Guest Contribution by Timothy Muirhead
Although we all like to talk about sound work as a very creative discipline it is also a technical one. Universities and other post secondary institutions really have their hands full trying to teach both sides of the craft – the hows and the whys. Most come up short on one side or the other and that is why the industry has come to rely so heavily on the concept of the internship to complete the educations of those just entering the work force. I know the work placement I did at the conclusion of my time in film school taught me more in 4 months then I was able to absorb in the previous three and a half years I spent in classrooms. The schools narrow it down to the individuals who are dedicated, and give them time to focus on the craft and decide if it is indeed right for them. It teaches perseverance – but the internship is where you really learn the trade.
As the business model for audio post-production has been changing in the last decade, internships aren’t fitting into the system in the same way. The days of large studios with open doors to new graduates are pretty much over. Some big studios have been going under and many current professionals find themselves working freelance out of small one-room studios or even their basements/spare bedrooms. This makes taking on interns much more difficult for many seasoned veterans of our business.
At the same time there really is an important principle we all have to remember. Every successful mixer/editor/sound designer had someone help them get their foot in the door when they started out. Maybe even a mentor who shaped our idea of what the business should be, who shared a work ethic or philosophy, who opened up our ears and set us up to succeed ourselves. We all have a responsibility to pay that debt forward. But how? Simply having space for another person to work can be a major roadblock if you are working out of your house. But the same advancements in technology that allow for the freelance world to boom can be used to our advantage with interns as well.
One path that needs a lot more attention is the idea of a virtual internship. The basic concept is the same as a traditional internship, but instead of being in the same building the mentorship exists completely online. In order for this to work the student/intern must already have (or have access to) a basic sound editing set up. Skype, email and file sharing are used so tasks can be assigned, projects can be passed back and forth and questions can be asked and answered. The upside is you won’t be cramped into your small studio space with the intern and it is highly adaptable to changing schedules – being in the studio from 9-5 together is not as necessary. The downside is your intern can not make lunch runs or brew your coffee for you. Many industries are using this concept very effectively. Publishing, marketing and many more sectors are up and running with this model already. Sound Designer Tim Prebble solicited for applications in 2009 for his own unique version of a virtual internship (and blogged about it). So there is a precedent in the pro audio community.
I corresponded with Michał Fojcik about his experience as one of the students in Prebble’s internship program. Fojcik is based in Poland and Prebble is working out of New Zealand but they found ways to overcome distance and time-zone challenges through online communication. Michał’s internship, shared with a small group of junior editors, mainly took place via an open email group, where Prebble introduced and elaborated on selected topics and the group took up those discussions, sharing questions and engaging in problem-solving interactions online. Fojcik described the time as “a milestone for me, changing my way of working on sound for film. I was very excited when we were starting but how it turned out [was] even better than I expected.”
That was back in 2009, but just this week on a LinkedIn sound design group a sound editor working on his first feature reached out to the community for someone to mentor him through the experience. Within a day he had two different people answer the call. I also regularly see recent graduates post demo reels for critique by the online community and get fantastic feedback and encouragement.
So there is some of this going on but I have not read or heard of many other audio-related long term virtual internship programs since Tim Prebble blogged about his version. Is anyone else out there doing this? If so let us know about it! If not, why has it not caught on further? Online discussion forums are now allowing newbies to interact with experienced professionals world-wide, to solve specific problems, to offer one-off opinions, but without the intensive interaction that dedicated mentorships provide, are we allowing the most important part of our accumulated knowledge to slip away?
It is easy to get caught up in the day to day and feel like our schedules are full to capacity. But we have to remember that someone helped shape us, and we can pass on the best of what we have learned over the years. We just have to figure out how in this changing business.