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ELA Students Tell Women’s Stories at New Internship Site, Without Exception

Four students in front of water feature with metalwork "Beverly Hills" sign behind them
Ryan Greene ’22, Katelin Berube ’22, Amina El-Sheikh ’22, and Lilia Serio ’22. Courtesy photo

Emerson Los Angeles students bring a wealth of knowledge and bursting ambition to their roles as interns during their semester in LA. During the Fall 2022 semester, four students gained real-world experience at Without Exception Films, a new internship site for the LA program. 

The production company specializes in factual entertainment, and this is the first time the small team has welcomed interns. Students have focused on Unmuted, a six-part anthology docuseries exploring worldwide social issues that women face, with a call to action and a celebrity component.

Internship supervisor and documentary series producer Milena Warns emphasizes that Without Exception’s goal is to give a platform to important stories that may otherwise go unheard. A major part of that is seeking out nongovernment organizations that work on the ground with a particular issue and have results to show for it. 

“What makes us a little bit different than others is we partner with nonprofits,” Warns said. “Through our nonprofit partner, we usually find different stories that we’re looking to highlight on issues, as well as we use that to highlight the positive things that are being done for the issues.” 

Each intern was assigned to one or two episodes based on one of several topics: child marriage, acid attacks, female genital mutilation (FGM), missing and murdered indigenous women, self-harm, and human trafficking. While interns helped in a variety of ways, much of their work revolved around researching interview subjects for their respective topic — grassroots advocates, legal experts, nonprofit partners, or people willing to share their personal experiences. In addition, interns helped with production and assisted with events that brought in advocates of different social issues. 

Teamwork in a Female-Driven Environment

Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) major Lilia Serio ’22 worked on the self-harm episode,  searching globally for partner organizations, so-called “warriors” to share their story on screen, and medical experts. Initially, she didn’t know what her day-to-day would be like at Without Exception, but found herself really enjoying the women-led team, which tried to have fun and keep things light in between such intense discussions. 

“It’s really nice to be in person again and to hear everyone share,” Serio said. “We are discussing really serious topics, so we’re very solemn with recounting people’s stories. I love working with women-led teams, so that was something I was definitely looking for in the intern experience. I’m part of the age group they’re targeting; they really are looking at me and the other girls in the room just to see our experience so we can lend ourselves to the topic.”

Eleven people (women and men) pose on grass with pine trees in background
 ELA students and Without Exception staff pose with subjects from their acid attack episode. Courtesy photo

Although the culture is women-oriented, Warns said it’s important to be inclusive by having male and nonbinary perspectives involved in the conversation. All of the Emerson interns have said it’s a very collaborative environment. 

“Everyone really has a voice and is welcomed to bring that to the table,” Warns said. “I would like to think that we hear with open ears and hearts, because we are open to everything.”

One of two non-female interns was Visual and Media Arts major Ryan Greene ’22. He has found the focus around women in the workplace to be especially useful for the topics Without Exception covers. Greene credited his bosses for being very intentional when it came to having the right people tell the right stories. 

“It’s a better approach for a lot of the situations we’re dealing with, and it’d be a lot harder if guys were telling the stories,” Greene said. “For our missing and murdered indigenous women episode, they made sure to get someone that has experience with that community and is a Native person themselves so we can get a better understanding of what’s going on.”

Dedicated Learning Time from Industry Professionals

The entire team, including the episode directors and producers, convened in person on Thursdays, sharing in a circle what each person discovered and what they hope to pursue next. Writing, Literature, and Publishing major Katelin Berube ’22 called the culture very open and welcoming for everyone’s individual voices. 

“They emphasize they are always there to answer questions and work with us through any challenges we might have,” Berube said. “They also always explain how the industry works and are open about their jobs and roles in production, which is so helpful to hear about.”

Dedicated to giving their interns a well-rounded educational experience, the company started Industry Thursdays, where they brought in speakers in various positions throughout the entertainment industry. Warns said that these meetings were equally as important as on-hands production time. 

“It’s a group of less than 18 people where they get to have a conversation with them, understand what their role is on set, and be able to ask them questions,” Warns said. “One-on-one time is something that’s really valuable, and we hope that we continue to give that to our interns.”

Takeaways for Their Future Careers

BCE major Amina El-Sheikh ’22, an international student from Cairo, did outreach for the FGM and trafficking episodes. Due to the documentary pre-production format, students don’t get much on-set time, but when something was being filmed, El-Sheikh helped as a production assistant as well. By keeping busy and getting a grasp on how things run behind the scenes, she has used this internship as a starting point for her career.  

“I’m hoping to get as much production experience [as I can],” said El-Sheikh, who wants to produce films and documentaries one day. “Also, [I want to] meet a lot of people because in the future, I would love to go back home to Egypt and produce things there; so I want to learn how things work here first.”

El-Sheikh said her biggest takeaway has been the connections she’s forged, both with peers and industry professionals. 

“Cultivating relationships and stuff in the industry is something that I’m learning a lot about,” El-Sheikh said. “They’ve helped with putting me in contact with people I would find cool or [who] would be helpful for me to know.” 

Serio also hopes to become a producer one day, so spending time on the project and seeing how producers handle different logistics has been eye-opening for her. 

“[Warns and producers are] really good about getting us industry experiences and people to talk to,” Serio said. “We’ve had a producer, a showrunner, and a DP come in to talk about how they got started, what their role is exactly, what kind of skills they look for—just getting the basics, but also really specific.”

Greene has found the various professional speakers and special-interest topics really engrossing. In sorting through unscripted footage and creating sizzle reels, he has found his niche in editing. He looks forward to gaining more experience on the production side of things. 

“We learn about methods for approaching subjects,” Greene said. “I find documentary work really challenging in certain ways. The takeaway would be understanding how media like that is made and what ethical challenges there are.”

Berube is especially keen on learning how to depict meaningful, inspiring stories that make a difference. Interested in fact-based and documentary storytelling, she said that working for Without Exception has provided a good example of the right way to recount stories in “an impactful, yet truthful way.” 

“There are so many sides to every issue, and as storytellers, it’s important to do so much research and truly understand how [the story] will be taken by any person,” Berube said. “I’m really looking forward to continuing these professional connections and learning about the industry.”

For Warns, there’s been as much of a learning curve for her small team as there has been for the students. She said that everyone has stepped up to the plate, and with each individual playing such a critical role, Warns hoped the internship gave the students confidence to pursue their future endeavors. 

 “[The interns] have been incredible, and I hope they leave with assurance in knowing they are a valued part [of the production],” she said. “It might sound annoying to sit there and Google, watch videos, reach out and send emails, but it’s so important because when they give us these connections, that literally helps create the story.”

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