Monday, November 23, 2009

Real life versus reel life: The insider scoop.

So let me preface this by saying: I have the best internship ever. Ever. I spend two days a week at a prominent fashion/lifestyle magazine in Chicago, and I couldn’t be more obsessed. “Oh, Emma, I’m so sorry,” they say, “We have another celebrity interview for you to transcribe today. Also, can you help staff a gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art Thursday night?” Sorry? You’re sorry? One man’s bitch work is another man’s jackpot. I’m sure I won’t always be this wide-eyed, but for now it’s all I could ask for. They even let me write stories for the mag (my first full-pager comes out next month). It might technically be an unpaid internship, but when you’re an aspiring freelance writer, published clips are your currency.

But how does life in the magazine industry stack up against one of my favorite fashion movies, The Devil Wears Prada? While our editor-in-chief is blonde and bubbly and so not Miranda Priestley (I’ve totally ridden the elevator with her before), not all onscreen portrayals are mythical. Here’s the juice on a few of the perks and perils of working on the other side of the printing press.

"Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking." Have you worn a backless leotard or shiny magenta leggings to work lately? True to form, fashion risks are encouraged here: the general aesthetic is casual but put-together. Concocting a worthy ensemble may be more time-consuming than shimmying into a blazer and a pressed white blouse (or skinny jeans and a North Face, for that matter), but I relish the excuse to experiment. So does my disproportionately large collection of stiletto heels.

"You do know that cellulite is one of the main ingredients in corn chowder." Here’s why people in fashion are so skinny: they’re embarrassed to eat in front of each other. Even an intern at a Midwest regional publication is not immune to caloric scrutiny. I was diving into a bag of cheddar-and-caramel popcorn for energy after a virtual all-nighter when a charmingly snarky editor from the men’s department passed behind me and muttered “Well that’s a healthy breakfast!” Wow. Wow. And I usually bring apples and yogurt, too. I half-expected him to start calling me “Six.”

"You are in desperate need of Chanel." While we don’t have a Runway-style fashion closet, freebies do pop up every now and then. I’ve snagged a couple of beauty products and a pair of designer socks just by being in the right place at the right time (and seen some stunning Neiman Marcus samples pass by on the racks).

"I have Patrick!" Celebrity encounters: inevitable. I didn’t think I could top the day Clinton Kelly (of What Not To Wear) gestured at my outfit and howled “What is this? I love this!” at Northwestern’s Homecoming parade my freshman year. Then Michael Kors told me I looked chic. I’m pretty sure the existence of this blog was just legitimized.

"I’m sorry, do you have some prior commitment? Some hideous skirt convention you have to go to?" Camaraderie among the interns is significantly higher than that of personal assistants Andrea and Emily. The girl who shares my station is almost too polite. She asks for my permission every time she wants to use the phone. Um, yes? Actually, maybe I only think there’s camaraderie because I’m the Emily. Whoops.

"Please bore someone else with your questions." Complete and utter falsehood. My boss actually asks me if I want Starbucks when she runs out. I would be naïve to believe that I’ll always be working under such supportive people, but I’m going to go ahead and enjoy my good luck for now. I might sort editorial mail, but I’m not chasing down unpublished Twilight manuscripts.

"A million girls would kill for this job." Okay, okay. I don’t get paid. But I do get to write for one of the largest city audiences in the country. Probably the harshest reality of writing for a magazine is the vicious editing that goes on between the drafts I send in and the published products: one of my articles was so drastically altered, I was shocked I still had a byline. When you write for a blog, it’s all you. When you write for a magazine, it’s all them. The final product usually still turns out to be quality - maybe better than what you had in the first place - but it can be frustrating to watch your voice disappear.

Anyway. If there’s one thing this internship has confirmed, it’s that I appear to be on the right track. This is just the beginning of what I hope will be a long and colorful career in this (supposedly dying?) industry. Will working for a national magazine be closer to what we see in theaters? Only time will tell.

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