The Intern Experience

I arrived at the Rooftop Films Office, Old American Can Factory, 232 3rd Street a couple of minutes late, and frantic. Would they fire me on the spot? What would they have me do? Would I be able to do it well?

I was introduced to the staff and my main supervisor Lela Scott MacNeil. Lela handed me a task on the spot. “Can you watch this film, and then write up some interview questions?” Again, my frantic anxiety crept up. It seemed like almost too much responsibility — too much direct involvement. Sure, I’d written for the Bi-Co — my school’s newspaper, and done some interviews with faculty and students now and then. But this was the ‘real’ film world and these questions would be asked to ‘real’ directors. I was representing a ‘real’ film festival that plays such an important part in the promotion of the independent film industry I so desperately want to be a part of. I tried to play it cool, as if… sure, I did this all the time. But I was more than likely sweating bullets. The only thing that triggered a small internal chuckle was the film I’d been given — ‘Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same‘; “Ha, either her film choice is ridiculously ironic or she’s already stereotyping me ’cause I go to a women’s college.” So, I watched the film. It was brilliantly made, witty, cynical, romantic, a painfully humorous commentary on human existence, everything I look to include in my own films. “Hmm, maybe I fulfill the stereotype more than I think…” I spent the entire day working on those questions, researching the filmmaker as much as I could, trying to exhaust as many perspectives as possible. I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep that night and finally sent the questions in to Lela the following morning. “I’m not really sure what you were looking for, but I tried my best…?” I said uneasily. Lela responded: “Not a problem. We just want you to ask what YOU want to know. That’s all.”

That’s sort of a general way of explaining what I’ve come to love about my Rooftop experience. Once I accepted being given independent responsibilities, and learned not to almost faint each time they were given to me, I started to love them. I write the way that I want to write, ask the questions I want to ask, and with two weeks left, no one has fired me!  I’ve come a long way from that first day. I can finish a task in a few hours now rather than in two days. I write questions as well as blog posts promoting upcoming Rooftop Events, Rooftop Partners and their festivals, and on the occasion the ‘creative post’ such as this one. It’s a nice bonus to have your name up on a ‘real’ website next to your own, original words, and to know that people are actually reading them.

And sure, working in the Rooftop office is not all ‘watching films’ and ‘glamour writing’. There’s a lot, I’ve learned, that goes into the promotion of an independent film. Its definitely not easy being an independent filmmaker. Film is a pretty expensive medium and after all the effort to put together a vision on a limited budget, the filmmaker still has to gather an audience to support it. I know this, I’m an aspiring filmmaker myself, and even while still in school, I’m constantly faced with the tragic thought that all my work, aiming to express myself to others, will never actually be expressed to ‘others’. That’s where an organization like Rooftop comes in. My tasks extend from researching organizations that might help promote a screening, to emailing about the event, to handing out flyers in person to local businesses around the area of the event. I’ve created many, many spreadsheets, answered a lot of phone calls, and even helped clean the tech office. And I know these tasks don’t seem like the most fun, but at this point, I don’t mind at all. I just put it in perspective. When you’re an independent filmmaker, SOMEONE is doing these tasks for you. Someone is getting your name out and making your screening a success. As someone who truly loves independent film, why shouldn’t it be me? I don’t think I’m overenthusiastic. If you work at an organization like this, it has to mean something to you. You have to find a way to make it rewarding, make it your own. That’s what makes all the boring stuff worth it, or rather, not so boring. That’s what makes you happy to get up in the morning just to fold tee-shirts or organize an inventory list. Because, at the end of the week, you go to a screening, you see all the people that are as excited as you are to see a great film, and you know that you helped make it happen.

Oh yes, as an office intern, I also work at the screenings. I’m assigned, along with two other interns, to the Friday show. Among other tasks, we help unload, move, unpack, and set up the equipment. And one might ask: “Don’t you have tech guys for that?” Of course we do, and one tech girl as well. But what is quickly learned when working at Rooftop is that each person must fulfill specific duties– and then also help with everything else they can. Rooftop Films is doing great things and growing, but it’s still a small company, and having a screening run smoothly is Everyone’s priority. So, as an intern, its become my priority. With a job that’s this ‘hands on’, you have to develop a personal investment. Typically, I and the other interns try and help move bins of cables, lift stands and speakers (when they let me), and tape down wires. Then our own specific duties begin. We unfold and arrange 200+ chairs, put up signs, sell tickets and check in will-call. After the film is over, we refold and re-stack chairs, and remove the signs. And then of course we try to help everyone else repack and reload everything else.

Sounds tedious? At times, it definitely is. And perhaps I could have hung back a little more, done just my assigned tasks, wiped my hands, and left each night. But it’s the people I got to meet, the friendships I formed, the inspiration for my own future as a filmmaker that built up so tremendously, that kept me sticking around, always eager to participate. Perhaps I really am too enthusiastic at times, but why not? In so doing, I’ve been able to seize so many great moments. And a free drink at the after party is a guaranteed reward for all participants. It hasn’t taken long for me to glory in the uncovered truth that the film world is actually made up of ‘real’ people, and that I might even be one of them. After all, I work at Rooftop!

Sheila Maria Lobo, Rooftop Films Intern