With a creative beat in his step, FableVision’s Production Assistant Sam Zollman isn’t an unfamiliar face around the studio. A former marketing intern, Sam’s passion for media and education led him to journey from Tufts to FableVision to WGBH to Madrid and all the way back to Boston before joining our staff full-time as a member of the production team
Driven by his desire to make the world a better place, Sam pursued educational media, believing strongly in its capacity to drive change and shift perspectives. “I had never considered how impactful the media we engage with as children could be,” says Sam. “That realization set me off looking for how I could do good in children’s media.”
We sat down recently to chat with Sam about his unique interdisciplinary education, his stint as a teacher in Spain, his passion for environmentalism, and the “secret” recipe for his special Elevated PB&J Sandwich!
Welcome, Sam! We ask everyone this, and you’re no exception. What’s your Journey to FableVision story?
I suppose my journey started when I designed my own major at Tufts that focused on educational children’s media and the environment. I was lucky enough to land a marketing internship at FableVision as a junior, and being around such fun, inspiring, creative people only affirmed that this was the right industry for me. Fast forward through graduation and a year living in Spain, I heard about an open Production Assistant position, and jumped on the opportunity. And here we are!
What did you learn from the marketing department as an intern that is now a valuable asset to the production team?
What’s so awesome about the marketing internship here is the independent project you’re encouraged to pursue. I created a Twitter campaign designed to work like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure story, where retweets and favorites determined which direction the story moved. In essence, it was my first experience managing a project in the studio. I planned the schedule, coordinated the art needs with the art interns, and publicized the campaign. Having that exposure to how the different sides of the studio come together to produce great projects—plus seeing how those projects are showcased—has made me feel more prepared to assist the producers.
Can you walk us through what a week in your shoes looks like?
Each week is different, but generally Monday sets the tone for the week with some quick update meetings and check-ins. I’ll sit down with one of the producers and we’ll review the week’s schedule and deliverables. Tuesday, I’ll sit in on calls to track various feedback and requests from clients, followed by testing one of our new games to document bugs. Wednesday, I will check in with a developer to see how a project beta is coming along and begin thinking about next week’s schedule. Thursday, I might search for sound effects for a game, collect photos for a series of presentations, and organize and archive completed projects. Friday tends to be the busiest, where I check in with the artists for last minute changes, work with producers to make sure deliverables are ready, help them look ahead to next week’s schedule, anticipate requests and updates, and balance different projects’ needs.
You graduated from Tufts, what was your educational experience like there?
I feel incredibly lucky with my Tufts education. As I mentioned, I created my own major that focused on environmentally educational children’s media. Because I wasn’t tied to any one department, I was able to take a wide variety of classes if I demonstrated how it linked to my specific degree. I felt much more connected to what I was studying and I loved making those cross-discipline connections. Not to mention, I got some invaluable guidance from advisors like Julie Dobrow and Chip Gidney, whose words help me understand the importance of the work we do at FableVision.
You worked on the shows Plum Landing and Design Squad. We’d love to hear more about what it was like interning with the team over at WGBH.
WGBH sets the bar really high for great educational children’s television, so working with them on Plum Landing and Design Squad, two shows that are pushing the boundaries of digital children’s media, was very exciting and insightful. Plum Landing was especially interesting because of its mission to put real environmental education research into practice. We spent a lot of time thinking about how you balance kids watching a show indoors when the goal is nudging them outdoors to discover the natural world around them, and ended with some pretty clever results.
Is there a particular childhood experience or show or movie that made you want to work in children’s media?
I’m a big, big fan of Hey, Arnold! It probably sounds weird, but I loved how Hey, Arnold! embraced the serious parts of life that most children’s shows shied away from. You could watch an episode about poverty or loneliness, and still see it met with compassion. I obviously didn’t understand it quite like that as a kid, but today I still think about how the show revealed the humanity in diverse, complex characters. We could use more of that.
Before joining FableVision, you were a teacher in Madrid. What was it like being in front of a classroom and what did you take away from that experience?
I’ve heard it often, but I didn’t believe it until I taught: being a teacher has got to be one of the most difficult jobs. I taught English to a total of 430 children ages 9 to 17, with a wide range of abilities and backgrounds. Finding creative ways to engage each class, let alone each student, was a daily challenge. But I think that’s where I learned the most. I learned to take little “failures” in stride, vow to do better next class, and not take the challenges too personally.
I also learned that success can take many different forms. Making the kids laugh, listening to why someone was crying, and making certain students feel included were all little successes. Plus, there were also some hilarious moments, like when I tried to dance Sevillana (a type of flamenco) with the 5th graders, being known, (un-ironically) as the “native American,” and explaining why we Americans name our chicken “Alfredo.”
You grew up in rural Vermont! Has that shaped your passion for environmental education?
Oh, definitely. I often think about how one of the biggest predictors for whether you care about the environment as an adult is having meaningful experiences in nature as a child. And in Vermont, nature isn’t a destination; it’s just beyond your backyard. While I mostly just ran around in the woods, that closeness means that nature takes on a more utilitarian role – some hunt for sustenance, others tap trees to make syrup. It led me to see the environment as something we must respect and preserve, but not because it’s fragile. We must preserve it because we depend on it.
How do you keep your creative flow alive?
Listening to jazz is a big help. One album in particular, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music, is some of the most beautiful, innovative, and personal music out there. Listening to that helps me get started writing or drawing or sewing or whatever I’m trying to do artistically.
You play the banjo, dance Hip-Hop, and some would say that you’re pretty sew-fisticated. Tell us about your creative side projects!
I recently picked up sewing and have made a few pillowcases, tailored a few shirts, and even made a button-down shirt from scratch! Also, being around such creative, artistic people has opened my eyes to comics! There’s so much freedom and flexibility with the form. I’d love to start exploring that medium!
Every morning, you’re found munching on what you like to call an “Elevated PB&J.” What’s the secret recipe?
I feared this day would come…OK, you toast some good seeded bread, shmear some good seeded raspberry jam on one half, shmear some good crunchy peanut butter (maybe with some seeds?) on the other, slap ‘em together, and make a mess at your desk.
More about Sam!
Favorite flick: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Your go-to tea: Moroccan Mint
Ukulele tune: The Penalty by Beirut
Madrid or Medford? Ha!
Name of your hit TV show? Age Before Beauty