By Amanda Alexander
Working on a TV set and rubbing elbows with celebrities may seem like a glamorous job, but there is plenty of hard work and sacrifice involved, as senior Kelly Anne Burke discovered this summer.
Burke, an English major, spent the summer in Manhattan working with Grant Wilfley Casting as an unpaid casting intern. The company casts for primarily background work and extras for primetime TV shows and movies. As Burke aspires to be a casting director or associate, the internship was the perfect way for her to get her start in the industry.
“The only way to break into this field is through an internship,” she said. Burke’s internship was unique in that she found it through the University of Dreams program on summerinternships.com. “Since I work at Career Services, I was familiar with the whole process of finding an internship,” Burke said. Using the web resources provided by the Career Services website, she then found the University of Dreams program and applied for a spot. Once accepted, Burke was guaranteed an internship.
“An agent works with you and coaches you on what to say in an interview,” Burke explained. The agent then sets up interviews for potential internships. If the first potential employer doesn’t hire the intern, a second interview is set up. “I was lucky enough to get my first,” Burke said. She was hired over the phone and moved to Manhattan for the summer.
After paying a flat rate to University of Dreams which Burke said was relatively inexpensive, the program set her up with housing, meals and a subway card. Burke lived in a dorm at NYU and worked with the casting company from May 25 to July 18. While she was scheduled to work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, many days ended around 8 p.m. “For that kind of job, you’re always waiting on phone calls, actors and producers,” she said.
“It’s a big waiting game sometimes,” she said as the only thing she didn’t like about the job. A typical day in her internship involved checking messages and returning phone calls as soon as she got to her desk, then looking at skins with the senior casting associate. Skins are lists from the producing company that include the people who will be on set that day, the people that are needed to fill parts, and the number of scenes they will be needed for. Burke and the senior casting associate would then line up the list of actors who fit the criteria on the skins and call them to find out if they were available.
For each part, Burke had to find someone that fit the criteria needed. For this purpose, the casting company has folders arranged according to people’s specialties. Folders for men who are overweight, women who look like men and strippers were all available for Burke to find the perfect person for the part. Rather than being insulted to be considered for these parts, the extras were always happy to get a call for work.
While her job involved a lot of waiting, Burke was also able to roll up her sleeves and really get involved in the process of casting. “I got to do a lot more than I expected,” she said. “I got to go on TV sets and movie sets and go to production parties. I didn’t expect that at all.”
Some of the projects Burke got the chance to work with were “Ugly Betty,” “Law & Order: SVU,” the movie “Bride Wars” and the movie “The Rebound.”
Burke’s favorite thing about the internship was “learning more about the industry I want to work in.” Not only did she learn the ins and outs of the job, she learned what it’s like to balance a career in casting with a social life. “I learned that my field is much more demanding than I imagined,” she said. “It’s hard to have a personal life as well as a successful career.” Burke said many of her coworkers were at the office each day until midnight.
The most exciting aspect of her job was “going on the sets. I got to see a lot of famous people… and watch how a TV set is put together,” she said. Burke got to work with the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.
More importantly, she was able to walk away confident that she will excel in this field. She said the most valuable thing she gained from her internship was “truly knowing that that’s exactly what I want to do.” She added, “It opened a lot of doors for me. I was offered a job there, but I wanted to graduate first.”
Burke’s internship continues to provide opportunities for her as she gets through her senior year. Thanks to her connections in Grant Wilfley Casting, she was informed of an opportunity to help cast for MTV’s “The Real World” in State College in October. It was due to her experience this summer that she was chosen to help cast for the show. “MTV never would have hired me for the day if I had not had the experience,” she said.
The class that most helped Burke through her internship was the directing class she took when she had theatre as a second major. Though she dropped this major and was only able to complete the internship as an external experience rather than receive credit for it, Burke considers it completely worth it. “It was what I expected and more,” she said.
For anyone who wants to find an internship like hers, Burke said, “Be prepared for anything… and for long hours.”