Film and Media Internships Offer Penn Students a Chance to Learn and Network

Through the generosity of alumni and others in the entertainment industry, seven University of Pennsylvania students in the Cinema and Media Studies program have the opportunity this summer to intern at film, television and digital media companies. 

The internships offer students real-world experience in areas such as graphic design, writing, conducting research and reviewing scripts, as well as an opportunity to network in the industry.

A gift from alum Dick Wolf, producer of the “Law and Order” television franchise, established new cinema and media studies internship opportunities, which since 2011 have provided $5,000 stipends to interns to defray living and travel costs.

Cinema and media studies has also offered an internship with the theater chain Caribbean Cinemas in Puerto Rico since 2005, an internship supported by alumna Lorraine Carrady Quinn.

“This support provides opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t have the means or connections. Not everyone can afford to work for the summer without pay,” said Peter Decherney, professor of cinema and media studies and of English and coordinator of the cinema and media studies internships. “Either they would need another job or wouldn’t have the opportunity to work at a production company or as an assistant to a screenwriter or for a non-profit company." 

"One of the most valuable things about the internship is that so often students have a narrow sense of the kind of career options that are available in film and media. They know about being directors and screenwriters, but, once they’re exposed to production companies or distribution companies or theater chains, they see the huge range of opportunities both on the creative side and the business side.”

This summer, students are interning at companies including New Horizons Pictures in Los Angeles with producer Julie Corman, at Jigsaw Productions in New York City with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and at PBS Children’s Programming and Development in Arlington, Va., with alumna Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming.

“Interns get the full experience here,” said Simensky, “I try to build the internship for them that I would like to have.”

Simensky, who also teaches a history of animation class in Penn’s Cinema and Media Studies program, said she designs the internship to allow the intern to participate in all aspects of what is happening in the department. This includes contributing or reviewing ideas for shows, working with show creators and collaborating with people in other departments on anything from approving scripts to scheduling shows.

“I’ll be getting things in and I’ll say, ‘Hey, why don’t you look at these pitches with me? We’re going to talk to this creator in two days,’” said Simensky. “Someone else will say, ‘Here are some scripts. I’m going to give feedback on these scripts in 48 hours. Take a look at these.’”

She said that during the seven-week internship at PBS the student intern is considered a valued team member. 

“They are not completely responsible for any one thing, but they are giving feedback which is taken very seriously,” said Simensky. “One of the jokes that we make is that our interns are closer in age to our audience than we are, so it’s wise for us to pay attention to what they’re thinking.”

As an undergrad at Penn in the early 1980s, Simensky, a communications major with a minor in history, worked as the programming director at UTV, the campus television station.

She said the four internships she had at Viking Penguin in children’s publishing and in broadcast at Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon and KYW-TV’s "Evening Magazine" gave her experience that helped shape her career.

“Some of those internships helped me decide what I didn’t want to do,” she said. “But some of the internships, like the one at Nickelodeon, had a huge impact on me. I knew I wanted to work in animation and children’s programming.”

After graduating from Penn, Simensky was hired at Nickelodeon, where she worked for nine years helping to build its animation department and launch shows such as “Rugrats,” “Doug” and “The Ren and Stimpy Show.” 

“Nickelodeon was a helpful internship to have,” she said. “It was so enlightening for me. That’s probably why I look at these internships as being so important and so formative and such learning experiences.”

After Nickelodeon, Simensky worked at the Cartoon Network overseeing development and series production. “The Powerpuff Girls” is among the shows she helped launch. 

“I always tell my students it doesn’t matter what you major in as long as it’s something you’re really interested in,” she said. “At these jobs you’re going to use a lot of different skills. My knowledge of history has come in as handy as my knowledge of the history of television. My understanding of storytelling is probably the most important thing.”

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