Saturday, May 12, 2012


This would be my first post for 2012 since November 2011. And I've decided that it shall be about interns and internship, which have been an ongoing topic of discussion between peers in my line of work due to their regular presence in many productions these days. I've noticed a disturbing trend among interns and the production houses employing them.

Internship would be the best time to learn for one (ie., an apprentice) who wants a step into the professional world. It is an opportunity for the intern to network with folks in the industry and possibly meet their prospective employer, or rather collaborator - a term I'd rather use on this field regardless if one is the paymaster or otherwise.

With crappy budgets for local television, many production companies are struggling to sustain a healthy bottomline. It's quite puzzling that these television budgets have been going inversely against the economy. In the last 10 years, Singapore has faced countless recessions like the rest of the world which affected the production budgets. The economy has picked up in the last 4 years, but television budgets have been stagnant.

When I entered this industry in 1996, the budget for a 30min info-ed/magazine programme would be up S$25K per episode while a 1 hour drama series would be about S$50K or more per episode. In the last 6 years, the budget for a 30min info-ed/magazine would be S$18K-$20K and S$30K per episode for a 1 hour drama series. (The budget for a sponsored programme would be fractionally more, but these are too few and far between!).

[The other factor for such budget circumstance could be due to production houses quoting lower than impossible costings in their quotations during programme tenders. There used to be only 3 production houses when I entered the Malay television industry. In 2012, there are more than 20 production houses going after contracts to produce programmes for MediaCorp Suria - the only Malay channel in Singapore.]

Production houses often find their budgets spread thin. And many are finding interns and internship a viable source for a leaner production budget and perhaps, increase their bottomlines. Thus, where traditionally it used to be professionals handling key positions in television productions, many producers are resorting to interns to handle these key roles, ie production managers, assistant producers, location/props/set managers, et al.

I suspect someone, somewhere is misappropriating the internship programme set up by THE media regulator.

With all due respect, one can only imagine the ruckus on set when interns take over, ie troubleshooting missing props on location, call sheets issued the night before, woeful packed (and late) lunches and casts missing their respective call times, to name a few. I've also seen a situation where the production stalled completely, apparently because interns took over 90% of the prep. It resulted in the crew and stylist walking off the set, the cast absent.

The guilty production houses should be penalised!

A good solution to avoid this situation would be mentoring, where interns are assigned to work closely with industry professionals in the set. Until these interns are ready (and ONLY when they are ready - where 3-6 months cannot validate the intern's readiness to work unguided), then only perhaps they could be given real responsibilities.

But I digress.

The following is a good article on the internship experience.

On the topic of interns, I'm also appalled at the attitudes of many interns that I've seen (and who has worked in my production). Many seemed to forget that the main reason for internship is LEARNING. Many intern lamented at the prospect that making coffee is all they are suitable for during internship. But I think they missed the point.

I would offer the following points for the intern to take note before they offer themselves for an internship,

1. listen 
2. take responsibility and be accountable 
3. quit whining 
4. learn that production doesn't require high heels and polished nails 
5. it is not a 9-5 job
6. learn to accept any job that's below them because that's what interns do. Really. 
7. production is not for them if interns cannot accept points 1-6

oh, one more thing
8. constant texting to your friends while on set/at production meetings in full view of your producers and directors doesn't really make you, the wet-behind-the-ear newbie (yes that's what you are!), look professional.

and here's a last note
9. playing politics is not a good trait to exhibit when you are just an intern. Unless Quentin Tarantino head-hunts you, your co-workers during internship will be your bosses/colleagues/collaborators/clients when you eventually become a professional in your respective field of interest.

"Coffee is liquid gold sey (sic) especially in production. Offering to go buy already scores brownie points" - An industry peer recalls.

Many interns whine about it but they fail to see that it is not about the physical act of making coffee, but what they make from that coffee-making experience. Points 1-6 encompass that.

Thus, good coffee-making skills bring good nicotine and bring positive vibes to the set. :P

PS: For the record, I've been an intern before too. So making coffee during internship is a vicious cycle and it sucks - it's what they called on-site learning - not written in textbook modules. I'm grateful for the experience.