Thinking about starting up an internship program at your studio? Already have one, but it needs a bit of an overhaul? Zerply’s got you covered. Follow these steps and you might turn your young, impressionable interns into rockstar employees.

Years ago, I interned at a variety of entertainment-related companies that focused on such things as script development, comics publishing and animated feature film production. Fast forward a few years and I’ve ushered 30+ interns through the Education department at DreamWorks Animation. Point being, I’ve been on both sides of the internship equation and have seen firsthand the right way – and the wrong way – of running an internship program.

Internships in the entertainment field have a reputation for being incomplete or just downright terrible. With so much competition for so few positions, it is easy to forget that internships are, at their core, job apprenticeship programs that can provide tangible benefits to a company.

If you’ve ever considered the benefits of starting up an internship program at your company or are looking at improving the state of your current program, these tips are meant to help you. They are applicable to Animation, Film, Games or any entertainment-related industry. With the right guidance and the right framework, you can mold your intern into the future employee your company needs.

Lay the groundwork.

You flat out will not be able to pull this off without the assistance of your fellow co-workers. Period.

Prior to starting your internship program, identify the members of your staff who would be willing to carve out some precious time from their schedules to serve as mentors, teach classes or otherwise be a support network for your incoming batch of talent.

These should be staffers with plenty of patience and a desire to share. If you can find a team member who has teaching experience in either a collegiate environment or through an online school, they generally tend to have the correct mindset. If you have a hard time finding someone to volunteer as a mentor, a nice reminder to share is that serving as a mentor is a great trial run for anyone considering future leadership positions.

Along the same lines, a highly effective way of exposing your intern to the various facets of production is to schedule regular talks with representatives from each department.  The exposure to these resources will help cement their understanding of the process. It might require a fair amount of logistical wrangling to ensure that the timing is convenient for everyone and the content is relevant to the interns but the returns are worth it.

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

You are investing in the learning potential of your intern. Their ultimate goal is to absorb as much information in as little time as possible. Providing learning opportunities as a regular part of their day to day experience is paramount to making the whole program worthwhile.

You may find interns who are driven, eager and always willing to check off tasks. While it is important to encourage their self-starting initiative, they are not here to do your dirty work. Let me make sure that’s crystal clear – interns are not cheap labor.

Hiring an intern because you have menial tasks that you need to complete is doing the intern – and your company – a disservice. It is a flat out waste of their time. That intern is guaranteed to tell his/her friends about the experience and your future intern candidate pool will shrink accordingly. While we’re on the subject…

Get your own damn coffee.

If you are the type of individual who views interns as personal assistants to fetch your morning cup of coffee, you should not have an intern. And don’t give me that garbage about “paying your dues” or “I had to do it when I was starting.” It’s crap and you know it.

Respect your intern as a colleague. You never know if that intern is going to be your boss someday. If they are treated like dirt, they will resent the whole experience and you could lose a potentially valuable employee. Or they might spit in your coffee.

Identify their strengths and desires early.

While some of the larger studios have the benefit of University Relations departments to source their candidates, this may not be a luxury that’s feasible for your team. As you review resumes, reels and/or portfolios, try to identify that intern’s career objectives. Sometimes it is very obvious. Sometimes not as much. If you can tell what they want to do prior to an interview, it will make your life that much easier when it comes time to structuring their internship. (More on that in Part 2).

Respect goes a long way – so does money.

When I was an intern, the entertainment industry was notorious for shady business practices when it came to non-paid internships. Just because you have hundreds of candidates applying for a single position, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay someone for their time. While “for-credit” internships are quite common, asking a student to pay thousands of dollars in school tuition just for the “privilege” of working for you leaves a bitter, unethical taste.

If your company can only offer “for-credit” internships, you need to ensure you can reliably demonstrate the educational value of your program as the Department of Labor has cracked down on egregious offenders in recent years.

However, if at all possible, pay your interns. With money. Even minimum wage goes a long way when you’re trying to survive as a starving student.

Likewise, respect interns’ schedules. Unless it’s a summer internship, your intern will be juggling classes in addition to their internship. In my experience, I would also have the occasional intern who would be working another part-time job as well. As you can imagine, it can sometimes be overwhelming for them. So, if they ask you for time to take a mid-term or to go visit their family for spring break, have some sympathy for the stress levels associated with their situation. They are, after all, students.

Now You’re Ready

In the next article, we’ll dive into insider tips to get the most from your intern program.