Experience vs. Exploitation: Internships in the Creative Industry
With more and more fresh, ambitious, and able graduates flooding the market, competition is stiff. And with everyone clawing for limited opportunities to pry their foot in the door, the post-graduate landscape can appear grim. Yet, one (wo)man’s loss is another (wo)man’s gain. Under these circumstances employers have the opportunity to selectively hire an army of unpaid interns.
But, just because you can, does that mean you should?
“I guess it’s tempting for any company to take on enthusiastic labour which doesn’t cost you anything, but actually employers have a responsibility to not allow this current ‘norm’ to become exploitation. I think there is also a case for some of us older ones remembering how it was being (probably) the first proper generation of unpaid creative interns in the early '90s and how we were treated. There is nothing more soul destroying than sitting in an office full of people and not having anything to do except make tea or coffee or go on errands. We were pretty determined right from the start that we would be careful in why and whom we were taking on as interns. We felt our responsibility was that they should leave with a body of work that could help them on the next step of their profession. The irony is that most of our interns didn’t want to leave (nor us have them leave),” says Ania Markham, partner and executive producer at hybrid production company PostPanic.
Ania is also the one that subjected me to a gruelling interview process. “We need to make sure it’s going to be the right fit, both in personality, ambitions, and skills.”
“So was I lucky, or really just a perfect fit?”
“You were the best option we had…”
“….but also the right fit, otherwise we wouldn’t have taken you on. Actually, finding the best option you have, also means we interview people who might have not been an obvious choice on paper. So it was meant to be, right? You’ve now brought us skills that maybe we didn’t realise how much we’d benefit from. Or maybe we just took you on because I got all patriotic.” (PostPanic is infiltrated with Brits)
The meticulous process that I, like all previous interns, underwent seems to achieve Ania’s stated goals. The work remains inspiring and motivating, I fit comfortably within the company culture and it is made all the better by the conscious effort by my colleagues to get me involved and a genuine interest in helping me develop.
Jules Tervoort’s (PostPanic’s MD) position is more direct: "We aren’t looking to just hire support staff, we are looking to develop interns into productive members of our team. We pay a token monthly wage but if someone comes to us with previous professional experience (some of our interns have worked in the industry for a few years before they apply for an internship with us) then we look at their case individually as we appreciate how much of a commitment they are making to us.”
You can’t expect an internship to build your bank account in any meaningful way but you should expect it to build your skills and confidence.
Hitherto, my experiences as an intern did not achieved this. At a previous internship I once spent a whole day dog sitting my boss’s dog. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, but it was hardly a teachable moment. In fact, throughout my time there, these teachable moments were few and far apart.
That is not to say it’s all unicorns and rainbows here. On my first shoot with PostPanic, I was forced into a morph suit and made to stand outside on a chilly November morning for a few uncomfortable hours. But I snapped a few great Instagrams and I was quickly back to helping in a more fulfilling way. And there are more embarrassing urban myths floating about…
“So what’s the story of an intern having to replace a broken dildo?” I ask Ania.
“Actually it was a flashing disco light vibrator for a TVC we made years and years ago and I’m still worried we scarred a runner for life. It broke and held up all the filming as art department tried to fix it. In the end we had no choice but to send our intern to the Red Light District to run around the sex shops like crazy trying to find an exact replica (which was no mean feat). She did find one in the end and saved the day but I don’t think it was her favourite moment with us.”
Having to occasionally swallow your pride comes with the territory. It won’t immediately be as glamorous as you may have liked to imagine. But these banal/embarrassing tasks should be the garnish on a plate of otherwise more constructive work, not form the entirety of your experience.
Out of the 20-odd employees at PostPanic, only four did not enter the company on an internship basis. Now, having been around for 20 years, the staff turnover rate is staggeringly low. It’s difficult to deny a causal relationship between these two factors. So, maybe things are looking up for me after all?