STEPHANIE BLEYER produces engagement campaigns and raises funds for social issue documentaries. Some of her current and past clients include Academy Award nominees Gasland and Sun Come Up, BBC’s Why Poverty?, The Documentary Group’s 10×10, Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, Planet Green’s No Impact Man, PBS’ To Be Heard and OWN’s One Lucky Elephant. Stephanie has studied organic farming in Italy, bicycled across Cuba on a grant to study sustainable energy, created a documentary for Oxygen about her social action bicycle trip from Seattle to Washington D.C., produced a 35-city bus tour for the Eat Well Guide to promote family farming, produced an international conference for a 9/11 family group, produced the opening of Mercy Corps’ Action Center to End World Hunger, worked at a performing arts school for street boys in Kenya and managed displacement camps for thousands of tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. Stephanie holds a Masters of Public Administration from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Stephanie Bleyer has a lot on her plate. How does she keep up with it all? Here’s what she told us:
I always have at least four interns working with me; they are my tentacles, my foot soldiers and my secret weapon. On average, 25% of the tasks I assign my interns are administrative and the rest of the work is challenging, creative and cerebral. To keep them engaged, I know I need to build their skill set and give them a sense of ownership over their work. I give them a lot of responsibility with minimal oversight, which empowers them and saves me a hell of a lot of time. There’s usually a one-month learning curve, I start out slow with them and then build up so they take on more and more responsibility and require less and less of my time.
Many social issue filmmakers involved in outreach and engagement campaigns would like to work with interns but are worried about quality control. How do you give meaningful work to interns and assure excellent outcomes?
The quality of interns can vary pretty widely but I’ve figured out a few simple ways to insure some quality control:
1. I only hire grad students, never post-grads and rarely undergrads (unless they are experienced and exceptionally mature). Post-grads will either quit on you once they find a paying gig or they will expect you to start paying them within a month of working. My interns work virtually so it doesn’t matter where they live but it does matter to me that they are current students enrolled in quality programs.
2. I don’t hire film students because they rarely care about learning about outreach and engagement. I hire writers and organizers, students studying marketing and communications and young people who are very passionate about the issue that the film addresses.
3. I post my job ad on career boards for the top schools in the country, never on craigslist or on filmmaking job boards and rarely Idealist. I also distribute the job ad through my social network and on the Facebook page for the film so I can find interns who are already familiar with the film.
During a number of our recent trainings and consultations, filmmakers have expressed concern that it takes too much time to train and manage interns. How extensive is your orientation and training of interns?
If you choose the right interns you shouldn’t need more than a one-hour orientation. I require them to read every page on the film’s website before the orientation and I expect that for the first month they’ll need some guidance and that it will lessen over time.
How often to you check-in with them and how do you make sure they are “on track”?
My interns check in every Monday morning and Friday afternoon. We email throughout the week and they call me when they’re stuck. We meet face-to-face maybe once or twice during the internship.
How do you create incentives for unpaid interns to stick with a project?
I incentivize interns in three ways:
1) I organize career building brown bag luncheons twice throughout the semester. During the brown bag I give them an hour lecture about getting, finding and keeping a job. Part two of the career-building luncheon is a one-on-one session where I rip their resumes to shreds and help them rebuild it. They love this.
2) I challenge them.
3) I only ask that they work 10 hours/week.
Are there pitfalls that you have learned to avoid in your experience with interns?
Top 5 lessons:
1) Commitment. I just lost two interns in a two-week time period. Two of these interns were grad students but weren’t receiving credit, and mid-semester they felt overwhelmed with the internship and school and work. If they were receiving credit, it would have prevented them from leaving. I make it very clear up front that I need a four-month commitment, and 99% of the time the interns live up to their commitment.
2) Generation Text. Most of my interns are afraid of calling people up on the telephone and I have to constantly push them to pick up the phone if they haven’t received a response to their emails.
3) Communication. Because my interns all work virtually, I need them to over-communicate with me. I constantly have to remind my interns to let me know where things stand.
4) Overwork. I have a tendency to pile work on my interns expecting they’ll get it all done efficiently and well. I’ll have the rare intern who can’t meet deadlines and ultimately creates more work for me with the quality of their work. They don’t last.
5) Dear Stephanie Bleyer. This is not a pitfall; it’s just a funny thing that every single one of my interns does when they first start with me. They think the proper way to address someone in an email is Dear first name, last name.
To inquire about Stephanie Bleyer’s audience outreach and engagement services, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Really an impressive and thoughtful way to work – I can only imagine that this form of team-building and training creates great rewards on all sides of the equation. Bravo!