How to be an Intern at the Winter Olympics
As part of FilmUp’s Featured Filmmaker Series, we’re collecting stories from artists from across the film and television industry. In celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, we spoke to a former NBC Olympic Intern to get an inside look at what it takes to land a spot at this prestigious event, what goes on behind the scenes at the Winter Games, and what it offers the people lucky enough to be invited.
Chris Carpenter, Intern for NBC Sports’ Operations Department, covered Olympic hockey and the opening and closing Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Chris is currently the Media Logistics Coordinator for the House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery in Washington D.C.
Ben Weger: We all watched the amazing hockey drama between Russia and United States in the Olympics in 2014, but we know a little less about what happened behind the camera. How did you first learn about the opportunity to be a part of the action in Sochi, and when did you set out for the Games?
Chris Carpenter: Two weeks before the games, January 25, I was heading out on a flight to Sochi. I was there for about a month until the end of the closing ceremony — about February 25. My Alma Mater Ithaca College, Syracuse University, and NBC Sports have a great relationship, and they interview students from both schools to intern at the Games.
What was that interview process like?
Well, they started with about 600 students applying in the first round. After an online application, they narrowed it down to about 100 students, and after a phone interview and an in-person interview about 35 of us ended up on the team.
I had some experience as a PA on a college hockey show but they were more interested in an open mic night I started at school. I had very little experience otherwise. You never know what they’re going to be looking for, but I think it was about taking initiative and being a leader.
What did you do during the games?
I was assigned to NBC’s Logistics and Operations department for the Olympic hockey tournament and the opening and closing ceremonies. This is the team that literally makes Olympic coverage happen between coordinating on-air talent, crews, and all the background stuff you never think about. I was a runner between our headquarters at the media center, the hockey production trucks, and the stadiums.
There were twelve hockey interns and we all tried to anticipate the needs of the crew and stay out of the way. A lot of hurry up and wait and then doing 10 jobs all at once.
What were your responsibilities?
Essentially anything they asked of me. But I helped manage a database of the hockey teams which had information on players and pronunciation of their names, and I printed the information for the hosts. When you see all of the papers during cuts to the announcer’s desk, that was me.
Did you live near the athletes?
Not quite. There was a Media Village where they had a hotel for us, then there was a complex for the athletes, and hotels for the spectators. I was in what they called the “coastal cluster” which was on the Black Sea. The hotel was nice but some of the practices were a little strange. There are thousands of people invading a small town for a month and supplies were tight. When I requested a shower curtain they, for some reason, took all of my chairs. It seemed like anytime they brought anything new into my room they had to take something in return. It happened enough times to see the pattern and it was pretty funny in hindsight.
The athletes’ village had a lot of security. We spent time in souvenir shops where the athletes of each country would hang out. There were also parties where you heard about athletes showing up.
Did you go to the parties?
I mostly stayed in the U.S. souvenir/hangout shop. Each country has their own clubs and hangouts. From what I heard, the Netherlands and South Korea had the best parties. I had a pretty crazy encounter with a Russian guard once, though.
What happened there?
It’s a little complicated but I made friends with a girl named Olga who was the daughter of a famous Russian hockey player. Anyway, there was a fenced-off area where our crew kept equipment that was guarded 24/7 and the place is deserted. One night I had to go there alone and the guard was this huge, scary Russian guy with a scar across his face that went right over his eye and, naturally, he only spoke Russian.
So, I get in and I’m inside of a six-by-twelve trailer looking for equipment when he blocks the door and starts yelling at me. He might have been speaking normally but in Russian it’s scary. Anyway, he keeps me there and I can’t communicate with him until he finally lets me use my phone. I call Olga and she asks me to put him on the phone. Apparently, he saw us together and wanted her phone number. She gave it to him as a favor and he let me go. It was terrifying. I owe you one, Olga.
What would you say is the most important thing you learned working at the games?
Everything I learned was a practical skill I’ve taken with me in my career. It was a high-pressure environment where I learned to think on my feet. I navigated live sets, on-air talent, and Putin’s security to get places on time. We befriended guards by bringing them beer and they had our backs when we had to get backstage in a hurry. It was an amazing opportunity that propelled my career in media forward. Whether you’re in a media program at school or not, you should apply, you never know.
Do you intend to work at the Olympics again?
I actually was hired to do work at the Games in Rio as a PA, working remotely from Stamford, CT at NBC Sports headquarters. I was offered a position at Pyeongchang but my work on the Hill kept me in D.C. If an opportunity came up and it worked for me, I would go back. In the meantime, I’m sure they’ll find a great student or recent grad to fill my shoes.
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