Sarah Hüttepohl studied Media and Communications Science and Applied Business Administration at AAU and has been working since 2012 as an editor for the documentary series ‘Bergwelten’ (mountain worlds) and ‘Retroalpin’ (retro alpine) at Servus TV. Sarah is originally from the German city of Wuppertal, and is passionate about winter sports and the Alps. In an interview with ad astra, she explains how she turned her passion for ‘mountain film’ into a career.
Ms Hüttepohl, you are an editor for the documentary series ‘Bergwelten’ for Servus TV. How did you come to work in TV?
Through a work experience placement. I applied three times to work for Red Bull, and was accepted every time, but I always turned the work experience down because I really didn’t want to leave Klagenfurt. At some point, however, I realised I was missing out on a huge opportunity. So I rang Red Bull and asked them if they had any work experience that might be right for me, and the next day I was invited in for an interview.
Did that work experience lead directly to your current role?
No, not quite. As an intern, I worked in post-production and disposition. I allocated cutting rooms to the editors, planned processes and logged projects. I knew that I wanted to stay with Red Bull, though, so I looked around at other internal opportunities. Then I came to work on ‘Bergwelten’, just part time to start with. Financially it didn’t really work, in fact I was losing money, but I saw it as an investment in my future. Luckily, it worked out well.
Describe a day in your job.
Of course, I do spend some of my day doing admin tasks. I have to speak to producers, organise shooting days and book helicopters for the shoots, write press releases for TV magazines and pass details of our programmes on to other departments within the company. But as well as that, I also attend film festivals and go out on shoots, like my recent shoot in Alaska.
You come from Wuppertal. Why did you choose to study at AAU?
For me, it was essential to study somewhere in the mountains, as I’ve been crazy about winter sports since I was a child. I also knew I wanted to end up working in film and editing, so I was keen to do a course in media sciences. After I started the Media and Communications Science course in Klagenfurt, I was told the course was more focused on communications and cultural theory, which is not what I wanted at all.
So why did you carry on studying Media and Communications Science?
I had already settled so well into life in Klagenfurt and Carinthia that I decided to stick it out. I was also able to choose all the classes that were related to film, and that worked out really well. At the beginning of my first year I bought a Carinthia ski pass, and spent every weekend in the mountains.
What advice would you give today’s students?
Make sure you study courses that really match your interests. University is not like school, where you have to take certain exams. Obviously there are some classes that are compulsory, like statistics, and you have to get through them somehow. But there are sufficient opportunities to choose your own subjects. I think you need to choose the courses based on what you like, not just to collect ECTS credits.
What was your own personal goal?
Definitely to work in film and TV.
How have your studies helped you achieve this goal?
The foundation was my diploma dissertation, really. My subject was ‘The mountain calls – and the film-makers come: The Alps in film and TV’, which led me to my current role as editor for ‘Bergwelten’. The main areas of focus that I chose and refined throughout my studies keep coming back up in my life now, which is a real source of happiness for me.
Are there any other parallels between your studies and your current role?
I quoted Hans-Jürgen Panitz several times in my dissertation. He has a large archive of old mountain films and has written a book on the history of mountain films. Now I work with him every day on the series ‘Retroalpin’. Gerald Salmina’s film ‘Mount St. Elias’ was also part of my dissertation. Salmina is a film producer from Pörtschach, near Klagenfurt. I was so fascinated by ‘Mount St. Elias’, a documentary about the world’s longest ski descent, that I incorporated it into my dissertation. Now, Gerald Salmina produces many of our ‘Bergwelten’ episodes.
Do you have any good anecdotes from your student days?
Yes! We had a class on TV design and organisation. There was an older man in our group, who was studying on our course. One day he came to class with a whole TV team, including a camera man, lighting technician and sound engineer in order to record an interview with my fellow student Christine Stürmer. First he got her to sing a short song, and then he asked her lots of questions about the stress of being on tour, how to balance studies and a career, etc. The student Christine Stürmer was not the Austrian singer Christina Stürmer, but he was convinced that he was studying with Christina Stürmer and that he had interviewed her. It was really funny.
Do you still feel connected to AAU and Klagenfurt at all?
I really miss the uni, the studying and student life. I still have a flat in Klagenfurt and every time I go past the uni it feels slightly strange, as I spent such a big part of my life there. Klagenfurt is still home, and I think that in the future I’ll reach a point where I feel at home both in Salzburg and Klagenfurt.
Is there anything you have kept from your student days?
I’ve kept all my files and books, because I think I might need them one day.
Is there anything in particular you miss from your student days?
Yes, the freedom! My advice to anyone studying now would be to make the most of your time as a student. You will never have another time like it in your life.
for ad astra: Theresa Rimmele