Elizabeth Kulas has the kind of reassuring energy that makes you feel like everything is going to be alright. That is no mean feat, considering it’s her job to report on news and politics every day!
The host and producer of Schwartz Media’s new daily podcast, 7am, Elizabeth is at once warm and personable, whip-smart and laser focused. Along with her fearless team of producers, editors and audio engineers, Elizabeth is transforming the way people consume the news, while setting a new standard for podcast production in Australia. 7am is the compass point, and Elizabeth and her team circle around it every day.
Like many of us, Elizabeth’s early 20s were spent on a vast spectrum of different jobs while trying to figure out what she actually wanted to do. This time saw her studying Art History and German at university, living in Berlin, and spending time working as the assistant to Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis. While she loved it all, Elizabeth recalls a ‘deep yearning’ to find her *thing* underscoring this transitory time of her life.
And then a series of things happened quite quickly: Elizabeth won the US Green Card Lottery, moved to New York, and started listening to a lot of This American Life on the recommendation of her partner. Falling in love with audio storytelling as a medium, Elizabeth applied for an internship at WNYC (where she first met 7am senior producer Emile Klein, who she recruited from LA this year), and went on to travel across America for the better part of a year, to work on some of the most prolific podcasts out there, including NPR’s Planet Money and Gimlet Media’s Reply All. In 2016 Elizabeth won a PEABODY AWARD (this is a big deal!!) while she was at Planet Money reporting on a US banking scandal.
After five years of building a solid career foundation in New York, Elizabeth unexpectedly returned to Melbourne after a close family member fell ill (a move she describes as ‘an easy decision’). ‘That city had been so good to me, but my family aren’t there’, Elizabeth explains (she’s also an identical twin). ‘And right at the moment that all that happened, this new opportunity opened up to build a daily show with Schwartz Media.’
Hosting and producing a daily podcast is no joke. The days are long, the schedule is rigorous and things often don’t go to plan. We talk to Elizabeth about what it takes to get it done, every day.
I get up around 6:30am. The first thing I do is check iTunes and Spotify to make sure that the show is out that day! But once that’s done, I try to sit for a few minutes before the day starts. It would be a stretch to call it meditation but it helps. I drink a green juice for breakfast most days. I know, I know, but the truth is that on the inside, I’m a septuagenarian Californian hippie. I shower, get ready, and then ride the 10 minutes or so from home to work.
I have a single coffee a day. I stop at Market Lane on Faraday Street on my way in. I’ve never had a bad coffee there.
I get to the office between 8 or 9am. The schedule for making a daily show with a small team is no joke and I’m so grateful for the people I get to work with every day, they make it so enjoyable. I manage the show’s schedule, so the first thing I try to do is check in with our producers, Ruby and Emile – what’s the episode we’re working on today, what interviews are scheduled, do we need to do an edit meeting or start planning a story? I often have an interview to record in the morning, too. These run for around 30-45 minutes.
Making a podcast is what I imagine making a short film must be like – it’s, by definition, a team effort. All kinds of things can and do go wrong, you’re constantly problem-solving, there’s performance and editing and improvisation required. Between 10am and 1pm, we usually sit as a group with our editor, Erik Jensen, and listen through the draft version of the next day’s episode. We take notes, give feedback, figure out what’s working in that episode and what’s not. And then we make a plan for the rest of the day.
In the early stages of the show, it felt impossible to find time for lunch. But the hours can be long and I soon discovered that I got a lot more done over the course of a day if I took a break, so I take lunch around 12:30. Sometimes my partner, who works freelance, has time to meet me for lunch. It’s the best, especially when the sun’s out. I like the sandwiches at DOC, and in winter they make fantastic minestrone.
Afternoons can be hectic. I’m usually closing the show that goes out the next morning and planning an interview for the next day. By 4pm, there are last minute things to record, final cuts to make, and in-progress episodes to listen to and edit, sometimes solo, sometimes as a team. Audio is finicky and time-consuming. This is also the time I’m trying to fit in all the other little tasks that come up every day.
Our third producer/audio engineer Atticus starts his day in the late afternoon and works into the evening on the final mix. I do a listen of the show around 6.30pm and make final notes, then Atticus picks it up from there. I try to leave by 7pm, but it’s often later.
I ride home, and then usually make dinner with my partner. When it’s not freezing, we often go for a walk afterwards.
I, or one of our producers, will do a final listen of the show around 9pm. We can do this from home and share the load among our team, but it means that some days can be really long. That can make unwinding tough. I find routine helps. I drink tea, chat to my partner a lot, sometimes meditate. I’ve gotten a bit better at accepting there’s always more to do at work, but I can’t be a constant hostage to it, either.
I read, even if it’s just a few pages. My partner and I love TV and film, so we watch something together most nights. When all else fails, there’s Seinfeld. (I once met Julia Louis Dreyfus in the bathroom at an awards ceremony and I’ll never be the same).