In order to survive in Los Angeles, you must “know yourself morally.” Or do you? While one Yale in Hollywood intern fled the set he was working on because “it had a lot of sex,” another eagerly participated in a sex therapy talk show. But both had typically atypical Tinseltown experiences and managed to come out unscathed. Well, we hope so.
This summer, 14 students, mostly from the classes of ’04 and ’05, took part in Yale in Hollywood, a pioneer internship placement program for Yale students.
Joseph Testani, assistant director of undergraduate career services and Summer Internship Program coordinator, said that the program was started after a proposal by the Yale in Hollywood Club, a subgroup of the Yale Club of Southern California, which is comprised largely of members of the entertainment industry in Hollywood. Applicants to the program submitted a cover letter and a resume directly to Hollywood employers, many of whom were Yale alumni or solicited by Yale alumni. Of the 12 internships, between six and eight were already in existence. The others had spots reserved for Yale University.
“They thought it would be a great idea to have some internships in film, TV, journalism,” Testani said. “Really, both of us were looking for each other, and we found each other.”
But Testani said the employers were not looking specifically to fill their positions with film majors.
“The Film Studies Department isn’t tremendous here, so we were definitely not looking for specific majors, but strong interest in or passion for film.”
Partly because of the late start to the program, the internships did not provide for housing for the interns. Perhaps in the future, Testani said, money from the Yale Club will help to secure housing for Yale in Hollywood participants. Also of concern for budget-conscious students was the lack of income — few of the internships were paid. But these internships are coveted positions for novices in the film industry.
“Paid internships are like diamonds in the rough. A lot of times an unpaid internship in the film industry is a great way to start making contacts,” Testani said.
For William Tauxe ’05, who worked on the Dr. Susan Block Show, a talk show primarily dealing with sexual therapy, the contacts were not the appeal. Tauxe applied to the program almost on a whim.
“I wanted to see what was out there, and I’d heard that 15 companies or so said they’d accept interviews,” Tauxe said.
Tauxe said the work was comprised mostly of “trying to get guests for the show, and reviewing the work” before they appeared on the show. Many of the guests were “porn stars and sex therapists who wrote books about things like cunnilingus.”
Although he is a biology major, Tauxe said he might be interested in the writing end of television or film. The Dr. Block Show, however, is not scripted.
Still, “it was a really interesting full-time, but unpaid, internship,” Tauxe said. He illustrated the content of certain episodes as “German porn stars peeing on Pakistani masochists. I couldn’t really react, though, because I was holding a camera.”
Tauxe also says that he enjoyed witnessing the show in action because it was a highly political show.
“Dr. Block was really, really liberal, so it was interesting to see her get her message across, which was mostly through dildos,” he said.
On the other hand, J.D. Payne ’05, who has been writing screenplays for about five years, applied because he was “interested in getting my feet wet in the film industry.”
Last year, Sterling Van Wagenen, the co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival, read one of Payne’s scripts and liked it. Now, he is trying to get funding for Payne from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Through Yale-in-Hollywood, Payne interned for National Geographic Feature Films and Roger Gimbel Productions. With National Geographic, Payne says his responsibilities included “standard intern stuff: copying, answering phones. Aside from that, there were two things — covering, which is reading and evaluating screenplays for things like character, structure, dialogue, setting, and premise, and then development. They’d give me five characters and if that would fit with this they’d let me be a writer. I would come up with scenarios. I would take page outlines to three to four page outlines.”
For Payne, the internships propelled him into the workforce that he plans to join post-graduation. Payne is not actually considering working for either company — especially since neither is looking to hire — but the internship will likely still reap rewards, Payne said.
“The head producer is very well-respected in the industry, and he has some good connections, so maybe that could help in getting me a job,” he said.
This is exactly what the Summer Internship Program aims for, according to Testani.
“Sometimes the internships run into September, and [if the students can] stay on, hopefully they’ll start to work there full time,” he said.
This works out particularly well for students who have graduated. One of the seniors who participated in Yale in Hollywood this summer, for example, is now working for the same organization full time.
The Yale in Hollywood Club provided support for its interns throughout the summer. Yale in Hollywood Internship Coordinator Aaron Kogan ’00, who is starting a production company, helped Payne settle himself into the business.
“He took me out to lunch, and kind of mentored me as I was in the process of getting an agent and meeting with lawyers,” Payne said.
Payne added that the events may not have been as useful as Yale in Hollywood may have liked.
“Unless you make really, really good friends, it’s hard to use a good contact unless you have an agent,” he said.
And, according to Tauxe, the alumni at Yale in Hollywood events were, in large part, only recent graduates whose careers had not taken off yet.
Payne has already begun to make career plans. Working for National Geographic Feature Films, for example, Payne may have already found one feature film-writing gig. HBO and National Geographic have expressed joint interest in one of Payne’s scripts about “the story of a person who blew the lid on the Soviet bioethics program, where they genetically spliced smallpox and the Ebola virus, which could basically wipe out the human population.”
Whatever happens, Payne is anxious to move to Los Angeles post-graduation, despite several cultural disappointments during his summer stay.
“Our apartment got broken into, they stole about $500 cash and my laptop, with a year’s worth of writing, and schoolwork,” Payne said. “It was a bummer, but good growing-up kind of stuff.”
Payne grew up in other ways too.
“I did a lot of dating,” Payne said. “You don’t find a lot of time to date at Yale. There were all kinds of women to date. I ended up dating a 29-year-old belly dancer who was Mormon. It was wonderful.”
And about that show he left?
“It was sleazy, and I walked off after the first day,” Payne said. “But I made a great contact from that, so people do respect having morals in the industry.”
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