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Academy’s Inclusion Internship Program Strikes Gold

For Angie Villafane, who grew up in Puerto Rico and went to school in San Jose State, movies were a “weekend ritual with my parents.”

For San Jose State library science student Villafane, the Academy Gold internship program was an entree point into the entertainment industry. In 2017, she was one of 69 interns in the diversity and inclusion initiative’s inaugural cohort. They attended workshops, networked and were paired with showbiz mentors.

On June 20, the newly minted 2019 class will enter the eight-week program run by the Academy’s Bettina Fisher, director of educational initiatives, and Niti Shah, the lead on Gold recruitment and strategy.

Starting with a two-day orientation, the interns learn everything from how to dress for success to how to effectively perform tasks and network. The interns then visit various studios and agencies, including Warner Bros., Disney and CAA, Fisher says.

The main thrust of the program is to develop a diverse pipeline of talent for the entertainment industry. Many of the interns from the first two years have already landed jobs.

At the end of the eight-week program, Shah runs an instructional “career details” workshop for the participants in which they learn how to do everything from crafting a winning resume to how to win over potential employers during an interview.

“When I see a student that has so much potential, they’ve got the raw talent, but they’re not writing the proper business letter, they’re not writing the proper essay or their personal statement,” she says. “So I do help coach them because I do think that organically that is part of the program.”

Although the program launched in 2017 after the “Oscars So White” campaign the previous year, Fisher says talks were already under way for a diversity initiative. But the controversy helped speed up the process. The Academy already had various diversity programs, but the members at large and education committees believed an industrywide program was sorely needed.

There is also a production track in which interns can participate in workshops on cinematography, costume and production design.

“We’ve actually had students come who were interested in one area, and have then said, ‘I’m actually more interested in being a cinematographer than an editor,’” Fisher says. “The [28] partners were really excited about signing on to this program.”

Kim Snyder, president and CEO of Panavision, signed on that first year. “While there is certainly opportunity for improvement on closing the diversity gap within the industry, seeing the Academy shepherd the industry on this front and take productive action made it easy for Panavision to choose to support this crucial initiative,” says Snyder.

Panavision is a financial sponsor and hires a couple of interns every summer, providing them with experience working in either camera rental operations or within its post-production services division, Light Iron, Snyder says.

“This program truly is the gold standard in our industry for developing and nurturing talent from underserved demographics and for providing this talent with a wealth of new contacts and real-world experience that will have an everlasting impact on their professional careers.”

Villafane, for instance, found a job as an archivist with Amblin Entertainment after interning at the Academy’s archives.

“Working in film preservation, it’s so cool,” she says. “I didn’t have that experience at all [before the program], it was an incredible opportunity. They were so open. And now I’m an archivist.”

In order to get the word out about the program, Fisher and Shah traveled to schools outside Hollywood’s influence. Not everyone was familiar with the Academy either, Shah says. On one campus, students who saw the word “Academy” on the banner assumed they were in education.

Jordan Rogers, who graduated last year from Morehouse College in Atlanta, had not heard of the program before he was nominated for it by Disney TV Group, where he was interning last summer.

“I had a very narrow vision on what the entertainment industry looked like,” says Rogers, who now works at Marvel Studios as a creative coordinator for franchise. “Knowing what was offered in the actual entertainment industry really, really helped.”

What he appreciated was the sense of community for a newcomer. “You all have each other’s back,” he says. “They give each other advice, encouragement if someone is having a difficult week.”

Knowing that someone had her back was what Disney Animation international publicist Erika Sanchez likes, too. “The program was amazing, but what made it better was being the first group,” she says.

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