La La Land broke my heart

Warning: this post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

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I hadn’t originally wanted to write about this film. Or at least not publicly. I was so shaken up after watching it that I didn’t think I would ever be able to write a coherent critique. But slowly overtime I’ve managed to organise my thoughts a bit and I’m hoping writing them down will help me solidify them.

My initial reaction was one of surprise and utter heartbreak. Surprised that I had watched a musical and not instantly loved it. And heartbreak not just for the love lost between the main couple, but for the fragility of such intense love and its inability to last. I know we are all too used to watching and reading about an unrealistic, wholly idealistic love that conquers all, but to see a more shatteringly honest depiction, portrayed in such a beautiful way, completely shook me to the core. Worse still, was this overwhelming need to cry that I felt in response and yet I just couldn’t. A rare occurrence for me whose waterworks are usually hypersensitive.

The film itself really was beautifully made. From the choreography, to the costumes, to the music, everything was so… vivid. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a film that fully captures the spirit and feel of an onstage musical. While the singing was relatively weak for what you’d expect from a musical, it only added to the charm and vulnerability of the main characters. There is a moment in Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s City of Stars duet where the couple break into giggles at a wrongly placed note; scripted or not scripted, it is small nuances like that that make you invested in the their relationship. And  Emma Stone’s Fools Who Dream was the crescendo I had been waiting for from the start and will forever send chills down my spine.

As a visual piece of art the film was flawless. But I found the themes it dealt with initially troubling. Not least because I have never been one to empathise with the concept of chasing your dreams. Am I allowed to admit that I’ve never had life-altering aspirations? More like modest goals. So the conflict between chasing dreams and supporting the one you love failed to properly resonate with me. More than that though, the film works so hard to set up the ultimate clichéd romance so typical of musicals, before quickly destroying it with a traumatic five years later and an extensive what could have been montage that is agonising torture. Yet we are then asked to trust in the dreams of yet another aspiring actress and musician, and believe that if they hope and dream enough anyone can become a world-renowned actress or own their own successful club. As if dreaming is so much more rewarding than loving.

Or at least that was my initial reaction. But on further reflection I have started to see another side to the ending. The what could have been montage, for example, rather than being a taunting jeer at what could never happen, could simply have been an alternate reality that was just as more or less likely to be the outcome. The idea being that dreams can come true, that love can last but also sometimes they can’t and don’t. Now that theory I like. In fact, therein lies the beauty of the film. For once we are not given a clearcut happy ending that we must force ourselves to believe. Instead, we are given a realm of possibilities, our responses to which will more than likely change based on the changes in our own values and experiences. While I don’t think my heart is ready for another viewing any time soon, I’m curious to see how my response to the film will adapt in a few years time.

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There is so much discussion surrounding this film at the moment and that’s only going to increase as the Oscars approach. Really interested in other people’s experience of the film that everyone is talking about. Feel free to leave a comment!

Photos ©SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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The toils of unpaid internships

This is a topic that I have wanted to write about for a while and I thought I’d take my chance when I saw these articles in the news yesterday:

BBC – MPs call for unpaid internships ban

The Guardian – Ban unpaid internships that penalise working-class young, say MPs

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone already in or wanting to get into the industry that publishing does not pay well. As I have been consistently told throughout my career planning, you go into publishing for love of books not love of money. It didn’t take me long to come to terms with this as my priority in searching for a career path has always been in finding something I enjoy and that is fulfilling on a daily business. That said, people still need to be able to get by.

What is striking about the publishing world, and perhaps what makes it stand out from other industries, is the disproportionate level of competitiveness to salary, particularly at entry level. Despite the modest pay, publishing continues to be one of the hardest career ladders to climb on to and is heavily dependent on work experience to give you a hand up. And we’re not talking just one or two placements; I’ve spoken to people who have spent months going from placement to placement trying to gather enough variety to make them stand out in a sea of similar candidates. Very rarely do these placements offer to cover expenses, let alone are paid.

Many employers from all sectors rely on the fact that students and graduates are desperate enough to get into their industries that they are willing to work for free, but for many people that’s just not feasible. I for one am indebted not only to my parents for supporting me through various work placements, helping with train fares etc., but also to friends for letting me crash at their place for weeks at a time to cut down commuting costs. I am also in the fortunate position to be within commuting distance of London and Oxford, both almost the exclusive homes to the UK publishing industry. Without this, I would have had little to no chance of getting that all-important work experience.

As the report from the MPs mentioned in the articles has pointed out, not only are these unpaid work experience placements and internships a barrier to those from less advantaged backgrounds, they are also creating a geographical barrier. While one work experience placement I have done did offer both travel expenses, this only extended to a London day ticket. It cost considerably more to get the train into London every morning, although less that it would be to stay in temporary accommodation at the time. And that’s coming from a key London commuter area.

Banning unpaid internships and introducing a minimum wage for such placements would not only allow more diversity into the industry but also increases the value of the experience. My internship at Oxford University Press was a paid one and this 100% added to the sense that we were appreciated for our ideas and contributions. It recognised that although we were recent graduates yet to have made a full debut into the grown-up working world, we still had something to give that was worth paying for. Personally it gave me the confidence to speak up and feel like a member of the company even in the short space of time I was given. Much more so than in unpaid placements  I had done where I often felt more of a nuisance than a help.

Obviously it’s easy enough to say that companies should start paying out when we’ve already established that publishing is an industry in which spare money is hard to come by. But perhaps if more planning went into creating more structured work experience placements and internships, then a more valuable experience could be created; the emphasis in the dreaded job hunt could then become less on how many placements one can get hold of or come by, and more on what one contributed and achieved during that time.

What’s your experience with unpaid internships and work experience placements? Would love to hear how you managed them. Or if you had any experiences with paid placements. Drop me a comment.