This past summer, Ball State undergraduate student Anna Kate Hartwick took her skills to LA for an internship at Rainn Wilson’s production company, SoulPancake, where she worked closely with the company’s employees and with celebrities featured in their videos. In the following post, Anna describes her experiences and how her education as a Telecommunications major and Creative Writing minor helped her while there.
“How would I describe myself? Three words: hard working, alpha male, jackhammer…merciless…insatiable…” –Dwight Schrute
When people ask me how I spent my summer, it’s easy to tell them I moved to Los Angeles and worked for a production company called SoulPancake. They giggle at the name, and ask what I did there. I try to summarize three months of grueling hard (but awesome) work in a few sentences. Then, I quickly wrap up the conversation and move along with my busy day. Sometimes I tell them my boss was Rainn Wilson, and usually they don’t blink an eye. They sip their coffee, tell me they’re happy I made the leap to discover the wonders of Hollywood, congratulate me on all my hard work, and eventually forget we had the conversation. But, if I have a few moments to spare, I’ll speak in a language almost every television-lover in America will understand. “You know Dwight Schrute, from NBC’s The Office? Yeah… um… he was my boss.”
How did I end up as an intern for Dunder Mifflin’s most eccentric and slightly psychotic paper salesman? To put it simply… hard work and a tiny connection. I’ve been crafting my skills as a video production student since I was a child by stealing the family video camera and making short films with my stuffed animals (Gasp! My first film was edited on Windows Movie Maker version 1.0). When I decided to go to school at Ball State, I made a commitment that I would use all of the resources they offered me and push myself to learn as much as I could about video production. I joined after school activities, aligned myself with talented friends, and worked to build a resume and video portfolio that I hoped a company would have trouble saying no to. I even added a creative writing minor to help craft a creative workflow that I could use for writing my own screenplays. I immersed myself in writers and poets who told stories on paper, and I pulled inspiration from their imaginative minds to create visual entertainment that people actually wanted to watch.
I kept in touch with the wonderful Andrew Meredith, an actor from Fort Wayne that I had worked with before. He had recently moved to L.A. and was thriving with jobs all over the city as a production assistant. In looking for general internships, I texted him, asking if he knew of any companies out West who may be interested. It happened that he lives down the street from the SoulPancake office, had done some work for them, and was friends with a lot of the employees; he showed them my website, hooked me up with a Skype interview, and boom! There I was, looking up at the tree-speckled mountains splashed with the huge white word I only dreamed of seeing: Hollywood. I wasn’t nervous to be there, I was excited. I knew that my efforts in school and my current job at The Digital Corps (a group within Ball State’s Emerging Media department) had prepared me as much as possible for this experience. I was ready.
SoulPancake describes themselves as “a brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor designed to open your mind, challenge your friends, and make you feel damn good.” Rainn Wilson founded this company with two of his friends, not knowing exactly what SoulPancake would turn into. Currently, they have an interactive website, a New York Times Best Selling Book, and a famous YouTube channel full of inspirational videos that they’ve created. One of the most popular series is Rainn Wilson’s talk-show called Metaphysical Milkshake, where Rainn kidnaps celebrity guests and asks them questions about life in the back of a 1970’s van. How could I ask for anything more awesome to be a part of?
It gets better. SoulPancake is small, but rapidly growing, which made it a perfect place for a little intern like me. I was able to get to know all the full-time employees individually, and get my hands dirty with every aspect of the video production process from pre-production to post. Rainn is a busy man; so three lovely and inspiring women actually kept the company running on a daily basis, and were in the SP offices every day. Rainn appeared periodically for meetings, celebrations, shoots, and to just say hi. Once he came in and shouted “I’m only here to use the bathroom and get some money!” and he did just that. Another time he came in with a leather jacket on (he had just arrived on his new motorcycle), beaming and showing off some fresh ink: a nine pointed star on his wrist representing the Baha’i symbol of unity. When Rainn was in the office, it was like he would spark an electric current within us and excite us for the work ahead. He was always playful, insightful, and so incredibly friendly to anyone and everyone he was around.
Did he act like Dwight? Not exactly… but I can see why he was a perfect match to play such a crazy character.
My duties were sometimes to drive across the weaving highways of the city to pick up and return camera equipment. I always dreaded it since my commute to work was anywhere between forty-five minutes to two hours depending on traffic. But most often, the wonderful video production team of SoulPancake would include me on shoots. Obviously getting to be on set was more than magical. I went over a script directly with Steve Carell before a shoot once. He probably was wondering why my voice was shaking so much but… oh well. I worked with Robby Novak, better known as Kid President: The Tiny President of the United States of America. I wrote rough scripts for Rainn’s Metaphysical Milkshake episodes with Russell Brand and with Olivia Wilde. I wrote and directed four “Street Team” episodes with the two other video production interns. I even got to shoot a live performance for a local Los Angeles band.
The fact that the SoulPancake team put that much trust in me is something I will be forever grateful for. My creative writing minor taught me how to be creative on a tight time frame and write quickly, but well. Also (high school me would be so mad), the research papers I’ve written in my English classes allowed me to be swift in finding background information for scripts and general inquiries the company needed me to craft. I felt like they wanted me to make mistakes and learn from them. They wanted me to feel the freedom to create and to help them create. They treated me like an employee, not an intern, and pushed me to build my portfolio and resume during my time with them. I’ve heard internship horror stories where people are used only to get coffee, make copies, and carry equipment. Luckily, my time at SoulPancake surpassed any expectation for a learning experience that I hoped for.