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Q & A with Eric Stalzer

Eric Stalzer

BS film & video '10

Eric Stalzer alumni photo holding small animal

Tell us what you're currently doing and what's involved with the position

I am the supervising producer for the NatGeo Wild documentary series "Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet". The series is a hour long wildlife and conservation series going into its seventh season.I run all of our field teams, hire crews, direct talent, work to find, track and develop stories, work with government agencies, wildlife organizations and private individuals to find compelling and exciting conservations cases to feature on the show.  I make all of the creative and logistical decisions and work to find the best stories possible to keep our show exciting. 

Can you share your path since graduation that lead you to your current gig?

I was lucky enough to get an internship at National Geographic during my co-op at Drexel. After graduation I started emailing, calling, texting and harassing every contact I had made and eventually I got a job as a coordinator with NatGeo Studios. I worked on staff for two years and then went freelance after that. Since then I have worked on a variety of documentary series for multiple networks as a freelance producer. For Yukon Vet I started on season one as an associate producer, was promoted to field producer and then supervising producer for the last two seasons. Most series don't shoot year round so once I finish a series I will usually go work on another show. I'm lucky that this particular show has been a success and I have been able to come back for each season and work on a few other series when we aren't shooting. 

What are the key skills required to handle your job?

Having a good sense of story is the biggest skill I rely on. Story dictates everything for the series. Where we shoot, how we approach a shoot technically and logistically, who is involved, how big the crew is and who is doing what is all based on what the story is. Documentary producing can be more like journalism in that we are constantly chasing down leads and a lot of them can end up dead ends. Knowing which leads are worth following or which story threads are worth pulling is incredibly important. 

Since it's a television series there are a lot of big personalities involved and it's my job to manage a lot of them. Everyone wants to be listened to and have their opinions heard. Getting people to work their hardest and be creative in less-than-ideal situations is important. Keeping calm is also a big part of my job and that goes hand-in-hand with everything else. I work in a lot of extreme environments and with a lot of wildlife. I won't be doing myself any favors if I have a freakout. On top of that I'm responsible for the safety and well-being of my crew. 

Since you came in as a transfer, what advice do you have for current students who have transferred into the program?

Don't waste a single minute while you are there. Throw yourself into every class and assignment like it's the last thing you will ever work on. There may be times you may need to remind yourself what an amazing opportunity being there is but you have to make the most of it. Getting to spend all of my time studying and making films in an environment like Drexel was incredibly lucky. I worked my ass off every second I was in school and I still look back and wish I had done more. The program provides you a chance to work with the best tools, hone your skills in a safe environment with likeminded peers and study film in a way that you never will be able to in a professional setting. You can also try something, fail and it might sting but it won't be the end of you. The entertainment industry is a hustle and you will never have it as easy out here as you do in there. I don't mean that to sound like a warning. I just mean you should enjoy it. 

Did Drexel prepare you for getting to this point in your career?

I must be doing something right because I fall back on skills that I learned on Drexel all the time and I'm still working. One big thing is that you might go into the program thinking you're going to be a director or an editor and later realize you don't want to do that at all. Be open to all of it. One of the big things I learned was that I might not end up doing exactly what I thought I wanted when I started the program, but the classes were broad enough that I got a good taste of everything. Even if you can't do every job in production at least having some knowledge of the jobs and the people doing them goes a long ways. 

What advice would like to go back and give your undergraduate self?

Stop smoking earlier and start running more? I guess outside of personal health warnings I would have told myself to not be afraid to work on multiple projects at the same time. Even if some of them are going to fail. Going back to what I said earlier I look back and think there is still so much I should have done but who the hell knows how I could have done more. And try to see everything through to the end, even if it's a bitter end. Finishing a project, whether it's a short, a documentary, a experimental film, a theory paper, podcast, whatever, is important. There is always enough time, even when it feels like there isn't. Push yourself into weird and unfamiliar territory and see what happens.