A View From Helen

New Culture Columnist HELEN SIMMONS shares her experiences of life after Cambridge – and how dream jobs are worth waiting for.

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‘I think I love you, but I don’t know why’.  I’d always wondered what one of the world’s most famous actors might say to the world’s biggest Hollywood producer, and there it was, right in front of me.

Talk about perks of the job, eh. Once you leave the Sidgwick site you can start being cc’d into all sorts of wondrous emails! Who’d a thunk it?

I must say it’s a little weird mentioning that loaded word – ‘Sidgwick’ – now. And more than a little weird writing this. Because, as you may have guessed, I’ve bid a fond farewell to Cambridge and the joys of historical study and gone, degree in hand, into the world of film. And because Ben Dalton wanted me to start telling you about it, I am. Lucky you.


So much nostalgia…

I graduated in the summer of last year and when I walked out of Senate House I had no idea what I was going to do next. I knew what I wanted to do (make movies) but I hadn’t a clue how I was going to do it. That’s the dilemma with anything remotely creative – there’s no clear A to B. I saw friends graduate, move straight to London to start their corporate jobs (on sickeningly high salaries) whilst I went back home to my parents and knew only that I would be going on holiday that summer, so perhaps I should buy some bikinis. The future beyond that was scarily blank.

I’d heard that the old adage ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ really did ring true in the film industry, so I decided to start with what I had. Contacts. Running a film festival whilst in Cambridge hadn’t just been fun, it had been more useful than I could ever have imagined, and what I so far lacked in experience I could make up for in email addresses. Within a week or so, I’d landed my first internship. It was hell. I sat in an office, was given one task to do a day, and I felt myself losing brain cells by the minute. And I wasn’t even being paid. I decided to cut my losses and leave after a few weeks, choosing instead to focus on a short film project I had going with some fellow Cambridge grads. That provided a welcome distraction, but it certainly didn’t provide money. Or structure. But it was still summer, and it still felt like a summer holiday – a holiday after which I’d just go back to Cambridge and everything would be normal again. Hmm.

After the aforementioned holiday, reality struck. I didn’t have any work to do. I couldn’t even log onto Jstor. It’s a truly sad day when you realise the thing you miss most is having an article on 18th century sexuality to occupy you in Starbucks. So after a few weeks of lounging on the sofa, I read a couple of motivational books (don’t judge, they work) and started applying for anything and everything I could, emailing anyone I had even the faintest connection to. As luck would have it, when I temporarily moved to London the following week (thanks to a rather benevolent supervisor – I knew supervisions had to be good for something…) I also found myself with an internship at a production company, working in development. After a fortnight, interviews were suddenly popping up left, right and centre. I was going to companies I’d only dreamed of setting foot in, and visiting the heads of some of the biggest organisations in the biz.


Out of the bubble and into the big bad world

Obviously, I got rejected by nearly all of them. But finally I got offered a (low) paid placement at a talent agency, and I took it straight away. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was an opportunity to learn, at least. Or so I thought. Again, it was hell. After a honeymoon period I realised the person I was working for really had no intention of letting me do more than buy her groceries, and I probably wasn’t ever going to have the chance to do anything creative or use my brain cells. Depressing indeed.

So I quit the placement, worked on a couple more short films, and waited for the big break, the ideal job. And remarkably, it appeared. Well, the break, not the job. Apparently nobody my age needs money, so they don’t think it necessary to give it to us. (NB: Yes we do. Parents generally aren’t overjoyed to support their sprog forever.) But anyway, I took it. And now I’m finding out the innermost thoughts of everyone from Captain Jack Sparrow to Sherlock. I guess good things come to those who wait. Or those who accept they’re going to be poor for another five years.

Either way, things are finally getting exciting, and it seems things are looking up. I’ll keep you posted.