Embracing the unexpected

  • May 1, 2017

By Michelle Karim

I never had an inkling of what to expect when I applied to Ark Media for an internship. It’s not a publication- it is a production house that creates documentaries for PBS. 

I remember being confused on my first day as to how to begin doing my research. But I found a friendly face in a researcher I met who helped me throughout my internship. She showed me the ropes of what tools to use and what topics to cover each day. I realized very quickly that for these kind of projects to work, you have to be very organized, and Google Drive is how the team organized all its material: by shoot dates, hours of the show, possible interview subjects.

Most of my responsibilities involved doing research on topics such as the new Crispr/Cas9 genetic engineering technology and on scientists like Jennifer Doudna, who was responsible for the technology. I read a lot of interesting books and came up with questions for interview subjects. This bit was specifically difficult because I had to know exactly how to frame my answers so we could get specific answers tailored for television.

  I also learned how to organize interview shoots professionally. A lot of planning and thoughtful consideration goes into scouting the area around the shoot location and preparing for logistics such as emergency rooms, hardware stores, parking spaces and other amenities.

I was lucky enough to assist on the shoot for the first subject I had researched, which involved a writer for The New Yorker, John Colapinto, who wrote a book about a boy who lived as a girl until the age of 14 and then underwent sex reassignment surgery. I worked on this harrowing story for three weeks. I crafted questions for the interview, and watching my producer ask Colapinto questions based on my research was a pretty great moment of personal achievement.

Every day I did my research was a learning experience for me, from learning how to come up with perfect questions to where to find contact information for old scientists who have shied away from public life or just aren’t great with keeping up appearances. It was surprising to know how many high-profile scientists live a life sans technology. 

Throughout my time at Ark, I learned how producers constantly come up with new ideas and spend months doing research and creating a proposal for the documentary to get picked up by a major media outlet. I learned how small production companies always have certain money-making projects that are in the filming process so that bigger, better projects can get more time and funding for production.

At Ark Media, I made some great connections. I had the opportunity to pick some of the brightest and best minds in the industry and look to them for guidance regarding my future. And I got a production assistant position on an independent film through one of my best connections at Ark. Interning at Ark has made me want to go into film in the future and create movies that have social and political impact on our society.

This was not only a learning experience in production but also a learning process for my true passion. I still love writing, but the idea of creating films has taken a strong hold on me, and I intend to do something about it through the connections that I have formed at Ark.

My advice to all those out there would be to keep in touch with every person they meet in the field who will take the time out of their day to respond to their emails and go out for coffee and chat with them about journalism and their real passion in life. That can make all the difference in the world of film. It is not What you know but Who you know.