Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life in the trenches as an intern

This one goes out to a relative of mine who's getting her first taste of interning in the entertainment business.  It's an actual entry from my journal from... a few years ago when I was doing an internship at an Oscar-winning production company.....

As it's a little profane in spots even for this blog, I've replaced a certain offensive word with another.  See if you can figure out what it is.


It’s hard being a Smurfing intern in a Smurfing office where they give you Smurfing menial tasks and treat them with the same Smurfing weight as the Smurfing tasks that actually Smurfing matter.  Especially when the Smurfing menial tasks come from the Number 2 person at the Smurfing office and there for carry more Smurfing weight than the more Smurfing relevant tasks from Smurfing people lower on the Smurfing totem pole.

As part of my Smurfing job I’m working the Smurfing reception desk.  This entails answering the Smurfing phone, greeting the guests, helping out with the Smurfing mail, making Smurfing copies and doing whatever Smurfing tasks the Smurfing assistants ask of me.

The Smurfing problem comes in when there is a Smurfing conflict among the Smurfing tasks.

Task 1: An assistant needs several pages copied out of a book.  No Smurfing problem, you say?  The catch: he doesn’t want the dark crease that appears in the spine when you Xerox from a book and he doesn’t want the black lines that outline when the pages ended.  The pages have to be perfectly white, too… no gray colors that often result from copying.

This means each page must be copied once, to obtain a flat “master.”  Then we must use the settings to crop the master as it is Xeroxed and also lighten the pages.  There was a fair amount of trial and error involved in this, especially in making sure that the initial copies weren’t crooked.

That process took some 30 minutes to work out, and two of us were working on it.

Adding to some confusion was that he gave us another copying assignment at the same time and told us that he needed that on 3-hole punched paper.  The other intern assumed this meant that both assignments were to be on 3-holed paper, so we chose that paper tray.

Backing up a little bit, at the height of our confusion, one of the assistants came over to us holding part of a plastic bread sack.  I should specify that this assistant’s job is to handle the personal errands of the Number 2 person at my workplace.  I’ll say it again:  he is paid to handle personal errands.  The interns are not paid, but it’s generally understood that our tasks should be office related, or at the very least, office tasks get priority.

This is complicated by the fact that this person is the assistant for one of the more powerful people.  Therefore, all tasks related to this person, no matter how menial, are to be given priority.  Still, this person has two assistants to handle the tasks.  So in theory, there should be little that trickles down to us.

Yeah, right.
But I’m getting off track… back to the bread sack…

“Uh guys, we need one of you to make some calls to some stores, and find out who carries this kind of bread.  Try [Overrated Store #1] or [Overrated Store #2] and… well… any other place you can think of.  It’s really important.”

Suffice it to say, the place where I work has nothing to do with bread.  This isn’t a business errand.  And, yeah, they don’t pay me, but they also don’t pay me to do that.

I wait three beats, give him the “you have got to be Smurfing joking” look, and say, “It might be a while.”

You see, by this point there were at least five other major requests for copies, and all of them had to be done fast.  Plus the mail needed to be taken down the street and the other intern is the only one permitted to do that.  This left me as the only one to do the final steps of copying “Task 1.” 

Let me explain something about the copiers where I work.  You have to input a code correspondent to the person you are doing the copies for.  If the machine is left idle for a few minutes, it automatically logs out and resets all the settings.  This posed a problem, as we didn’t want to lose the specifications we’d spent half an hour working to figure out.  But the mail was due for pickup soon, and we still had all those other copies to do.  The only option was for me to do those copies while the other intern ran down the street.

Unfortunately, I still had to cover the reception desk and answer the phone, meaning I spent about fifteen minutes constantly running back and forth between the front desk and the copy room like a chicken with my head cut off. 

Somehow I get it done and juggled, and just as the other intern returns, the copies are done.  (Not all of them, just Task 1).  He rushes them upstairs, and I take a breath before figuring out how to accommodate the other requests.

It is in this brief respite that the other assistant for Number 2 walks over and sees the bread wrapping.  She asks, “Did you track this down?”  Patiently, perhaps too patiently, I explain that there are a lot of things we’ve been assigned and we’re nowhere near catching up.  “It could be a while,” I tell her.  She takes it and disappears into her office area.  For a moment, I’m foolish enough to think that I’ve been relieved of that task.

Two minutes later, the other assistant shows up.  “Have you guys called these places yet?”  (You see how it works:  She kicked him, so he has to kick me.)  So I explain it again, stopping just short of saying that this is a prime example of why there should be a real receptionist here rather than assigning an intern to “play receptionist.” 

He seems disappointed, but I’d feel a lot guiltier if I didn’t know the guy has a habit of dumping these tasks and making them sound like a priority when there are more important things to be done.  He walks off again.

The other intern returns.  “Uh, I screwed up.  He didn’t want these three hole punched.  We have to do them again.”

Now this isn’t as simple as just running it through the copier, because the holes will leave black marks on the side of the copies.  I think you can see where this is going.

Yep. We have to start all over again on these copies.  There’s another 20 minutes wasted.

It gets better.  Remember how I said the mail had to go out earlier?  Well, now someone who wasn’t paying attention at mail call needs something sent out, so I have to send the intern out again before the next and final pickup in 30 minutes.

Once more I play the headless chicken.  Cluck, cluck.

And it’s here that the phone starts ringing off the hook.  Usually I just have to transfer people, so it’s not taxing in that sense, but it’s impossible to juggle all these tasks at once.

An hour or so later, we’re finally caught up.  I can almost smell the other assistant coming with the bread bag again when I’m given another office related task.  So I spend an hour on this mind-numbing chore, but at least get to avoid the humiliation of calling around asking for bread.

Maybe, maybe, if I was getting paid I’d have a bit more of a sense of humor about it.  For now I’m telling myself it’ll pay off when I sell this story as a sitcom script.


  1. Sorry about the weird spacing... Blogger's new interface doesn't seem to like text that's been cut and pasted from another program

  2. Man, this is smurfing slavery. The problem always that they want more tasks done, and less people paid. However, the dam will eventually burst, and flood them all. Amen to that.

  3. sounds like every startup I've ever worked at.

  4. I started as an assistant and got it from both ends: the insane boss AND the intern that won't just FIND THE SMURFING BREAD RIGHT SMURFING NOW.

  5. It's a wonder anything ever gets done in Hollywood. It's funny and sad that "Swimming with Sharks" wasn't hyperbole. Shit like this, and in that movie happens every day.

    What's funnier is that anyone that could be so anal about copies from a book having no crease, and not be off color, certainly shouldn't be in any position of authority.

  6. Seriously... in all my years since, I've never encountered another exec so anal about his copies looking pristine. (I'd love to have had the guts to say, "Is this the sort of devotion to perfectionism that won you an Oscar, sir?") And the other individual who was responsible for the Great Bread Hunt was a real piece of work too.

  7. This is funny... you guys act like this shit only ever happens in Hollywood. Happens everywhere somebody is spending somebody else's money.

    A long time ago, I used to work for a company you may have heard of called Sun, and we were just about to launch a new processor called UltraSparc. At the same time, the company just moved into it's new HQ, affectionally known as Sun Quentin.

    Anyway, to help with the launch, it was decided that we would rent the tent from the Cirque Du Soleil, and have the launch event on the new campus.

    Unfortunately, the tent wouldn't fit properly in the allotted space, so they *dug up* the parking lot to this brand spanking new campus to accomodate the tent. For a *half day* event.

    And then spent another boatload of money putting the parking lot back together again.