I sip my coffee and press play.
The video is buffering, stuck on a close-up of my face frozen in an awkward grimace. I’ve never liked being in front of a camera; I prefer to hide behind.
Finally, it clicks into gear, and I’m staring straight into the camera, giving my winning smile.
Hi, I’m Tom. I work in the film industry. Making movies is my dream, so I guess I’m living it. (Pause). The dream.
Another winning smile - maybe it’s too much. I look more like a deer caught in headlines than the ultra-confident, smart young man I had hoped to project. You can see the fear in my eyes, flickering to something off-camera then back to it.
I live in Birmingham, but don’t worry - I’m not a native so don’t have the accent. Haha.
My punctuating laugh is a little bit awkward. And the joke is possibly problematic - what if I met an actual Brummy?
I live by the canal - perfect for canoeing on hot summer days! Birmingham has more canals than Venice, so if Brexit stops all the flights we can still float along the canal with a nice bottle of wine here - just don’t look at the scenery!
My other hobbies are photography and, of course, films. Looking for my muse for long-term dating and hopefully a relationship. I’m a caring guy and a good listener. Feel free to message me. Looking forward to meeting you!
A slightly awkward smile and it fades to black. I sigh and lean back in my chair.
I’m not really expecting anything from online dating. Some of my mates have tried it and didn’t get any further than a couple of dates. Too many lonely guys on there and far fewer girls. It’s a woman’s playground. But it’s worth a punt.
“Intern number two!”
I jump and only just manage to save myself from chucking a full cup of coffee over the computer. Steven, my mentor, is striding towards me, jaw clenched and brows furrowed.
“It’s Tom,” I remind him, as he reaches my desk. Pretty common name, Tom. Not difficult to remember. I would bet money on it that Steven does remember my name; he just pretends to forget to preserve his image as a massive dick.
“What on Earth are you looking at?”
“Oh.” I click off the internet. Don’t want him reading my profile. “It’s just a dating site.”
“I’ve just had a client complain that we’re behind and you’re looking at something clearly unrelated to work.”
“Oh… actually, I’m on my lunch so-”
“You couldn’t have done it on your phone? We’ve got clients walking around the office. It looks extremely unprofessional.”
“Okay, I’ll use my phone next time. Sorry, I didn’t think it would cause a problem.”
“Didn’t think.” He sighs, long and loud. Steven is just an arse, through to the bone. Even the way he sighs is condescending. “What are you supposed to do when you’re not sure about something?”
“Ask you. But you were in a meeting.” Not really the point. I didn’t imagine that looking at a website during my lunch would be such an issue.
“You couldn’t have waited ‘til I came out?”
I had already been on lunch for twenty minutes by the time I saw Steven come out of the meeting room. Or Steven’s doppelganger. He looks just like him, but has manners and smiles occasionally.
“Next time you want to look at something personal, you can use your phone outside.” I glance out the window. It’s raining. I wasn’t even trying to make a point, but Steven’s frown deepens. “Sitting at your desk tapping away on your phone doesn’t look professional either. We have an image to uphold.”
Professional slave-drivers and arseholes. Steven does a great job of upholding their image.
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
Steven huffs. What did he expect me to say? I guess my apology could have been more sincere, but he’s turned one little, innocent mistake into a massive issue.
“Did you finish your edit?”
I resist the temptation to glance at my watch - that would definitely come off as rude, but I’m still on lunch and he’s eating into the little time I have left.
“I’ve almost finished.”
“Almost!” His eyebrows shoot nearly all the way up to his hairline. “How are we supposed to send an almost finished advert to the client? The deadline is today.”
I’m well aware. I’ve been working like a demon.
I deploy the winning smile. “I’ll only be another twenty minutes, and it was my lunch, so-”
“Just get it done.” He pauses for a second, then adds, “Please.”
He turns, and the thought strikes me that I probably won’t see him for the rest of the day. “Could you give me some feedback on it so far? Please. I want to know I’m on the right track.”
Steven makes a show of looking at his watch. “I’m busy, but - okay, quickly.”
I grit my teeth, bring up the edit and press play. You’re supposed to be my mentor.
He doesn’t smile once through the whole video. It’s an advert for athletic wear, an up and coming brand. The advert alternately follows a man and a woman running through a city, through a forest and up a mountain, little patches of snow on the path. Never mind that, in reality, you’d actually freeze in a sports bra and shorts. The male model is dressed more sensibly - at least he has a hoodie.
I think I did a good job. There was a lot of material to pick from, a lot of choices to make. The advert is supposed to represent two people’s dynamic journeys to fitness and freedom. I think the storyline is there - it starts out with the models jogging through an unbelievably empty city, then a forest, then up the mountain as the height of their achievement. Buying designer sportswear can transform you from an ordinary afternoon jogger to a fell runner. Who knew?
“What do you think?” I prompt, after a minute of silence.
“It’s a bit choppy.”
“What do you mean ‘choppy’?” I realise too late that my voice was a little too sharp, probably came across as rude, but how the fuck is it ‘choppy’? What does ‘choppy’ even mean?
“It cuts too fast. Too much back and forth.”
“But the client wanted all these scenes included. It kind of has to go back and forth, doesn’t it? What would you have done?”
He huffs as if I’ve asked him something unreasonable. It’s his job, for the duration of my internship, to help develop my work and I’ve spent the last week pretty much on my own, just left to figure it out by myself.
“Well…” Steven grabs the mouse and runs through the editing bar; split seconds of clips flash on the screen. The guy wears way too much aftershave; I can feel it in my throat, it’s threatening to make me cough. “The opening could be a bit longer, cut from a full-body shot to the trainers. This is supposed to be setting the narrative, the ‘ordinary world’, ‘normal life’ - you’re familiar with the basics of screenwriting, yes?”
“Yes.” Screenwriting was my minor.
“You could do a split-screen, only occasionally, mind. Show the models side-by-side. That way you don’t have to cut so much to get all the scenes in. You should make more use of the clips on the mountain. They’re the most visually interesting, most likely to inspire customers to buy the product. Cut between the runners and the rugged scenery to break it up a little.” He draws back and, finally, I can cough. “That was what the client and I had in mind.”
I’m tempted to point out that if he and the client had a vision in mind, it would have been helpful to share it with me at the start of the project. This sounds like another three hours of work. A complete re-edit. I feel like throwing my arms up and storming out. There’s also something far more frustrating about Steven than his rude and condescending manner; he could actually be helpful if he wanted to be.
“Can you do that?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“By 3pm, latest?”
I start to laugh and disguise it as another cough. That only gives me an hour and a half to do a complete re-edit. A perfect one. “Sure. Absolutely.” I’m suddenly overcome by a wave of tiredness.
“Don’t miss the deadline. This is a really important client, a really important project.”
Maybe don’t give it to your intern, then?
“It’s a big responsibility, this project, but that was what you wanted.”
I did say I wanted to take on some responsibility in my interview, but I think someone misunderstood me. This wasn’t what I had in mind.
Steven’s off, already metres away from my desk, when I remember I never got my full lunch break. “Steven?”
“I’m about to go into a meeting.”
I’m silent for a minute, stunned by the aggressiveness of his tone. “It’s just… I’ve still got fifteen minutes of lunch so do you mind if I take that after? When the advert’s finished, obviously.”
“This is a very busy, very competitive industry. I haven’t had a break all week.” I guess that explains some of his attitude. “It’s something you’ll have to get used to if you really want to work in media.”
As if doing a 6-month unpaid internship isn’t proof that I really am fucking desperate to work in media.
I want to go straight to bed as soon as I get home. I’ve never been so exhausted. The first two weeks of my internship has sucked the life out of me. I was so psyched to get it; now I’m already looking forward to the end. I never thought that I could ever be unhappy making films, but that office feels toxic. Everyone is so busy, so snappy, so annoyed by questions. The only person I get on with is ‘intern number one’ - Steph.
“Hi mum,” I call as I walk through the front door. I follow the smell of food into the kitchen. My mum is stirring something on the hob.
“Hi Tom. Good timing. It’s chilli for dinner. Five minutes.”
Chilli is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t feel like eating. I feel like going to bed and sleeping for the rest of the week. But mum already made it.
She already laid the table, so I get myself a can of coke and sit down.
“How was work?”
I used to feel a little swelling of pride in the first week, but now the fact that she’s calling it work makes me feel cold. It damn well is work - hard work - but it’s not exactly a job. Jobs are paid.
“What did you do today?” She brings a steaming plate over and sets it down in front of me. I’m really not hungry; how am I supposed to eat that?
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Why?” Mum sits down opposite me with her own plate.
“It’s confidential.” The client is obviously confidential, but I could have talked about the advert.
“Oh. That sounds exciting.”
I can’t muster more than a grunt.
“What’s up?” she asks after a minute. “You seem down.”
“I’m tired.” I haven’t touched my food yet, just poked it around with my fork.
“If you really don’t like it there, you don’t have to stay.”
“I need the experience. I need something on my CV.”
“There’ll be other opportunities. Why don’t you try looking for jobs again?”
“There’s barely any jobs. Too many people. They’ve all got more experience than me - why would anyone pick me?”
She glances to the side. A framed photograph of me and mum at my graduation is positioned to be in perfect view of the dining table. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university. My official photograph with the scroll, really a cardboard tube, is in the lounge. Mum loves this photo of us - she’s beaming in it. I used to love it too. I look happy and excited; I was looking forward to my future after graduation. Life after uni has been, so far, nothing like I hoped for. The ultimate dystopia. My first-class degree was supposed to give me prospects. I’d be earning more now if I had chosen to work in a supermarket three years ago and had progressed to supervisor.
“Because you’re clever,” she says, looking back to me, “and you did well in your degree-”
“Yeah, well-” I stand up, suddenly furious. “That’s just not good enough, apparently.”
Mum is staring at me. She looks a little hurt and no wonder, I just shouted at her.
My cheeks are burning. My bad luck is in no way her fault, I know. But I’m always on a short fuse lately. I used to be laid back. I guess that’s what disappointment after disappointment does.
“Sorry. I’m stressed. I had a busy day.” I move out from the table and push my chair in. “I’m not really hungry either. Do you mind if I just go to bed now? I’m super-tired.”
She nods. I still feel bad for shouting. I start to head up to my room when she calls softly, “Tom.”
I look back.
Mum is pushing her food around with her fork. “You know that you can talk to me if you need to.”
I know, but… “You wouldn’t understand.”
Georgie Bull is a freelance writer and published author living in Worcester, England.
Author: Georgie Bull
1. You Can Go Home Again
2. A Beautiful Dream
5. Let Me Tell You A Story
6. The Haunting Of Verno House
7. The C Word
8. A Ghost Story
9. Father's Son
10. Time (poem)
11. Poems - Unheard and Silent Musician
12. The Ultimate Dystopia - part one
13. The Ultimate Dystopia - part two
1. The Desert - Peregrin Jones
2. The Being Verse - Peregrin Jones
3. Who Will Feel The Rain Now? - Leena Batchelor
The Blue Hour by Dreena Collins
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