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Class of: 2015
Internship: Florentine Films, New York, Summer 2012
This summer, I worked at Ken Burns’ film production company Florentine Films as a research assistant and intern for Vietnam. Before starting work, I was asked by co-producers to prepare by reviewing 20th–century American cultural, social, and political history. In particular, they asked me to examine cultural and social history from the end of the “Ike” administration through the Watergate scandal. They asked that I be familiar with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Neil Sheehan’s The Bright Shining Lie, and Michael Herr’s Dispatches. Additionally, I watched Vietnam related films including Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Deer Hunterand Full Metal Jacket. Finally, I also sampled several of Mr. Burns’ previous documentaries including Brooklyn Bridge, The War, Civil War, Prohibition, Jazz, and National Parks. This independent study paper will seek to recount eight weeks working at Florentine.
When my application was accepted, I did not know what to expect. It was my first summer internship in any field. Florentine, which has its major office in New Hampshire, has a small 6-person office on Sixth Avenue and 31st Street in New York City, where I worked.
I conducted research on journalists, writers, photographers, veterans, POWs, politicians, and veterans’ families. I also assisted in researching and exploring historical events from the perspective of both the Anti-Communist and Communist forces. Additionally, I transcribed interviews and footage from several databases including ABC, NBC, The National Archives, The U.S. Army, The U.S. Air Force, and several news bureaus.
I assisted in selecting footage from Florentine’s own interviews with journalists, photographers, veterans, POWS, Viet Cong loyalists and Vietnamese villagers. A POW who survived for several years in South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese prison camps; an ex-Marine who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological traumas; an African American Marine who was a target of virulent racism stemming from the Civil Rights Era; the mother of a deceased soldier; an anti-war activist and violent protestor; and an Associated Press Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, are among interviews that I also vetted.
In addition, I worked several days in the New York Public Library Microfilm Archives and Rose Reading Room, exploring old newspaper clippings, photographs, interviews and historical journals. I assisted in tracking down documents that had been spread out across the United States, for example, working with the NYPL and Florentine to find and execute an inter-library loan from the University of Kentucky Library to the New York Public Library for further review.
I helped work on a database that logged important music from the 1960’s used to gather material relating to the home front and the cultural revolution of the time period.
I also established and helped create a photography database for Florentine that will ultimately organize every photograph from the Vietnam project, including every book, newspaper clipping, and journal. It will allow photojournalists working on the project to contact photographers and archives to access and acquire photographs for the documentary.
Finally, I received on-set training when I assisted on the set and interview of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer. I helped coordinating the interview and providing help needed throughout the 12-hour shoot.
I had a fantastic time working at Florentine this summer. I learned extremely valuable skills. In addition to gaining experience with databases, libraries, newspaper archives, transcription of film, basic editing, and microfilm techniques, I learned the importance of resourcefulness, organization, diligence and dedication. Since the office was so small, and there were only 6 other employees, I worked in extremely close proximity to all of the professionals. I had responsibility and was kept extremely busy.
I highly recommend that any student interested in history and documentary film pursue an opportunity at Florentine Films. In particular, because the producers and researchers at Florentine identify themselves as “historians first, filmmakers second,” I recommend Florentine to students who desire an opportunity to work closely in history and American studies.