I recently returned home from the internship experience of a lifetime. I’m still trying to process the opportunity I was given. If you are planning on entering the entertainment industry in absolutely any way, then you need to know about NATPE.
The National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) meets annually at the NATPE Market and Conference held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, Florida. This conference is essentially a big meeting place where hundreds of television executives, content creators, and technology developers come to pitch, buy, and sell TV shows as well as buy/sell technology related to entertainment in some way. They also like to have a good time while they’re there. It’s Miami.
The planets and stars aligned and I was chosen as one of the forty student interns for the conference, selected from all over the country.
I landed in Miami (we’re already off to a good start) and my jaw dropped upon stepping foot inside the Fontainebleau. I was immediately intimidated. I’ve never been surrounded by so many important-looking people. The lobby even smelled nice. I’ve never experienced a hotel lobby that smelled that nice. How do they do that? Maybe if I saved up for a whole year, I could afford a room there for a few days. Thankfully, NATPE was generous enough to put us up in the hotel and feed us for the whole week.
Upon meeting my fellow interns that night and getting to know them over the course of the next few days, I could tell why they were each selected. These students are competitive, driven, and hungry. They were also some of the nicest, friendliest, and most inspiring friends I’ve ever had the pleasure of making. We all major and/or work in the same basic area: media and communications. Broadcasters, filmmakers, writers, journalists, you name it. These friendships grew quickly.
There weren’t more than two students from any given school. However, twenty of us were selected from all over the country and the other twenty were selected from the Miami area. When we attended our first meeting, we were told that above all, our recommendation letters were the biggest reasons why we were selected. That, combined with a solid résumé, narrowed down the selection pool easily for the NATPE coordinators. This is why it is so important to cultivate relationships with your professors and bosses that share the same interests as you. Ask them questions. Get to know them, help them out, and become friends. Find out how their specific knowledge can help you out, because I promise they would love to. Not only can you go to them for career advice, but when the time comes to apply for internships and jobs, they can write you a great recommendation letter. Secondly, well-formatted and professional cover letters are absolutely essential. They explained that the majority of the cover letters they received were extremely poorly written, redundant (the same information was included in the cover letter and résumé), full of clichés, and/or poorly formatted. It should look like an actual business letter, and internship cover letters should be written with the same care and attention to detail as major job application cover letters.
Our duties for the conference included all sorts of tasks that made everything run smoothly for the attendees. We packed hundreds of bags that were given away to each guest, offered assistance and location information in lobbies and hallways, ran messages and random errands all over the hotel, and gave out NATPE Daily magazines. A few of us were also chosen to be the personal escorts of some of the higher-profile NATPE guests, including Steve Levitan, the creator of “Modern Family,” and John Langley, the creator of “COPS.”
The Market, pictured above, consists of a huge amount of booths with representatives from assorted entertainment, television, production, and distributor companies/agencies from all over the world. And when I say “all over the world,” I mean it. Spanish soap opera production companies? Check. Taiwanese animation studios? Check. The bigger studios (NBC, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, etc.) weren’t on the Market floor, however. They had their own suites high up in the hotel somewhere, and I couldn’t pop my head in because they were invite only. Serious business.
NATPE hosted a series of sessions and panels for audiences called “Storytellers that Shaped the Face of Pop Culture” featuring conversations with the creators, showrunners, producers, and writers of these TV shows: “Modern Family,” “The Office,” “The Walking Dead,” “LOST,” “Heroes,” “CSI,” “CSI:NY,” “Dexter,” “Law & Order,” “Homeland,” “Frasier,” and “Swamp People.” There were also panels featuring conversations with the CEO’s of some of the companies behind the world’s top YouTube channels and new media startups. The interns worked these sessions, making sure the doors didn’t slam, assisting with live streams, and escorting the talent to and from the ballroom. I was lucky enough to work a few of these sessions, including one moderated by Larry King featuring Tim Kring (the former showrunner of “Heroes”) and Anthony Zuiker (the creator of “CSI”). My favorite panel that I worked featured a conversation between Damon Lindelof (the former showrunner of “LOST”) and Glenn Mazzara (“The Walking Dead” showrunner). Not only did I get an inside look at two of my favorite shows ever, but I was also able to glean some career advice from two incredible storytellers.
Lindelof and Mazzara spoke about the difficult balancing act that showrunners and television writers must face. Audiences want everything to be planned out (so that nothing feels like “they’re just making it up as they go along”), but they also want to feel heard. They want the writers to take their feelings and reactions into consideration when making the show. So, if the writers make changes to the show based on audience feedback, what happened to the grand master plan that the writers were supposed to have all along? You can’t have both, so television writers (especially for narrative, mystery-driven shows like “LOST”) must learn to find that happy medium in-between. Of course, not all shows do this, but it’s a specific struggle Lindelof had to face when writing “LOST.” After they spoke, one of my intern friends was able to speak to Lindelof for a minute, and Lindelof explained that he didn’t just decide to write “LOST” one day. He “worked his butt off” to get there. This is seemingly perfect career advice for any profession, but in the entertainment industry, it’s all about years of consistent hard work, a good attitude, and knowing people.
The student interns were at the conference to make sure that everything ran smoothly, but the cherry on top was the incredible amount of networking opportunities that were waiting for each of us around every corner. We were completely immersed in a crowd of the top individuals that run the television and entertainment industry, and we took advantage of that. Because it’s true – one of the most important aspects about working in the entertainment industry is that it’s all about who you know. As we worked our various jobs throughout the duration of the conference, we each had our business cards at the ready. We were told to have our “pitches” ready – that is, if you find yourself suddenly in front of a high-profile executive (which I did at one point), you need to be able to introduce yourself, sell yourself, and get what you need in about five to ten seconds. Some people call it an “elevator pitch.” It’s essential, and I was so grateful for the practice.
So, when I found myself nearby a former NBC Co-Chairman/Producer of “The Office,” I waited for an opportunity to get a quick word in. This was an almost impossible feat by itself, considering that he was getting bombarded with dozens of people constantly taking pictures with him, handing him business cards, and introducing themselves. And on top of that, he was on the way out of the building and moving quickly. I probably had about five to ten seconds max if I could get his attention. But the moment finally came, and I jumped in and introduced myself. My “pitch” went something like this: “Hi, my name is Taylor Shofner, I’m a writer and director and I’m majoring in advertising and visual communications. I’m about to graduate and move out to LA; could I get an email address from you so I can send a résumé your way?” I immediately handed him a pen and piece of paper, and he happily wrote down an email address for me. My “pitch” was a little clunky, but I said it quickly, I told him everything necessary, and it actually worked while leaving him with a good impression of me.
What you don’t want to do is annoy the person. There were several times throughout the internship where an personal escort would constantly bug the TV executive by trying to pitch them a horrible TV show idea. Above all, that’s just rude. Be realistic, be honest, be friendly, and try to get an email address at the very least. You have nothing to lose if you go about talking with them and “pitching yourself” in the right way.
The other skill that young professionals need before diving into the entertainment industry is the ability to socialize and make friends easily. I found that out firsthand when the student interns were granted access to the lavish poolside after-parties each night of the conference. While I was busy pinching myself, I suddenly had to figure out how to go up to someone important that I didn’t know and strike up an extended conversation with them as opposed to pitching myself in five seconds. This was one of the more difficult things I had to learn how to do, but it was actually fun once I stepped out of my shell a little more. The interns also helped each other out by starting conversations with executives and then including other interns. The final night of the conference entailed a trip to Club LIV for the after-party with a surprise Fitz and the Tantrums concert. NATPE doesn’t mess around.
Above all, I believe the most valuable thing that I’ll take away from this internship will be the friendships I’ve made with all of the other interns. One day, I hope to work with some of them when we start our careers in this insane industry. I know that they will be the ones attending the NATPE conference in the future as the next generation of high-profile guests, and I’ll be witnessing their every step until they get there. We’ve still got a group text going.
Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions about NATPE, and you can read more about the organization HERE. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity.
Follow me @TaylorShofner.