"Stuck" at 200
An interview with Seven Days multimedia producer Eva Sollberger
Courtesy of Stephen Mease
On Wednesday, November 17, Seven Days multimedia producer Eva Sollberger uploaded the 200th episode of her award-winning web-video series, “Stuck in Vermont.” Seven Days already marked that milestone by giving “Stuck” fans an opportunity to choose the subject of the 200th video; this week’s episode features the winner of that competition, Jana Beagley of Nightmare Vermont. But we also wanted to take this opportunity to honor Sollberger, our only editorial staffer whose work rarely appears in the print version of the paper. Since “Stuck” debuted on YouTube on February 7, 2007, Sollberger has traveled all over the state — by plane, train, automobile, dogsled and hot-air balloon — talking with artists, farmers, athletes, actors, carpenters, activists, beekeepers, historians, astronomers, race-car drivers, opera singers, puppeteers, cheerleaders, fishermen, Quidditch players, disc golfers, debaters and dancers. Her videos have been viewed more than 1.1 million times on YouTube, and many thousands more times on blip.tv, Brightcove and Facebook. They air each week on the old-fashioned TV, too, on Burlington’s VCAM (Channel 15) and WPTZ NewsChannel 5. Many Seven Days readers have told us that Sollberger’s work is unique and wonderful — more people than ever are doing video these days, but no one’s doing it quite like she is. On the eve of the release of the 200th episode of “Stuck,” I talked with Sollberger about how she makes her videos, and what sets them apart.
SEVEN DAYS: What’s your most memorable filming experience?
EVA SOLLBERGER: Going up in the hot-air balloon (“Stuck in Vermont 29: VT Balloon and Music Festival”). I was scared. I actually thought I was going to die, just because I’m scared of heights. I always have to go up high on things. Like, I have to climb ladders all the time, because I want the shot. The hot-air balloon was really scary because you felt like you could just step out of it — and you could. And the pilot was kind of a renegade, like a cowboy. We landed in the Willow Hill Farm pasture. For a while, we couldn’t even find anywhere to land.
SD: How is your work different from traditional video journalism?
ES: I think it helps, the way I shoot. I just posted the link to this Harvard Magazine article that breaks everyone down into four groups — warm and competent, warm and incompetent, cold and competent, cold and incompetent. So, I’ve started looking at people and trying to figure out, Which group are you [in]? I think I’m probably viewed by everyone who meets me with my camera as warm and incompetent [laughs], which is not a bad thing. I think, like, the first thing people get from you is warmth, and they describe the characteristics of warmth — it’s smiling, touching people, having an open stance, making you feel comfortable. And I think, with most news crews, they come off as cold and competent. People envy cold and competent people, but I don’t think they put others at ease.
I think, for whatever reason, there’s something about the combo of me and the camera — my warm incompetence, maybe — that brings out a different side of people than someone standing there with a camera crew and a microphone. I’m just so friendly and laid-back-acting that people are just a little bit more themselves with me. A lot of times when I interview people, I think they don’t think in a million years that anyone’s ever going to see it, that it’s ever going to go anywhere. So in a way, I think that gets me a better interview.
SD: You seem genuinely excited about every video you make. Are you?
ES: Every time I do an event, at the end of it, I’m, like, Oh, my god, I’m totally going to be a Frisbee player! I’m going to be an ice skater! I’m going to learn how to fly a glider! Like, every single time. I just get so into it and, by the end, I’m thinking, How can I do this? How can I fit this into my life? And then two seconds later I’m onto the next story and I’ve forgotten all about it.
If I didn’t enjoy it that much or get into it, I don’t think the videos would be as good, in a way. Every time, I sell myself, and then I sell other people on it, too. Every time, I generally have a blast. How can you not have a blast, when you’re around people who are really enjoying what they do? Like, “Girls on the Run” [“Stuck in Vermont 180”] — those girls were just so happy! The tractor thing [“Stuck in Vermont 196: East Charlotte Tractor Parade”] — oh, my God! That was just so wonderful, just seeing all these old, crotchety farmers’ faces light up talking about their tractors. You’d have to be a rock not to be affected by these people who are opening up to you. They’re showing you their passion. They’re showing you what they love.
SD: What’s the common thread in your “Stuck” videos?
ES: Someone left a nice blog comment on the video I just did about Erinn Simon that said, “another everyday hero.” And I think it’s about everyday heroes. It’s about John Does and Jane Does, and real Vermonters who you probably won’t see on the news, or read articles about. I think it’s sort of about the Everyman or the Everywoman.