Rob Weidner - 2012 Program Participant

Rob Weidner (center) with VAC owners Oliver Hagan (left) and Sean Walpole (right) on their way to Namibia for a 10-day trip organized by VACorps.

Why did you want to do a media internship abroad? 

I knew that I wanted to take time off of school and work in the film industry. While I was at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, I mostly studied computer science with the occasional studio art courses.  Although I enjoy computer science, my true passion was and is getting out into the world and seeing life through a camera lens.

Why did you choose Cape Town for your media internship abroad?

While researching internships abroad, I was looking at all of the typical countries in Europe, thinking that was where I was going to end up – then it hit me!  Why would I spend four months of my life living in an area that was becoming so easily accessible for Americans, as opposed to taking the road less traveled and exploring a part of the world I would not normally go to for a trip. Then I stumbled on South Africa and specifically the emerging creative industry in Cape Town and didn’t look back.

How did you come across your internship with VACorps? 

Google! Once I was able to hone my searches to film internships Cape Town, VACorps was the first program to pop up.  After my due dilligence, I figured it was worth a shot to at least fill out their questionnaire.  What I was not aware of is that was the tipping point of the biggest figurative wave I had ever ridden in my life.  Next thing I knew, I was hugging my family goodbye in the International terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare airport about to embark on an adventure that just felt right.  It was sink or an Olympic sized pool...with sharks everywhere (foreshadow shark cage diving in Cape Town...check).

What were your housing arrangements like?

I completed my 30 hours of travel to the other side of the world and didn’t really know what to expect. As I retrieved my overly-packed, extra-large North Face duffle bag from the conveyor belt in the Cape Town airport, I was pleasantly greeted by a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. The two of us got in his BMW and drove right to the front door of my pre-arranged house in the Observatory neighborhood right outside of the Mother City (my favorite nickname for Cape Town). The bright orange, eight foot tall wooden fence with security electrical wires buzzing above were surprising at first, but easy to get used to after I realized that was the norm for most homes.

My room was located in the back of this quaint ten person house with a comfortable double bed, desk, bureau, and my own private bathroom (only one in the house, love luck of the draw). Oh and did I mention that we had housekeepers five days a week tidying up? For a 20-year old used to living in my fraternity (Beta Theta Pi) house of 60 college guys, this was quite a change but very easy to get used to.

Your video internship sounds like one big adventure! You said it took you all over South Africa. What exactly was your internship and what were some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

My internship was with an amazing top-tier production company called Big Sky Productions.  Everyone who worked there was incredibly friendly and I was their first VACorps intern so there were some growing pains, but the VACorps system established for other host companies made getting up to speed a quick and seamless process.

When I was working in the office, my typical day was anything from sorting through location photos of the most beautiful homes in the country to taking photos of the most beautiful women in the country for a casting call. After expressing interest in doing more camera operating and less location photo sorting, Big Sky was able to link me up with other camera companies on productions other than their own. This was incredibly beneficial to my limited time in Cape Town, and lead me to “business trips” up and down both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts.

What was the most memorable day you had during your internship?

This might be the most difficult question to answer because there were a handful of “memorable days” during my internship. Having to pick one though, I would say it was when I woke up in a seaside estate situated in a small town called Kenton-On-Sea during a multi-day shoot with Big Sky. One of the producers along for the shoot was cooking breakfast and we had eggs, scones, and coffee out on the porch overlooking the sunrise in the distance. For this job I was hired as a camera assistant and we went to work in the Kenton Eco-Estate neighborhood with full access to every square inch and our own Land Rover safari vehicle to get around the beautiful property.

What was the biggest challenge you faced interning in Cape Town?

Aside from leaving that is, right? The biggest challenge I faced while in Cape Town was trying to make dinner reservations at The Test Kitchen in the Old Biscuit Mill!  The cuisine in Cape Town is to die for and so diverse, with every option being equal or better than the last. The quality of the food I ate was unimaginable and pleasantly affordable due to the Dollar to Rand exchange rate. The lifestyle in Cape Town was different than suburban Chicago where I grew up, but I found the adjustment to be simple thanks to the laid back culture and development of Cape Town and the structure that VACorps sets in place for your internship in South Africa.

Since your internship allowed you to see so much of South Africa, what was your favorite part? Where would you like to go if you could spend another long period of time there?

My favorite trip that I made during my time in South Africa was road tripping along the Garden Route. It is a highway that travels along the southern part of the country with little towns along the way, each having their own niche. For the most part I would spend one or two days at each hostel, but truthfully wish I could have spent more time in each area exploring. The drive was so enjoyable I did it three times with friends and for work.

What advice can you give to others planning to intern in Cape Town?

Aside from that they should use VACorps as their internship placement company, I would say be sure to ask myself or other VACorps alumni in they have any questions. I do not know of anyone that did not have a great experience with VACorps and we like to share our experiences and live vicariously through people who are just starting their own. Do not let one question go unanswered, because I can guarantee that there is at least one fellow VACorps alumnus that had that exact same question and now has insight on that topic.

Also, Cape Town is amazing and if you are considering it against other options, I would advise you stop and just go to South Africa with VACorps in the drivers seat. I am a very independent person who likes to be in control, but letting them do what they do best was the most beneficial step that I made in my journey. Once you get there, you can be as dependent or independent as you want and completely tailor your own unique experience.

Networking is always important, but it seems that it might be EXTRA vital to a career in the video industry. How did your internship affect your future career path?

The film industry is all about who you know, who likes you, and if you can do your job. There is an inherent amount of collaboration required in the film business, and you need to be able to trust one another. I was able to get hands-on experience during my internship in Cape Town working on productions that I would not have been able to be part of in the States, simply because of the hierarchical “ladder” and number of applicants.

More and more productions are going to Cape Town, but they cannot afford to bring an entire crew from the States. They need to be able to hire certain positions locally and trust that they have just as much skill as a colleague in Hollywood. That is the benefit of being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Additionally, because you have higher-ups coming in from all over the world, I was making global connections with people in the industry much easier.

Was there any specific skill you learned in your media internship in Cape Town that will make you stand out from other job applicants? 

I do not think there was any one specific skill that I learned, but it was more the amount of hands-on time that I was able to have with different camera systems that I benefitted the most from. I was given more responsibility on productions because of what I had learned from the people I had previously worked with. Asking questions and absorbing as much as possible is the best tactic that anyone can use if they want to improve their skills and move up in their field.

Would you recommend your Journalism and Media Internship program to others? If yes, why?

Not only would I recommend this program, but I HAVE recommended the program to many others. About once a month I find myself happily Skyping with a prospective intern. The best part of an internship with Big Sky or any production company is the network that the company has. If you are working “for free” or “for experience” then make sure you are getting the most out of it. Suggest to your boss what you believe it is you want to do. If you find yourself in a situation where you are not doing what you want, then express that. Albert Einstein said it best when he stated “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

You had an amazing schedule in Cape Town that started with a scooter ride to work, ended with hikes up Devil’s Peak or Lion’s Head, and included a braai with friends in between. What do you miss most about your time in Cape Town?

What I miss the most about Cape Town is days like the above. The entire country lives a very active lifestyle and someone is always encouraging you to get out and experience the amazing environment that you are living in. VACorps really embraces this as well and makes getting out into the city and taking advantage of the time you have the highest priority.

Do you hope to continue traveling? Where is next on your list?

Traveling will always be a part of my life and that is why I love filmmaking.  You do not always go to the same place every day for work.  In fact, I just booked my flights back to the Mother City to work in the film industry and could not be more excited.  Mozambique was a country I really wanted to visit because of their scuba and beaches, so I hope to get there within the next couple months.  There are so many places left on my “places I want to visit” list, and living in Cape Town’s adventurous culture was addicting and susceptible to travel.