Q&A with producer of Yahara documentary, Zac Schultz


Zac Schultz. Credit: Wisconsin Public Television

Post by Jenny Seifert

Zac Schultz has been following the Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) project, usually with a videographer in tow, since practically its beginning. A reporter/producer for Wisconsin Public Television (WPT), he was tasked with making a story out of a complex, multi-year research project with many moving parts and people. 

The end result is a documentary called “Yahara Watershed: A Place of Change,” the product of a unique partnership between WPT and WSC. The show debuted this month on WPT, and while tonight is its last air time, you can watch it online hereafter.

With a smorgasbord of story content, from cornfields to invasive worms and researchers in airplanes to those behind computers, as a storyteller myself, I didn’t envy Schultz’s job of trying to weave it all together into a coherent narrative.

But, according to Schultz, his storytelling process was just like any else.

“I looked at what content I had gathered, and then sketched a rough outline of how it all fit together and looked to see if there were any cognitive gaps in the story,” he says.

Add a script and hours of editing, and voila! Five years of research in one 30-minute show.

I asked Schultz a few questions to get a behind-the-scenes look at his storytelling process.

JS: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the show?

ZC: There are two different answers. From the beginning, the most challenging aspect was not knowing what story I would actually be telling. I was gathering material rather indiscriminately, hoping it would fit into a narrative once we had results from the project. In terms of creating the show, the most challenging feature was fitting all of the science into the piece while making sure it was clear for the viewer with little or no knowledge of the science.

JS: What did you learn through this process? 

ZS: I love learning, and it was great to watch the scientists work, and to have them right there to answer my questions.

JS: What is the value of a partnership between a public media outlet and university researchers to communicate about science issues? 

ZS: I think this type of program could only exist on public media. I think it appeals to our audience and our mission of providing the public with intelligent, important programming.

JS: What do you hope viewers will take away from the show?

ZS: I hope viewers will understand the complexities of the computer model and the work that goes into gathering data and then making sure how that data is interpreted accurately.


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