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Interns, un-or low-paid "assistants" and production sound


Philip Perkins
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https://www.gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/1097200-internships-aka-corporate-slavery.html

There is an extended bow-wow going on over on the GS audio post forum about the hows and whys of "interns" working at recording studios and post facilities.  Some of this comes down what the definition for "intern" is in a given organization or situation I guess.  I've had people new to the biz ask to help me, shadow me, observe me etc on production sound jobs over the years, and I've never been very comfortable with the idea I admit: both for "unpaid work" and "babysitting" reasons, so to speak.  In that a big percentage of the soundies who read this forum are often working alone, what's the answer to this, in that on-set observation, if not participation, is a great (the best) way to learn the trade?

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I interned at studios and granted, I was rarely given the opportunity to observe, let alone get my hands on any real gear, I understand the paying the dues aspect of it all. If anything, it's more of a test to see if I can follow direction, and if I am pleasant to work with. 

For us on set, I suppose it is more babysitting than anything. I would have loved to have that opportunity when I was starting out, and now that people ask me if they can come and observe or help out, I often find that it would simply not be appropriate to have a guest on set. 

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Over the past few years/shows, I've had a few sound guests. Obviously this is just to watch and not work. They get a chance to see how a union show runs. Unfortunately, security has gotten tighter on shows and guests are not allowed anymore. I think it's a shame. If young sound people can appreciate a well run set, then some habits may form while they are learning in the non-union world. I don't think I even knew there was a sound utility position until I was applying to be in the local union. Nowadays, an introduction into film sound might be reality TV or sit down interviews. I'd like narrative work to have a representation as well. 

I do wish we had a sound trainee position in our locals. Last time I checked the new local 52 application requirements for sound, it involved amassing 800 MPI hours, or hours working on union sets. Since a non-union person would need to have it be busy enough that productions can't find a union member and a narrative sound department is so small, the only way I see someone getting those hours is through reality TV. 800 hours of Reality TV doesn't help you learn how to be a sound utility or boom operator. 

If those hours could be accrued by working as a sound PA (who didn't boom), and was only an addition to a 3-man crew, I think there would be a lot of benefits for both the trainee, that particular sound crew and the industry in general. But that would also be a paid PA position. People shouldn't work for free. Hanging out and watching for free is one thing. Doing for free the work that would have been compensated isn't fair to anyone. 

With all of the sound guests that have visited, I've never thought of it as babysitting. Sometimes, there are days with more opportunities to chat than others. But I think most of us can be good enough judges of people not to invite someone who will steal props, take photos or talk during the takes. 

Josh

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7 hours ago, Joshua Anderson said:

Over the past few years/shows, I've had a few sound guests. Obviously this is just to watch and not work.

I'm still extremely grateful for allowing me the opportunity to visit you on set a few years ago. It was extremely beneficial to me, and I learned a lot!

7 hours ago, Joshua Anderson said:

I do wish we had a sound trainee position in our locals. Last time I checked the new local 52 application requirements for sound, it involved amassing 800 MPI hours, or hours working on union sets. Since a non-union person would need to have it be busy enough that productions can't find a union member and a narrative sound department is so small, the only way I see someone getting those hours is through reality TV. 800 hours of Reality TV doesn't help you learn how to be a sound utility or boom operator. 

If those hours could be accrued by working as a sound PA (who didn't boom), and was only an addition to a 3-man crew, I think there would be a lot of benefits for both the trainee, that particular sound crew and the industry in general.

I think that's a great idea.

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I feel pretty strongly against unpaid work or 'internships' on set but I do think the opportunity to shadow a mixer can be invaluable when starting out.

When I first showed a serious interest in location sound, a friend that worked in set dec introduced me to the mixer on her last show - Jeff Carter. He was kind enough to invite me on set one morning to watch him mix a walk and talk scene in one of Vancouver's Chinatown alleys. 

While I was only there for an hour or two, I learned a lot and received some great advice that has helped me along the way. I was all eyes and ears - observing different wiring techniques, how the mixer and boom op worked together, and how sound interacted with the other departments on set...

It wasn't all babysitting that day - I was able to help out in checking that comtek range to village was good, and did a quick run down the street to pick up supplies to minimize unwanted background noise (it was pouring outside).

I definitely see how it could be a burden to have someone visit, and am appreciative that I had the chance to do so. After the scene was over we parted ways and the production moved on - perhaps finding the right scene/day that can accommodate a guest, and knowing what the sweet spot is for length of visit would be helpful in making a good experience for both the mixer and guest.

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Good points, ditto what Joshua has said on security on sets,I dont mind someone getting to learn something by the way of being assigned work and getting paid as an intern.

When working abroad have requested for an asst who would like to asst on project and gain experience ,this has been positively looked at and usually good guys referred to,.

Everybody got to start somewhere,but doors are closing and most places dont welcome assts/intern

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On 6/22/2016 at 5:07 AM, Jose Frias said:

I'm still extremely grateful for allowing me the opportunity to visit you on set a few years ago. It was extremely beneficial to me, and I learned a lot!

I think that's a great idea.

Steve Tibbo and Mark Hensley did the same for me so I will always be indebted to them and will never forget the experience!

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On June 22, 2016 at 8:07 AM, Jose Frias said:

I'm still extremely grateful for allowing me the opportunity to visit you on set a few years ago. It was extremely beneficial to me, and I learned a lot!

Thank for the kind words, Jose! It was certainly fun and easy to have you visit. I hope it wasn't too boring. But that's what makes it easier to have sound people visit: they already know to expect the slow dullness and repetition when watching filmmaking. Friends and family sometimes make the worst visitors as the behind the scenes entertainment is expected to be better. 

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2 hours ago, Michael Miramontes said:

Steve Tibbo and Mark Hensley did the same for me so I will always be indebted to them and will never forget the experience!

Steve is amazing. While I haven't visited him on set, I got to chat with him about Modern Family at NAB 2 years ago, and he was very kind and giving with his time, answering every question me and Joe Pfeil could come up with. Such a great learning experience of its own, and then it was easy for me to see why he's won 3 Emmy awards for his work on that show.

1 hour ago, Joshua Anderson said:

Thank for the kind words, Jose! It was certainly fun and easy to have you visit. I hope it wasn't too boring. But that's what makes it easier to have sound people visit: they already know to expect the slow dullness and repetition when watching filmmaking. Friends and family sometimes make the worst visitors as the behind the scenes entertainment is expected to be better. 

Josh, it was not boring at all. What was even more amazing was that Gregg, Terence and David were also all so welcoming and so giving with their time, answering every question I could come up with. Y'all are truly great hosts. Thanks again!

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