Internship Iconoclasm: Making the Beautiful, With(out) a Payoff

by Kourtney Kawano | 7/14/16 6:30pm

Diego Moreno ‘18 worked in film production during an internship in Los Angeles.

Though campus appears to be overflowing with hordes of “business casual”-attired students bustling between information sessions and cover letter workshops, the truth is, not all Dartmouth students choose the financial path — with some taking artistic routes instead.

I never imagined how important this term was for students looking to enter a life of finance, consulting or, more recently, tech start-ups or how popular these kinds of internships or jobs are. In my first week back, people kept asking me if I was going to “tonight’s recruiting meeting” or whether “this outfit looks too casual for the finance session.” Of course, all I could do was awkwardly explain to them that I’m not “doing the recruiting thing,” to which they replied, “Yeah, don’t worry. It sucks. It’s like four hours long tonight.”

Sometimes it seems like Dartmouth manufactures its students to become high-profile businesspeople who work ungodly hours for ungodly amounts of money. Yet, some of our most notable alumni were not produced in the same mold. They didn’t hitch a ride on the factory line and exit on the conveyor belt, ready for a life of 72-hour work weeks in sharp high-rises. They wrote poems and books. They experimented in film and media, defining and redefining pop culture. Years later, these are the same individuals who the College invites to deliver poignant graduation speeches to the next generation — the Mindy Kalings, the Shonda Rhimes and the Theodor Geisels of the world.

While students continue to vie for those coveted corporate off-term positions at recruiting meetings, some have chosen other paths during their off-terms or via off-campus programs in arts and entertainment. Although such an enterprise doesn’t appear to be popular at first glance, Dartmouth is one of the Ivies with the greatest presence in entertainment, said Matt Kuchar, the Center for Professional Development’s assistant director for advising.

“Dartmouth has a great alumni network in entertainment, media and publishing,” he said. “We have students doing work in L.A., working on ‘Conan,’ and for Florentine Films.”

During his film studies off-campus program in Los Angeles last winter, Diego Moreno ’18 worked for Voltage Pictures, a production company that worked on the Academy Award-winning films “The Hurt Locker” (2008) and “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013). His job entailed reading and summarizing the scripts the company received and presenting what he found interesting about each one.

“I learned a lot about industry dynamics and the importance of concise writing,” Moreno said. “I had to be able to take 100-page scripts and summarize them into two pages of notes.”

Marcus Reid ’18 also participated in the film studies program in Los Angeles and completed an internship with Partizan Entertainment, an international production company with locations in Paris, Berlin and London. He worked as a media production assistant with a focus on producing music videos.

Reid said the experience helped him get a behind-the-scenes look at how music videos are made.

“I got to help set up for shoots and meet some talent,” Reid said. “Most of the shoots are completed in one day so the crew worked 20 to 22-hour days.”

Melissa Biggs ’18, who is currently spending her off-term interning for Bronze Magazine, a platform that celebrates women of color, echoed Reid’s sentiments and said she gained insight about what goes into magazine production from her internship.

“The content we publish has been really great and, as a woman of color, it’s really meaningful work so I’ve enjoyed it,” she said.

Because the entertainment industry doesn’t have the same recruiting presence as consulting and finance, Kuchar said the students who are the most successful in acquiring internships or jobs in entertainment are those who are self-directed.

Moreno said he cold-called approximately 20 production companies and heard back from five, before getting one offer from his eventual employer.

Similarly, Reid said he cold-called 10 to 15 companies and was fortunate enough to hear back from his top choice for an interview.

Biggs said she contacted Bronze Magazine regarding her position after conducting research on an internship website.

“A lot of it depends on students doing outreach and personalized networking on their own and following up,” Kuchar said. “Often, the students who are the most persistent and consistently express interest get the positions in entertainment.”

On campus, Moreno said he had an easier time getting his job as an editor through the film department’s listserv. This past spring, he worked for a graduate student creating an ethnographic documentary, editing two- to three-hour sections of film down to 15-minute clips.

“It was very much a hands-on, learning-as-you-go experience,” Moreno said. “I looked at pacing in editing and how that affects transition and tone.”

Reid currently works as a production assistant for the Media Production Group on campus and said he has a more hands-on role as an editor.

For some, opportunities in the arts come through alternative academic work. Scholarships, research and independent study can be key components in a developing artistic or entertainment industry career.

Last year, the College named Dondei Dean ’17 a Stamp Leadership Scholar for her independent research project, “Black Women’s Activism at Dartmouth: An Oral and Visual History.”

Dean said she is making an online, interactive timeline of social justice movements at Dartmouth that women of color led or participated in. The timeline, she noted, begins in 1972 with co-education and continues into the present.

“Some of the movements include gender parity, anti-apartheid, anti-hate rallies around Rodney King, the freedom budget and Real Talk,” she said.

The artistic aspect of her project, Dean said, is the presentation of her research in a form that includes filmed interviews with the Dartmouth alumnae so viewers can experience each of the movements.

“The users will get a first-hand sense of what campus culture was like at the time and why they chose to protest,” she said.

All of the students interviewed said pop culture was closely related to their internships, jobs and research. Moreno said he read several dystopian scripts that coincide with the trend in young adult fiction and film adaptations.

“Many of the scripts were similar or comparable to ‘The Hunger Games,’” he said.

Concerning music video productions, Reid noted he often saw the directing team drafting ideas based on current events and trends.

“It’s important to draw from what’s big and what people want to see,” he said. “Not only do we end up making something that’s visually pleasing but something that ties in pressing issues.”

Reid recalled his experience watching the production of a music video for singer Ariana Grande. The video advocated for women’s rights by having Grande act as historical female figures, he said.

“Whether it’s a political statement or something pulled from the news, incorporating pop culture into a music video helps to draw another audience that may not be initially interested in the artist while informing people about the content,” Reid said.

Biggs said Bronze Magazine features a wide range of pop culture coverage, citing this past issue’s articles that spotlight a chef, an actor and an Olympian.

Dean’s research focuses on women of color as well, but through very different media.

Through her chronological research, Dean noted the role social media currently plays in influencing the way protests happen and the way the nation perceives them. She recalled the use of hashtags to spread word about recent protests regarding Dartmouth’s lack of faculty of color.

In considering the flexibility of what constitutes progress in social justice, Dean said she has been thinking about what constitutes change.

“I’ve noticed that culture doesn’t always keep pace with the law,” she said. “So is progress a change in attitudes or policy?”

These four students expressed that internships and projects will potentially affect their futures.

Biggs found a way to express herself and translate important values through her work in design at the magazine company.

“With this job, I’m able to put a little bit of myself into the movement that I think is really powerful,” she said.

Dean is looking forward to publishing her timeline. Through the interview process, she was pleased by the enthusiasm of Dartmouth alumnae.

She is currently looking into promotion ideas such as hosting a panel talk with the interviewees or a week-long celebration of the history of women of color at Dartmouth.

Today, students at the College are faced with a variety of options for work during their off terms and after graduating, both through the CPD and their own research.

Although one might assume all the talk about corporate jobs would put pressure on students considering jobs in other industries to re-route their search for opportunities that provide the best pay, Reid said the pressure isn’t too great because students are on different tracks, so it’s difficult to compare fields.

“I hear the conversations about starting salaries in finance and consulting, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s rare to graduate and receive a comfortable living salary in the field I’m pursuing,” Reid said.

Moreno similarly stated that students who are seeking positions in film need to be willing to do the necessary work to learn and grow without the pay.

For Reid, his previous internships give him a leg up, he said.

“I’ve gotten experience with the media software that professionals use so I feel comfortable with the progress I’ve made but I’m always trying to find more opportunities,” he said. “I think I’m moving at a good pace.”

The most important factor in taking internships, Biggs said, is to focus on what makes you excited.

“If you’re stuck in a schedule you don’t appreciate, then it’s not helping you,” she said. “What you should get and want out of an internship is an appreciation of the field you’re working in.”

So though it may seem that all of our peers are flocking to the financial sector, the main consensus amongst students who took alternative paths is to find what one enjoys on an off-term.

Diego Moreno ’18 is a member of The Dartmouth staff.