, so we could make a ton of mistakes,” she said. “I’ve learned to keep several balls in the air, to be aware of what’s going on; to be able to do more than one thing at a time.”
Rebecca Beasley, another former Crazy Legs intern, is now working as a post production assistant and assistant editor at Sim International. She told Oz that her internship provided the opportunity to be mentored by editors, assistant editors and post PAs, which led her to excel in a job she loves.
“I found the internship very valuable, because I was allowed to focus my interests in the post production department and ask many questions,” Beasley reminisced. “I enjoyed learning from a diverse group of people about the complexities of post workflow, and networking with professionals who were happy to share their stories with me and offer their support.”
Hinson gives exit interviews to all interns, asking them to value their experience on a scale of 1 to 5. She says the answer is always a 4 or 5.
“We ask whether they would recommend the internship to others, and the answer is always yes. At the end of this process, for the most part, we have had very positive feedback. If you are a go-getter, and are willing to put yourself out there, you are going to have a successful internship.”
THIRD RAIL STUDIOS
Third Rail Studios opened their internship program in Doraville in the Spring of 2017. It was imagined and assembled by Mayra Garcia, Third Rail’s marketing director. Classes range from three to five students for eight-week programs. Garcia created the program, but the studio’s entire staff oversees it.
“Right after I came here in early 2017, I realized we needed an outlet of some sort, to not only help our community, but to help underserved students,” Garcia recalls. “I was very much a community advocate prior to this job, so I came with that background.”
Garcia began the program by allowing interested students to shadow studio personnel. That led to something more structured. “Studio management told me if I designed it, we would give it a shot. We began in the summer of 2017. It’s been going ever since, every semester, three times a year.”
Most of the students Third Rail has recruited are in the midst of their college careers. Garcia believes students at the collegiate level benefit the most from the program. Recent high school graduates have participated, as well as current high school students, but that mix is more challenging, because many younger students don’t have a firm idea of what their career goals are at that point. “We’ve certainly cleared a path for [high school students] and some of them realize this is exactly what they want to do,” said Garcia.
Students work at the studio two days a week for five to seven hours, but they also have the option to work longer. That often happens during shooting days when a production is in full force. Most interns actually view the opportunity to work longer hours as a perk.
Third Rail puts the intern application on an app called Handshake, which is used by many colleges. The studio also has the application available on their website. The application process begins about three months prior to the start of an internship module. Students are required to write an essay so Third Rail can assess their writing ability. The studio asks some personal questions about topics such as life challenges, family backgrounds and how their family upbringings affect the way they see the world.
“It’s not necessarily about having a perfect GPA,” Garcia told Oz. “This is an opportunity for all types of people, not just ones with amazing literary skills. We like to have a variety of applicants with a variety of skills. Some students might have a lot of experience on sets, but maybe they are not great at math, for example. We base a lot on how well they interview, how they express themselves and whether they are able to get along with people; how they interact when they come in. Personalities are very important in this industry, and how [interns] see themselves.”
Once accepted, interns begin learning the day-to-day operation of a production studio. Some of the tasks are basic, but are still viewed as essential, including learning how to welcome visitors at the door and the security procedures required for admitting visitors. Interns shadow some of the studio executives. This might include observing the stage manager, which offers them the opportunity to get a taste of what’s going on around the facility. It also includes visiting sets and learning what it takes to bring an entire production to life. They also have one-on-one time with Garcia and Third Rail’s president, Dan Rosenfelt.
“They might know what a producer is and what a director is, but they don’t know what a gaffer does, or that we have a paint department,” explained Garcia. “They have the opportunity to research and learn the terminology, and understand what it means to be in a studio. They might get to go on set and shadow some of the PAs or the assistant director. They will not have their own work responsibilities while they are here, but more of a shadow and observation opportunity. They will get a chance to create their own short films, which we will use on our social media.”
Interns also have the opportunity to read scripts from the Writers Guild list and write synopsis based on what they’ve read. These tasks enable them to learn the structure of how a script is written and to discover and understand the importance of different writing styles. Afterwards, the Third Rail staff critiques their efforts.
“We also allow them to attend various events,” said Garcia. “We are very friendly with other studios in town, so we ask them if we can bring our students, and they are pretty open to that, so that they can sometimes visit other facilities and see other productions in progress.”
“They learn that they don’t all have to go to L.A.; there are opportunities here,” Garcia commented on the fact that Third Rail is a launchpad for careers in Georgia’s industry. “We are nurturing them for the industry in general. We are happy to use our contacts to help them along, for the ones who decide this is what they want to do. We want kids to have the opportunity that we never did, to come in and see what happens behind the scenes. It’s not all glamour and it’s not all fun. It’s 12-hour days and a lot of hard work. Work ethic is so valuable in this industry, and that’s one of the things we focus on.”
Anthony Fins, now a graduate of Florida State University, was an intern at Third Rail during the summer of 2019. He lauds the hands-on experience the Third Rail internship provided. “I had never had the experience of working in a real studio. Third Rail took a chance on me. It’s a great starting point for anyone interested in being a part of the industry.”
Lane Silva was an intern at Third Rail last fall while attending Kennesaw State University. His career objective is to become a composer or a sound mixer, and the internship helped him get a taste of the industry overall. “I am trying to figure out my battle plan. I have been trying to get more of a network going. I’ve been able to go back to the friends I made at Third Rail and get their opinions,” stated Silva. “I felt like I was family there and I feel like they were invested in helping me better myself.”
CREATIVE SOUND CONCEPTS
Jeremiah Bennett, studio manager at Creative Sound Concepts (CSC), says his studio’s intern program began in 2017 at the suggestion of owner Steve Fisher who had purchased the company two years prior. Creative Sound tries to have at least six interns at any given time. The selection process includes submitting a résumé and engaging in an in-person or Skype interview.
“Since we are audio post, we are looking for people with audio post experience or a degree in sound design,” said Bennett. “Especially people coming from the top schools with those programs, such as SCAD or Belmont University in Tennessee; we look at what kind of work they have done, as well as their demeanor and personality.”
The application process is competitive and only about ten percent of applicants are brought in. According to Bennett, if you don’t have a degree from a reputable school or an extraordinary portfolio, and if you are not willing to really put in the work, you are not going to get in. The average internship runs six months for post-graduate interns. Last summer, the studio introduced a three-month session for undergrads. Internships at CSC require a 20 hour per week minimum. The studio tries to be flexible setting up the schedules.
Similar to the other studios, CSC interns learn how to interact with people, starting with greeting clients, answering phones and setting up sessions with clients.
“We also have training where we have previously completed projects, such as commercials or mixing sessions,” explained Bennett. “We will give them a mixing session and have them work on it, then they will meet with our head engineer and he will give them notes on how they can improve it, and new techniques they can use. Once that project is at a satisfactory level, we’ll give them another project. There will be varying difficulty, where the first one starts simple and they work their way up to the hardest ones.”
Although it is an unpaid internship, Creative Concepts has a policy to compensate interns for any hours they put in that directly generates income for the company. For example, they may record a podcast because the studio’s staff is too busy to do it.
“We want everything they do to be an educational experience, because we are using this to fill potential engineering spots in the future,” revealed Bennett. “Since our program is still fairly new, we have not yet had the opportunity to hire any of our interns, but some of our fellow studios have hired our interns. We have had some move on to industry jobs in California, North Carolina and other states.”
Bennett touts the real-world experience interns receive. “They get to work with Disney, Netflix and Universal. We have major clients like Delta, Coca-Cola and UPS; clients you would not really get exposure to while in school. Even though they come here with a degree, they tell me over and over that after six months with us, they have learned things they never had a chance to learn before: they have learned how to put together projects.”
One of the studio’s success stories is that of Sam McLean, who interned in early 2018. As a graduate of Belmont and alum of CSC’s internship program, McClean went on to be the full time assistant sound engineer for Horizon Media in Raleigh/Durham, NC.
“The goal is to make sure they are ready to
succeed as full-time engineers.”
- Jeremiah Bennett, Creative Sound Concepts
The program is continuously evolving. The studio is constantly learning what works well for someone coming right out of school. “The goal is to make sure they are ready to succeed as full-time engineers.”
Atlanta’s film interns are a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds and experience levels. Some are Georgia-based college students, while some move to the area for the internship; others seek to break into the business as a second career. They quickly learn being an intern is hard work, but a great opportunity to learn their way around a set. All hope to make an impression that will help launch their careers, and a growing number appear to be well on the way.