Internships Make a Difference: Tyler Branch in New York
Tyler Branch wishes more students would take risks. Not the kind of risks one might immediately think of when considering risk-taking behavior and college, but the kind that pay off—big time—like winning not one but two of New York City's most coveted television internships.
Branch went from an internship at "Late Show with David Letterman" to a coveted internship position with what many consider the holy grail of production experience—"Saturday Night Live" (SNL). In many ways, his is an American-dream fairy tale—at least the college version.
Originally from the small town of Sawmills, not far from Boone, Branch was the first male in his family to graduate from college. He began his studies at Caldwell Community College in nearby Hudson, and transferred to Appalachian, where he discovered broadcast journalism and immediately began to take advantage of every opportunity the university offered.
"A lot of broadcast journalism majors are preparing themselves for local or regional news stations, because they can stay in their comfort zone, and news stations can offer a lot of career opportunities," said Branch. "You can move up and really do well in local news." All the same, he wishes more students would take advantage of what Appalachian has to offer in the Big Apple. Branch personally benefitted from two established scholarships and inexpensive living at the Appalachian Loft in New York City.
"Sometimes it's best to set your sights on the absolute top, and if you fail, at least you tried," Branch reflected. "Even if you don't want to live in New York," he encouraged current students, "come for a while, and experience a whole different level of production and expectations."
Branch's enthusiasm for New York is boundless. "Coming to New York has allowed me to explore some really exciting opportunities, and make connections that are already opening doors for me," he explained.
It's not easy to get an interview with the Letterman show, Branch said. The first time he applied, he was rejected. So he reviewed his résumé and decided to beef up his hands-on experience. He found a media production internship on campus, where he gained on-the-job experience shooting video footage, running sound, interviewing subjects and editing video projects. With a few months of experience, he re-applied to Letterman, and was invited to an interview in New York. After a grueling interview process, he got the call to let him know he was in. "It was an unpaid internship," said Branch, "but to me, it was a chance to take the skills I learned at Appalachian, and go out in the real world and really put them to use. It was also a great way to measure how I was doing against the expectations of top professionals in the field, and make some really important connections."
Those connections, along with his hard work and dedication to soaking up everything he could learn from everyone around him, paid off. At the end of the fall 2011 semester, Branch prepared to pack up, head home and complete his senior year on campus. Then he was offered a full-time internship position at SNL. It was an incredible opportunity, but he still had a semester left at Appalachian and had not planned for another semester in New York. Conflicted, he worried that if he turned down SNL, he might close a door to huge learning and career opportunities. "But not graduating was a deal breaker," he explained. "I was going to be the first male in my family to graduate from college." So, he called Dr. Janice Pope, chair of the Department of Communication, and asked her to help him think through his options. "She was so great," said Branch. "She completely understood and did so much to help me so that I could have these opportunities in New York and still graduate."
"Rarely does a student have this kind of opportunity," Pope explained. "He worked with a major media company, and his exceptional skills and abilities were recognized by another huge media company. He did not have the luxury of staying at Appalachian for an extra semester, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I said, 'We'll make it work.'"
And make it work, they did. He completed his coursework with two independent study courses. "He had to couch surf some," Pope noted, when the bunks filled up at the loft—he had not booked space for the last semester—but Branch embraced his opportunities. According to Pope, he made cramming in coursework while keeping a 40-hour work schedule that often ran into the wee hours of the morning look like fun—because for him, it was.
"There are people at SNL that don't have to work, but they choose to, because it's that cool, to be at 'Saturday Night Live,'" he said, and his enthusiasm is evident. "I remember watching Will Ferrell, Tim Meadows and Molly Shannon on SNL every Saturday night and loving it. Now I understand everything that goes into making the live show happen—the writing, blocking, lighting, re-writes and everything else. Having the opportunity to see how that happens every week is completely unbelievable."
While this might sound like a dream come true, Branch faced significant challenges. "Living in New York is incredibly expensive," he said. "I was so excited to get the Letterman and SNL internships, but I had no idea how I was going to be able to afford to live in New York and work for no pay." Support came in the form of two scholarships—from the Broyhill Family Foundation and the George G. Beasley Family Endowed Scholarship for Business and Broadcasting—and safe, comfortable lodging at the Appalachian Loft, where he lived, dormitory-style, with other Appalachian students and recent graduates. "Financial aid and these scholarships, along with being able to stay at the App Loft, allowed me the ability to live and eat, while working full time, unpaid."
A few weeks ago, Branch fulfilled another dream—to walk across the stage and receive his undergraduate degree from Appalachian.
When asked, "What's next for Tyler Branch?" he is not sure. He loves production work. "It would be great to get a paid position at a place like Letterman or SNL," he said. With a degree from Appalachian, combined with the skills he has honed in these prestigious, professional environments, he feels prepared for the future, and his optimism is boundless. "I feel like there is a whole mountain of opportunities in front of me," he said.
Branch is not the only one who thinks his future is promising. "Tyler will not only succeed, he will be at the forefront of change," predicted Pope. "His desire to continue to learn and improve his skill set, combined with his interpersonal skills made him a model student, and he has become a perfect example of the kind of young professional we love to create here at Appalachian."
Branch is as proud of Appalachian as Appalachian is of him. "On the first day for interns at SNL, we were all asked to say who we were and what college we came from," he recalled. "As we went around the room, everybody was saying, 'I'm from NYU,' or 'I'm from Columbia, or Dartmouth.' I said, 'I'm from THE Appalachian State University.' Truthfully, there weren't many football fans in the room, so I don't think they really got it, but I can say proudly that my education at App prepared me as well as the Ivy League schools. I got a lot more hands-on training at Appalachian and was able to hit the ground running. We have a great communication program at App, and if you put your mind to it, anyone from Appalachian can come up here and succeed against any competition."
Spend only a few minutes with Branch, and you are inspired to truly believe that hard work and perseverance, and the willingness to seek out opportunities and make the best of them make all the difference. American dream? Perhaps. But Branch would call it the Appalachian way.
“It was a chance to take the skills I learned at Appalachian, and go out in the real world and really put them to use.”
- Tyler Branch
Garrett Ford: Hey everybody. I'm Garrett Ford, a videographer and video producer with Appalachian Media Productions on the campus of Appalachian State University, and here with former intern Tyler Branch. Buddy, how are you?
Tyler Branch: Good to see you Garrett. Glad you came to visit.
GF: Speaking of visiting, where are we right now?
TB: We are in New York City. We're here at the Appalachian State Loft in New York. I'm actually up here on an extended stay because I'm interning in New York.
GF: Tell us a little bit about where Tyler Branch is from, where he got his start. Who is Tyler Branch?
TB: Tyler Branch started out as a child in a small town called Sawmills, North Carolina, not far from Boone. I started at a community college, transferred into Appalachian. I ended up finding my way to electronic media broadcasting concentration. I was interested in TV and videography. Started taking a lot of production classes, learning about making videos, making documentaries. I became a part of WASU. I worked there on some audio production. And all of that kind of led me to you guys where I interned for the summer 2011 with you guys at Appalachian Media Productions.
GF: We were the first. Let the record show that we were the first internship for Tyler Branch. But the next one was a little bit of a surprise. Where was this?
TB: Over the summer, when I was interning with you guys, I had been applying at the Late Show with David Letterman. I didn't get called up the first time, but I kept trying and over the summer I got called up for an interview. I get back to Boone about a week later and I end up finding out that I'm going to New York for the fall and I'm going to be an intern for the Late Show with David Letterman.
GF: Little bit of a jump... little bit of a jump from Appalachian Media Productions. Check it out.
GF: All right. We're here at the beautiful Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway, home of the Late Show with David Letterman, and your first stomping grounds here in New York. Tell us a little bit about the internship process, the interview process and how you even found out about it.
TB: OK. I've always been a fan of the Late Show with David Letterman. I remember when I was a kid and sometimes my parents would let me stay up late and watch Letterman. I've always been a fan. So when it came to picking internships when I was at Appalachian, I though "why not?" Why not take a shot at coming to New York and working at my dream place. And so I got on their website, read about the internship process, applied. They said that there were about 4,500 that applied and they only pick twelve of us. It was a dream come true.
GF: Alright. So, while you were here, what did you do?
TB: When I got here, I worked in the research department, helped prepare for guest interviews, helped prepare for the segments... just find all of the background information on the guests and have Dave completely prepared to interview someone.
GF: So, while you were here researching, you were also doing some dealing, making some contacts. What was the story there?
TB: Well, I always heard networking was the best way to get ahead in this industry—and probably any industry—and I ended up doing some networking. I met a producer who had a similar background to mine and from there I ended up being able to go from Late Show with David Letterman to Saturday Night Live.
GF: Have you said it since you've been up here?
TB: I haven't, but let's do it.
GF: Right there. (pointing at camera)
TB: Live from New York, it's Saturday Night.
GF: We're here in the offices of Saturday Night Live at 30 Rockefeller Center and, Tyler, the question is what do you do here?
TB: I work in writers research and post-production. I do research, I find clips, pictures, quotes... anything that the writers need to make a sketch happen. In post-production, I work in the control room, I record rehearsals. I also do post-production work on editing projects. I use Final Cut Pro, which we learned in my major at Appalachian State. You guys gave me a lot of experience doing real video projects, learning the ins and outs of the program, so I was able to come in running with it. I was able to apply that right when I started here. A lot of people here do a lot of writing in their programs and they do a lot of, just, theory, which is great—we get that at Appalachian. But I also received a lot more hands-on training at Appalachian. Maybe a lot of people aren't familiar with Appalachian and what we do, but I feel like we have a great program and I feel like I can represent it well here in New York, and kind of shown that Appalachian is not behind anyone, that if you put your mind to it and you're a student at Appalachian, you can come up here and succeed against any competition.
GF: How cool is this? How much fun is this?
TB: It's surreal. You just feel like you're in show business when you're in this building. You're going up the elevator, like so many famous people in history have, up here to the 17th floor and working at SNL. It's crazy because I did grow up watching it and so it's hard to believe that now I'm actually here seeing it go from the page to rehearsals, through blocking, lighting, rewrites... now to see how that all happens is just completely unbelievable.
GF: Tyler, with all of these internship opportunities that you've had through Appalachian, how have these internship experiences changed your career outlook?
TB: It's really broadened things. Sometimes, it's better to set your sights on the sky... the sky's the limit kind of situation. I would love to be a producer and I think that this has been the right career move to put me in that direction. We're going to see where this takes me and I'm really excited about what the future holds.
GF: There's a student at Appalachian, thinking about doing an internship. What do you tell that student?
TB: Internships, especially in this industry in the communications field—but I really think in probably any industry—gives you the experiences that are going to lead to that first job. It just gives you a different understanding of your education. It can be a little tempting when you're in college to just go to class and relax in your free time, but if you put an internship, even if it's a part-time internship, that is so valuable because you're getting to take these skills you learn at Appalachian and go out in the real world and show people what you've got. It's also a great way to measure yourself, to see where you're at, and what you need to do while you're still in college, while you can still work on improving of all these resources at Appalachian while you're there and putting them to use. Get the most out of your education. That's what internships really help provide.
Music provided by songfreedom.com. Walkin' Proud performed by APM. "Walkin' Proud" composed by Paul Lenart and Larry Luddecke. Courtesy of APM. All rights reserved. Used by permission.