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Kylee Peña's Blog

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An Oral History of My Illegal Internships

Whether by necessity or the evolution of a specific kind of culture, internships have emerged as a dominant “foot-in-the-door” for the post production industry. Among those internships, the unpaid variety tend to dominate in a way that is not seen in many other fields such as business and medicine. Sure, unpaid internships aren’t exclusive to post production; however, for some reason we’ve collectively decided that the single biggest way to prove one’s merit is by working in some capacity for free.

It’s almost as if everyone believes that because they suffered the difficulty of doing often humiliating or degrading work for free, everyone else should too.

In our industry, it seems like most people don’t understand the line between legal and illegal internships. The young people trying to get experience and move up the ladder need to know what’s legal, but they can’t really do anything about it. The people who really need to know these guidelines are the hiring managers and producers in charge of the intern experience — the people who can make a difference. It’s not that free work is altogether bad or off limits. It’s sometimes the right move for personal enrichment, donation of time, or just to learn some new skills. The issue is that we aren’t ensuring that up and coming talent are valued, either through being paid minimum wage or guaranteed an valuable educational experience.

I completed three internships while I attended Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis — IUPUI. I graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Science and a Certificate in Applied Computer Science. I worked nearly full time, lived off-campus, and had parents who were able to give me money for books and fees not covered by loans — who were also available to help me with my living expenses when I really needed it. I currently have $27,723.91 in federal student loan debt, which I deferred for the first few years of my career since my income was too low.

Tired, malnourished, and happy to be done.

Since I was an Indiana resident attending an Indiana school, I was able to get in-state rates with a small scholarship. I chose IUPUI both for cost and for proximity to Indianapolis businesses where I could intern or work. I no longer have records of exactly what I paid from 2005-2009, but the current rates for attendance are about $4,700 per semester in my program. That’s just shy of $37,000 for four years of a full course load, about $255 per credit hour.

I completed three internships while attending IUPUI. Two of them were illegal by today’s standards.

I was and am very lucky and privileged to have been able to have these experiences. Many people are not able to get through the door and in the room at all because they cannot afford to work for free. It was incredibly hard for me to balance all this, but I knew if things really got out of control I had some back-up with my parents bailing me out. As a result of my ability to spend 10-15 hours a week on these internships instead of working for actual money, I was able to stack my resume upon graduation in a way someone with equal skills but less parental support was unable to do.

That made a difference for me, as it does many other privileged people in this industry. As a result, opportunities for employment and career growth for those who had to prioritize other things are limited or removed entirely. Those people are approached with an attitude of “well, I guess they didn’t try hard enough or want it badly enough. I guess they’re just not as good.” (Infuriatingly, the people who proudly boast about the unpaid internships and free work they did when they were young are the first to criticize low or no pay freelance opportunities. Both of these things can devalue the industry in different ways.)

I want to stress that I’m going to discuss my experiences as an intern and a student from my own experience and perspective, using the the US Department of Labor’s 2010 “Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act” fact sheet as a yard stick. Maybe they weren’t illegal back then, but they sure are now. And today is what’s relevant. I want people to see what I was required to do and why it was wrong then and illegal now.

Before I describe my illegal internships, I want to give you some background on what the Department of Labor considers to legal or not. The DOL has a test in six parts which private sector internships must comply with. If the internship fails the test, then the internship is actually non-exempt employment and must be paid minimum wage plus overtime for time in excess of 40 hours in a week.

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If these conditions are met, then there is no employment arrangement under The Fair Labor Standards Act and no minimum wage or overtime payment is required. The more like an extension of an educational experience the internship is, the more likely it is to be considered a true internship.

A very important distinction in the work interns do: if the skills they’re learning are broadly applicable to other work environments with the primary benefit not being for the employer, that’s okay. On the other hand, if they’re performing productive work for the employer — filing, answering phones, clerical work — then although they may be getting some useful skills for the future, they are not excluded from the FSLA’s minimum wage requirements. If interns are doing productive work that would otherwise be completed by giving additional hours to or hiring an additional employee and are not under the constant and direct supervision of a regular employee of the company in a constant educational environment, they are not an intern.

Let me put it a different way: when you send an intern out to fetch lunch or finish your paperwork, you should be paying them for their time. If they are doing solo work on a deadline a regular employee would have otherwise been assigned to do, you should pay them for their time.

My first illegal internship was in 2007 at a small post house in Indianapolis that no longer exists, so I won’t even mention them by name. I spent about 4 months as an intern, about 12 hours a week. This was the internship I dreamed about when I moved to the city for school. I was able to connect with a real editor who let me shadow him during the internship and beyond. When I was out of school, he got me my first freelance job. We’re still in touch and he was a great and positive force early in my career. I spent time in the edit suite with him and his clients. I learned how to run a room. I also got my first hands-on experience with Avid and was able to fiddle around with it myself. I got introduced to the machine room and saw how patching worked. I went on shoots with real clients. I recut an old project and had a producer give me some feedback.

The post house had won sports Emmys, which I enjoyed holding at the time.

But I also had major complaints with this internship which I brought up with my advisor, largely because the company was beginning to fold up while I was interning there. For the longest time I thought I was being over-dramatic. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really realized this was not only unethical, it is now truly illegal. I would fetch lunch frequently for people who disrespected me and whined when I got them the wrong thing. I was put in charge of making coffee and sending mail, walking to the post office somewhat regularly. I answered phones a lot and ran the front desk on the regular, which was hard because nobody introduced themselves to me. I didn’t have anyone sitting in the Avid suite with me and my book, explaining to me that the software was unstable and crashing and it wasn’t my fault. I was asked to ingest media for a project without supervision and scolded when I did it wrong. I spent weeks upon weeks in a storage room alone re-organizing a sound library and filing paperwork. When people were laid off, I cleaned out their offices. Eventually I started cutting small projects the laid off individuals would have worked on.

By today’s standards, this violates #1, #2, #3 and #4 on the DOL’s lil test. My university would likely argue it was not illegal because they provided the educational structure around it, so the internship was a proper extension of an educational experience they were providing for me. I think if you look hard at the DOL fact sheet and the educational environment that was offered, this argument wouldn’t hold up. IUPUI had what was essentially an “internship class” where you could earn college credit through the internship. The class was online with some light reading and a lot of forum posts about what you did and what you learned. Other than a site visit once during the experience, the university was hands-off. For the privilege of answering phones and writing forum posts to my advisor every day, struggling to describe how that skill would benefit me in life, I paid for three credit hours plus fees. By today’s standards, I would have paid at least $756 to be an unpaid intern.

I was lucky to have this internship. It created opportunities for me and gave me exposure to the kind of environment I needed at that time. It was key to getting my next internship. But it was hard to accomplish and at minimum, morally wrong for the employer and school to put me in this situation. But even so, how many other students were unable to participate in this before the company shut down?

My next internship was a legal unpaid internship at the Indiana State Museum. The museum is a non-profit organization which grants some leeway with internships as volunteer experiences that differ from private sector interns, but it doesn’t really matter. This internship was a true extension of my educational experience largely because I did not give any immediate benefit to the museum and yeah, definitely impeded its operations. I completed this internship for college credit again with IUPUI’s dubious “intern experience” course, but the true value of the experience came from the museum employee I worked with. She gave me real projects to do, offering guidance while also allowing me to work independently. Truthfully she could have finished them better and faster without me. I finished a couple neat audio projects that were featured in the museum (and took weeks longer than they should have) and a couple smaller videos that were featured on the museum’s new YouTube page.

I also got the opportunity to do research for upcoming exhibits’ video work and see how my hands-on experience would directly apply to months of public enjoyment. And I was given the museum’s resources and equipment to explore independently and create whatever I wanted. The experience was entirely for my benefit and the fact that the museum ended up using any of my work was an unexpected bonus for me. I had context, access, and patience with lots of feedback.

My third internship was by far the worst and most illegal. My senior year of college, I picked up an unpaid internship with an organization called NUVO Newsweekly, an alternative lifestyle magazine in Indianapolis. They wanted video production interns that could go to events to shoot and edit content for their YouTube page, promising that I’d work with a producer and get great experience in corresponding with that producer and learning more about editing while also building my portfolio. It seemed like a great way to build up my reel at the end of my college career, and my friend Katie was also able to get the same internship, so we went for it.

Oh, how great for Katie and me.

And then they threw in: oh yeah, you’re also part of the Street Team so we’ll have you do a little bit of promo stuff while you’re shooting. No big deal, we have a table with copies of NUVO and we direct people to it. Uh, okay.

We were regularly given a list of events happening in the city that we needed to choose to cover, a fixed number of them required per week. If we didn’t go to enough, we got in trouble. The up side to this was we got to see and experience many different sides of the city for free, attending concerts and events we never would have considered before. The downside was that the street team aspect was understated and the educational aspect was overstated.

This seems educational.

We went to our first event at a bar: an incredibly loud, incredibly late concert on a week night when both of us had work or school the next day. Nobody from NUVO greeted us, and I’m not sure anyone else in the leadership we worked with ended up attending. Our first field experience as interns was as two young women alone in a bar with video production equipment and no further direction on what to create. But we did it anyway, and quickly cut together a highlights video. The all-important producer collaboration and educational feedback experience amounted to “wow, great job! Upload it!”

We did more events. Roller derby, art shows, festivals, restaurant reviews, other local concerts. Turned out more content. Got more passive thumbs up. Look, I’ve seen these videos years later. They were fine and good, but they had room for improvement. We were not above guidance, but we WERE creating SEO-friendly, regular video content for free. We were being had.

An example of our perfect, no-notes work.

The likely highlight of the whole intern experience was being assigned to cover the end of Indy Wine Festival. We were told we needed to also break down the NUVO tent, table and materials, load it in the NUVO branded jeep, and drive the jeep back to headquarters. When we arrived, we realized the jeep was parked in the middle of the festival in a huge urban park — and it being the end of the day at a wine festival in June in the midwest, the lawn was littered with people who were passed out. We spent an hour figuring out how to take the tent down, googling to find instructions since none were provided. Then we drove through the lawn of the park, trying not to kill anyone.

What kind of insurance policy does this require?

Yeah. The twenty-two year old unpaid intern drove the enormous branded jeep through a park. A liability for sure, but I’m not certain for whom.

I ended up leaving the internship early, in part because I was unhappy with being used for free labor but also because I had transitioned into a full-time job and couldn’t balance going to night events anymore. My friend held on a little longer, having to actually confront the indignant producer and internship coordinator who felt they were giving us the experience of a lifetime. An internship should be a two-way communication, and instead they took her feedback as insubordination.

This internship violated numbers #2, #3, and #4 — massively #3. We were doing work that needed to be done by paid freelancers, not students and industry newcomers who were desperate for experience. At the very least, we deserved minimum wage and maybe a little more promised guidance, or a completely restructured intern experience.

I don’t know if NUVO still has unpaid interns that violate all these rules in the DOL’s test, but I sure hope not. It was incredibly disappointing to be involved in something that was such an obvious racket, taking advantage of young peoples’ passion and telling them they “get to” visit these places and put their work online.

And when it comes to these two illegal internships, that’s really what I feel: disappointment. For all the translatable skills I gained, I had to give up so much of myself. I was essentially working for no pay during a time in my life when giving up hours was incredibly precious and potentially threatening to my survival. I had to somehow make up ground to keep up on my rent and electric bills and gas at my full-time job. By the time I graduated, I was sick constantly and more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life. And I got far less value for the experience than anyone should.

But I was still able to do it and lucky to have the opportunity. Many don’t have the privilege to make these sacrifices to their physical and financial well-being because they have children, no family support, or some other life circumstance to deal with instead. In an industry with a false narrative of “meritocracy” to rise up, we are not lending everyone the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at the beginning of their careers when important choices are made and experiences are had. Those who think they have risen up only because they were better are dismissing the societal, gender, racial, financial, geographical privilege they were granted. This doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re not good at what they do and didn’t work hard. But the obstacles they had in their path were not the same as others with less privilege.

I described the total cost of my education -- being enrolled was a prerequisite for these internships -- to give you a sense of the actual dollars invested in this experience. My loan costs don't even begin to address the amounts my parents spent on books, car payments or other necessities they helped me with, or the rent, food, and gas I bought. Was this a good value for the educational experience I received?

Me on the set of a local indie having an amazing time on a frigid day with great people -- not all free work is bad.

I don’t put this forward to denegrate a specific school or business who bought into the internship racket: it’s not like ya’ll invented this mess, and it’s not like it’s an easy systemic fix. But I’m disappointed. I would hope that businesses with a stake in the community would recognize the importance of opening up opportunities for all, and how money and time plays into someone’s ability to do that. I would really hope that a school built on positive values and life experience would choose to advocate for paid internships — or ya know, just job placement in general — in lieu of pushing students into the system.

And I would really really hope that those people in the industry that benefitted from internships, either from gaining skills or getting a job, would recognize that no matter how well they managed to do, it would have been a better, more equal educational experience if they hadn’t been taken advantage of for free work. And by extension, that they would advocate for better, more equal educational opportunities for those coming up behind them instead of enforcing the status quo as a matter of paying ones’ dues.

This industry is hard, and that’s fine. If it were easy, everyone one do it and no one would pay for it. I don’t need it to be easier. But why can’t we make it just a little bit more accessible for the next generation, and make the next generation’s industry a little more inclusive as a result?

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 28, 2017 at 2:02:55 am internships, illegal, legal, university

A Letter to Incoming Female Freshmen in Media Programs

A lot of so-called “open letters” on the internet address the outgoing graduates of programs. And while they should bask in the glow of congratulations and good luck because they worked hard, they earned it, and they have some serious challenges on the horizon, this letter isn’t for them.

It’s for you: the young woman who is leaving high school behind and beginning your first year of college in the next few weeks or months. You have so much ahead of you.

Your already completed preparations have likely been as diverse as your other experiences. Maybe you’ve had to write personal statements and essays or collect recommendations. You’ve probably had to fill out the FAFSA, hoping you didn’t accidentally transpose a number or calculate an income incorrectly lest you be carted off to jail. Maybe you visited a few different colleges, alone or with a parent or grandma or sibling. If you did, you sat through silly skits by upperclassmen and walked through the library and student center and other buildings with extra shiny floors.

I graduated from high school in Indiana in 2005.

You’ve weighed the pros and cons of even attending college. You’ve had discussions about your future with all kinds of people. Maybe you have a clear path and strategy. Maybe you don’t. In either case, when your acceptance letter arrived, you felt a sting of excitement and fear. It’s happening. Change is scary. Student loans are scarier. But you’re doing it anyway.

Congratulations on making it through the paperwork and the decisions, and congratulations on your decision to attend college. It can seem controversial, especially for a media or film and television program where you can supposedly learn all you need at home and on the internet, but pursuing an education will never serve you negatively. I certainly got my own earful from people when I decided to pursue Media Arts and Science at Indiana University in Indianapolis. But why, they said, why don’t you keep that as a hobby and go to nursing school?

I attended Indiana University in Indianapolis, working on a bachelors degree from the School of Informatics.

There are a lot of opinions about the usefulness of a media degree, and here’s mine: with so many media jobs being created inside corporations that hire through HR, a degree is becoming essential. For jobs in media hubs like Los Angeles and New York, even positions that were previously filled through apprenticing now require a bachelors degree. And if you leave media behind, your degree counts for a lot – as a basic requirement or a jumping-off point for a masters degree.

But aside from checking the boxes on a job application, what you’re really going to get from your program can’t be measured by a piece of paper — even one with fancy script writing. You’re going to have a safe place to grow and explore and experiment with media technology. You’re going to have access to mentors. You’re going to develop friends who are more similar to you than you ever imagined. You’re going to be able to leverage important resources. You’re going to grow as a problem-solver, critical thinker, and life-long learner. You’ll learn theory and practical application and how to run this software or that camera, but most importantly: you’re going to learn how to learn.

I worked nearly full time through college at the Indianapolis Zoo, also doing part-time internships at a post house, a state museum, and a lifestyle magazine.

When your degree is on a wall (or in a box) and the information you learned about software and hardware becomes obsolete, you will still know how to learn. And that’s the key to an industry like ours (yes, it’s yours now too) that is a beautiful combination of art and technology: there is always something more to know, but there won’t always be someone telling you that you need to know it.

Now here’s the part that makes this letter for you and not so much for your male peers. Your experience in this industry as a woman is going to be different than men. You’re going to hear about the gender gap in post production technology. You’re going to read about harassment and pay gaps and the masculine culture that prevails on set. You’re going to read op-eds from female directors and producers that discuss their challenges and frustrations. You might not experience it in college, or you might not realize it for a while. In my decade in this industry, I have both written about and experienced these issues first hand.

But I tell you this because I want you to remember that there are many women in television, film and media jobs all over the world, and they are all rooting for you to succeed in the face of these challenges. I want you to know that I’m here for you, alongside thousands of other women holding a space for you. Even if the statistics look grim and the news stories are disheartening, remember: there is a place for you here. You deserve to be here. Even in an industry as flawed as ours, there is room for you to have a successful, engaging career.

Part of the fun of college: still having the freedom to explore and be silly.

And I tell you this so you’re prepared. Gender bias is real even if it’s almost entirely subconcious. There can be a hundred tiny needle jabs in a woman’s career in any industry where she is underrepresented — asking for fair pay, for fair promotions, fair treatment — and over years those needle jabs can add up to one painful departure. A depature she often believes is her own fault because she is not strong enough.

You never need to leave. If you work hard, the resistance you might face in your career is almost never of your own making. If you work hard, you deserve to be here. If you decide the media industry isn’t for you, either during college or some years after, that’s okay too. But if you want to be here, you deserve to stay and to do the work and be yourself while you do it. This isn't always possible all the time right now, but we're working on making it true.

Find a trusted network of both women and men you can rely on. Share with them your many victories, and confide in them your failures. It can be difficult to find your place and grow in our industry, but it’s easier when you know there is a societal bias at play in your career. It’s easier when you can say “it’s not me, it’s you.” While you should own up to your mistakes and learn from them, try not to absorb the negative outlook, the social commentary, or any feelings you don’t belong. Do you think the stories we tell in media are best told by a whole bunch of people who all think and act alike? Do you think stories like Moonlight and The Handmaid’s Tale and Master of None would exist in a world without underrepresented people pushing boundaries?

I graduated with degrees in video production and applied computer science in 2009.

Ask for what you want, but remember you are entitled to nothing. Speak up and make sure your voice is heard. Learn what you want to learn, tell the stories you want to tell. Remember that while no amount of “leaning in” will change a pervasive bias against you, no amount of bias can erase all the women like me who are already here waiting for you. While our grandmothers were explicitly told they had no place in these workplaces, and women like myself are sometimes implicitly unwelcome, your story will be entirely different. It’s exciting to see what lies ahead for you as the world continues to shift in your favor.

You will meet many life long friends in college who will continue to show up throughout your entire career.

You’ll have a lot of challenges during your time in school. The work will be hard. If you are supporting yourself, working full time on top of school is especially difficult. You may get taken advantage of at internships. You might need to choose to spend an extra year in college instead of “graduating on time”, a concept with little meaning in a modern world. You may have to continue to secure more loans to fund your education. You’ll eat garbage and learn to drink coffee. You’ll make errors, you’ll forget bills and assignments, and you’ll struggle in some courses.

But the highlights of your college career are going to vastly outweigh these negatives. You’ll spend all night working on a project and be so thrilled to see what you were able to create. You’ll laugh and cry with your peers as you create silly and important pieces of art. You’ll learn new techniques and skills you never dreamed of having. You will have so many opportunities to show your talents and ask so many questions. You’ll exhibit your work to curious outsiders who believe you may as well be magical. You’ll find your path in this industry. You’ll discover your capabilities as a media professional and the world will open up for you.

Many internships in college are opportunities to do things you never thought you'd get to do.

Enjoy your years in college. As difficult as they may be at times, whatever your experience, they are truly special. You’re emerging as a media professional and finding your independence. You aren’t defined by anything or anyone. Your career decisions are fluid and always changing. It’s your time to grow. You get what you put into your college experience. And you’ll get what you put into the career that follows.

You can have any job you want in this industry. You can change your mind about what job you want. You will take a number of jobs along the way to help you climb that ladder. If someone tries to push you back as you climb upward from a job as an assistant or a coordinator, push them back twice as hard. You can do anything you want, and you don’t have to do anything anyone says is a “requirement” — ‘cos guess what? The industry is changing faster than some established professionals might acknowledge to you since those existing structures benefit them. Break those structures into bits on the ground.

The women in this industry are here and waiting for you.

Women and men who support you in our industry are waiting to be your mentors and guides and employers — and maybe someday, your employees. We’re thrilled you’re here, and we want you to know you can always count on us for anything you might need. You are our equal. But it’s secretly a little selfish of us: when you’re here, in your media program and then in the industry after you graduate, your story and presence is visible to the young women following in your footsteps, coming to face the same challenges you faced. But those challenges will be diminished with time. And as that cycle repeats itself, the representation of women in media will thrive like it never has before.

The next generation of women in media are more supportive and confident than ever before.

Congratulations on your new start on the path to a degree, and good luck in your studies. Go to class, don’t drink too much, and don’t listen to anybody that makes you feel less than.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 9, 2017 at 11:20:08 pm college advice, media programs, incoming freshmen

Bridging the Gap to Opportunity: A Conversation with 3 First-Time NAB Show Attendees

Imagine this: you’re in your early twenties, at the start of your career in post production. You come from a working class family with no connections in the media industry, and you’ve had many challenges to overcome along the way. You’ve been working hard to maintain momentum by keeping your bosses happy at your day job — a day job that doesn’t pay you quite what it should — while taking on side projects and extracurriculars at night. You do all the right things, including networking and getting involved in your community.

One day you get a notification: a technical paper you wrote as one of those late night extracurriculars has been accepted at an enormous industry conference! You’re invited to present it to your peers at the conference. Well, not really your peers so much as the kind of established industry professionals who have been interviewing and hiring you at this early stage. But at this conference, they’d be your peers. This opportunity would open many doors and grant you incalculable credibility. It’s career-changing.

But wait, back to reality. The conference is on the opposite side of the country. You don’t get paid time off, and you're in the middle of crunch time anyway. You work paycheck-to-paycheck, paying insanely high rent and endless student loans. You don’t have family to ask for a loan, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You have to turn down the opportunity.

A situation not so different from this is what led Blue Collar Post Collective co-founder Katie Hinsen to spearhead the creation of the Professional Development Accessibility Program, or PDAP. The program is aimed at helping emerging talent in the film and television post production industry further develop their skills by providing financial assistance to attend valuable industry conferences, trade shows and development opportunities. The Professional Development Accessibility Program helps to create a bridge between the industry and the diverse membership of the Blue Collar Post Collective, breaking down the financial barriers to prevent people from taking their careers to the next level. Bringing new faces to major events helps remind the wider industry that all professionals, including low income earners, have voices that are of equal value and importance to the post community.

PDAP was originally announced by Hinsen while she attended NAB in 2016, and the first three NAB recipients attended in 2017: Nolan Jennings, Tara Pennington, and Eugene Vernikov. They were selected by a committee who sorted through the applications for BCPC and received airfare, hotel and passes to NAB, including additional passes donated by the National Association of Broadcasters and Future Media Concepts.

PDAP recipients (L-R) Eugene Vernikov, Nolan Jennings, and Tara Pennington at the BCPC meet-up.

Nolan Jennings is an Assistant Editor working in dramatic television in Los Angeles. He wants to continue to work toward editing drama. He came into post production through serving as an executive assistant on a game show and realized he wanted to have a more creative role. While writing didn’t work out the way he would have wanted, his role on the game show involved running notes from the producers to editors. This exposed him to a combination of writing and creativity that could become a career. During the day when the editing bays were empty, he spent all his down time learning Avid through recutting old episodes. From there, he was able to find a post PA position and continue moving forward. Interestingly, Nolan was homeschooled as a child, which led to an ability to learn independently more efficiently — well suited for post production.

Tara Pennington is an Editor at Studio71 where she works on many different projects simultaneously, including marketing promotions, a digital series or a trailer. She knew she wanted to be an editor and managed to get a start while she was still living in Orlando. She moved to Los Angeles seven years ago and found her way into being an Assistant Editor for a company producing sports programming. Her dream is to continue to work toward editing features and scripted television. In addition to film school, Tara also attended School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She’s also a single mom raising a five year old boy.

Eugene Vernivok is a New York based Flame Assistant at Black Hole VFX. He’d like to continue his path into Flame and also branch out into directing. Unlike many people in the VFX industry who focus on one aspect of their craft, Eugene is well-versed in lighting, camera, and compositing.

I talked to the three recipients about their first-time experience at NAB and how PDAP granted them an opportunity they never would have gotten otherwise.

Kylee: How did you find out about the Professional Development Accessibility Fund and opportunities BCPC was offering through it?

Nolan: I found out about BCPC through a co-worker, and through going to meet-ups and events, learned about PDAP. I did not hesitate to apply, I’d always wanted to go to NAB, and jumped at the chance.

Tara: I found out through Blue Collar Post Collective on Facebook. I was excited to apply! I wasn’t sure if my income would meet the requirements, but I knew I couldn’t afford to go on my own so I decided to go for it! I really wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to propel my career forward.

Eugene: I've been with BCPC since the beginning! I was super happy to see it develop enough to be able to have a program such as PDAP launch! The only thing that made me even slightly hesitant to apply was just the minuscule chance that I would be chosen. But it ended up happening and I'm eternally thankful for that! 

A panel with the editorial team from Logan led by moderator Norman Hollyn.

What was your first impression of NAB when you arrived in Vegas?

Nolan: I thought the juxtaposition of tech nerds and gawking, half drunk Vegas gamblers was quite entertaining. Mind you, this was only in the hotel. Once I actually got to the convention center I was blown away by the scale of the place, the talent concentrated there, and how puny I felt in front of giant screens projecting the highest quality content on earth. I wish I was being hyperbolic, but NAB really is that impressive.

Tara: It was so huge! It was the day before the show floor opened, so it was frenetic but still contained. My first thought was that I wished I could be there for the whole week so I could experience everything.

Eugene: "This is Massive! That was the first thought. But I remember thinking I really like that it’s so big you can be there for the full three days and not get bored! Great experience! You can learn from the sessions. See the talented industry giants talk about their work and how they went about using technology and techniques to get the project done right. Its immersive and super eye opening. 

PDAPers attended Blackmagic Design's Monday morning press conference.

What made the NAB experience valuable to you personally?

Nolan: NAB made me realize that there are thousands of people with very similar interests to mine and there are thousands of people who are much more talented, more intelligent, and more passionate than me out there. It was incredibly humbling in the best way possible. It was not intimidating because all of those people were incredibly open and willing to talk to me, as if they’d known me for years. It was absolutely inspiring, like drinking one massive coffee that will sustain your professional curiosities for an entire year. Until the next NAB comes.

Tara: It was valuable for so many reasons. Some of it was the classes, the panels, but a lot of it was being able to meet people, talk with people. It was great to have Nolan and Eugene there, it made it easier to plan my day knowing we could do some things together or meet up for lunch. BCPC and Twitter were invaluable tools to know where to find people to talk to, and to be in on conversations happening around the conference on various subjects. I made some lasting connections and friendships that I know will follow me through my career. I was able to shake hands with people who have mentored me without knowing it through online tutorials and blogs.

Eugene: It helped me understand the technology that will be prevalent in the industry for tomorrow and the days beyond. It was a great help in meeting key industry people. It also allows you to share and discuss what we see with fellow BCPC members on the trip.  

Tara and Nolan looking at the Post Production World grid.

What classes in Post Production World did you attend that will have an impact on your career?

Nolan: I spent a lot of time in the Motion Graphics and HTML animations classes because I felt those could augment my existing skill sets. Which was a great idea. I came away with so many ideas on how to change my current workflows or how to implement new tools. I would recommend reaching outside your comfort zone and knowledge base, but only to the extent that it will have a tangible effect on your current skill set. There’s no point in spending tons of time in the VR/AR classes if you’re not going to be able to implement any of those lessons in a real world setting.

Tara: The Documentary Editing course for sure, as well as the panels giving a glimpse behind the scenes of the creation or post process.

Eugene: I attended them for After Effects. It was really great to see how some of the most successful commercial productions were able to masterfully embellish their spots with graphics. That was really great to see. I also attended the Autodesk Master Classes that were somewhat separate from the main show. Those were great. We learned about brand new SMPTE standards for HDR workflows, prototypical architecture being built into the Flame and 360 environment workflows. Really Impressive stuff. 

Getting some knowledge with Jason Levine today! #TeamAdobe #NABShow #bcpcnab

— Tara Pennington (@tarapenn83) April 25, 2017

Twitter was a vital tool at NAB!

What other kinds of valuable experiences did NAB have to offer, between classes and the show floor?

Nolan: I loved the Jungle Book presentation, hosted by Rob Legato. The way that movie was shot was incredible, and points to some fascinating implications for the future of movie production. I did not spend as much time on the show floor as the other PDAP recipients did. However, I did love the Adobe products and Blackmagic Resolve presentations.

Tara: The panel on Inclusiveness and Diversity was amazing, with wonderful powerful women who are part of shifting our industry into a hopeful new direction, advocating powerfully for change. Meeting the post team for Logan was pretty amazing as well. I love it when the layers of mystery are taken away and the process is revealed. It really makes me feel energized knowing that I could do what they do with just a bit more knowledge and experience of a particular workflow. It humanizes the process.

Tara hanging out with editors Monica Daniel and Adam Bedford at Adobe's party.

Eugene: Anything with Virtual Environment was my favorite. They've figured out a way to use Real-Time Rendering as a tool for interaction with the virtual environment. That, along with some new news coming from the people at Lytro Camera, was most exciting. Lytro has made a camera that records light fields instead of light particles. It is essentially a camera that collects enough data that, when manipulated via software, the footage can be altered to have different focus lengths, different shaped bokeh, not to mention a way to make an alpha out of 2D footage which eliminates the need for green screen keying. They cleverly named it Depth Screen. 

Tara: And I loved the show floor. It was a crazy, confusing mess sometimes, but it was really great to see future tech revealed and knowing what’s next for our industry. It was valuable to remind myself to stay on top of each of the new things. Any edge possible, knowing new technology or software, is something that will help me move my career forward. I also was able to meet some of the reps and people behind software or plugins that I use all of the time, and see some live demos too!

Eugene: The show floor is huge! You get to see the technology that you've both heard about and also never heard about demonstrated for you. Not to mention product releases, new product applications and you get to meet the professionals that help design, manufacture, and distribute these products. You also get to chat with them about the issues of the industry and that provides very helpful insights into where the industry might be in the future.

The show floor also grants the opportunity to see BCPC members up close while they demo their work, like Mae Manning showing her stuff at BorisFX.

You mentioned the social aspect of NAB, of meeting people and building relationships. Did you attend any events that were strictly social?

Nolan: Yes, I had a lot of fun at the Adobe Party, where I and the other PDAP recipients had the chance to meet the editing team from Logan, which was a real treat.

Tara: I went to our BCPC meet up of course, then the Adobe Party the next night which was my favorite. Also attended the Supermeet! It was great to relax after a full day, and even see panelists/presenters and get to talk with them in a more relaxed setting.  

Eugene: I attended the Supermeet, The Adobe party and the BCPC meetup. The Adobe party and BCPC meet-up were casual social events that allowed the social wiggle room to be able to talk to influential industry pros.

Tara hanging out at O'Shea's in Vegas during NAB.

What tangible things did you get out of NAB that you wouldn't have if you never attended?

Nolan: I would point to the lessons I learned in Post Production World. I applied those mograph and animation lessons the day I got back to Los Angeles and my work improved immediately.

Tara: I think it gave me confidence and perspective. Also knowledge. I learned so much! Oh, and a lot of new contacts that I know will help me, whether with knowledge or a job, or just someone to talk shop with and run ideas by.

Eugene: As a Flame assistant it allowed me to discuss the future of hardware and how companies are trying to make their products more professional and pro-friendly. This will shape how I use Flame in the future. It helps me decide whether to stay on the path I’m at or whether another choice is better based on the future of the software or hardware. Still going down the Flame path for now. 

Eugene relaxing between networking opportunities at Senor Frogs.

Why is it important for conferences like NAB to be accessible to all kinds of people?

Nolan: These experiences, if properly taken advantage of, can skyrocket an individual’s knowledge base and awareness of the industry in which they’re working. It’s important that people who can stand to benefit the most from that sort of leg up can actually attend.

Tara: NAB is a melting pot of knowledge and experience. Money shouldn’t have to separate the ability of some over others to attain that advantage.

Eugene: That way, everyone has a chance to progress and align their goals. The things you learn at  NAB are eye opening. So especially if you're not sure where you wanna be you might see a new technology being presented, or an amazing filmmaker give an inspiring presentation on how they achieved their film, or an industry pro talk about the state of the industry and that can easily be transformative and inspiring for young professionals in the industry and make choices based on the information they can get at NAB. It’s an inspiring place in general. 

What would you tell someone who is considering applying for a PDAP opportunity in the future, especially if they're hesitant to apply?

Nolan: I would remind them that the only way to grow is by pushing yourself into unknown territories, and also that you have friends and mentors in your life, you just haven’t met them yet.

Tara: I would say go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Eugene: The application takes literally a minute and if you've made your rounds at the BCPC meet ups and people know you're genuinely interested in the industry then its totally worth it for a fun. informational opportunity to represent this amazing organization. Not to mention help your fellow BCPC peeps gain some knowledge as well. The giving back is probably the most rewarding thing I've experienced at BCPC.

The first Red Epic Camera back from Space! @GoingPostalShow #NASA #NABShow

— Monica Daniel (@Monica_Edits) April 26, 2017

Community mentors like editor Monica Daniel helped give NAB some perspective through posting on social media and helping out PDAP recipients on the ground.

What’s the next step for you?

Nolan: I plan to start cutting independent projects in my spare time, and begin to build a resume and a reel that will allow me to go after editing jobs on the sort of shows I’m working on now.

Tara: I look forward to applying my experience to the job I have now, and I will continue to build on that base in order to achieve my goals. I look forward to meeting with the people I got to know while I was there, and I hope to be an advocate for diversity and change for the better in the world of post production.

Dody Dorn speaking at the Supermeet.

Eugene: Funny enough I had a phone interview on my way to Vegas and when I came back I had an offer to be a flame assistant for a company that was better suited to me and I work there now! With Felix, a fellow BCPC Member! I would really like to take the time and master Flame. And If I can work on weekends and shoot some films with close friends of mine. 

Did you have any unique experiences in Vegas that you wouldn't find elsewhere?

Nolan: NAB itself is one big unique experience. I have not seen that sort of environment replicated anywhere else. Also slot machines in the airport terminal. Had not seen that before.

Tara: I definitely don’t think I could attend a class on VR, attend a press conference for Blackmagic Design, and go to a party where I could mingle and talk with company executives and the editing team of Logan. Oh, and I also was able to attend a live interview at the Supermeet with Dody Dorn, one of my editing heroes!

Eugene: Just the amount of people you can meet and the caliber of professionals is unique to NAB. I've never seen so many important people in one place. And you'll be able to find someone somewhere there! 

The BCPC crowd at NAB.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:53:13 pm nab show, financial assistance

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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