Chris Schueler used to want to be on TV.
He’s since discovered he’s so much happier producing it.
The onetime Albuquerque TV newsman is now a globe-trotting documentarian who has trained his cameras and storytelling eye on an eclectic range of topics. From his early work using film to teach dairy farmers in India proper milking hygiene to a 2014 production designed to educate teens and parents about safety in a cyber world, Schueler says he’s found his calling.
“I’m a distiller,” he says at his home/office in Albuquerque’s far Northeast Heights, where he’s surrounded by artifacts from a well-traveled life. “I just take the information and try to distill it into a form that’s going to be not only palatable but engaging and that’s going to grab people’s hearts and help them understand an issue in a way that’s going to change them and their community for the better.”
The path to what he calls “the best job in the world” started in the small Ohio steel town of Middletown. That’s where a young Schueler got hooked on theater. He followed his acting dreams to college in California and later landed a directing job with the world-traveling production, Up With People.
He eventually landed in Albuquerque – where his brother, sister and parents had located – to get his master’s degree in playwriting and directing at University of New Mexico.
A somewhat random weekend weatherman gig at KGGM-TV – what is now KRQE-TV – set the stage for his current work. While still working on air, he started pursuing additional projects like the teen-produced “News 101” segments that laid the foundation for Christopher Productions. Schueler has created over 100 TV programs that have combined to win 23 regional Emmy awards. He currently splits his time among local, national and international projects.
Q: What was your first job?
A: City pool lifeguard. (I) loved it because I loved swimming. I was on the swim team. Great experience.
Q: Acting was your ambition in college – were you thinking plays or TV?
A: Plays, TV whatever you can make a living at. And, of course, you can’t, but I think I was luckier than most. I had some very good experiences in a couple movies and did stunt work that paid for my college, for God’s sake, which is stupid and insane and I’ll never do it again.
Q: For what? Any particular movies?
A: Old, old movies. I did stunt work in “Bound for Glory” about Woody Guthrie’s life. David Carradine starred in it, Randy Quaid, Ronny Cox. I was a stunt man in that, got beat up. Did stunt work in “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” with Michael Moriarty, Tuesday Weld. And that was my last movie. I did a bunch of little things, but that was the last one and it was the most insane, because I jumped out of a helicopter and (there was an) explosion, thought I was going to die.
Q: Were your ambitions still acting when you were getting your master’s?
A: No. I mean I didn’t know at that point. (While in school) I applied – because I needed a job – at KGGM, and they hired me as a weekend weather guy, and I didn’t know anything about weather. I shouldn’t say that, but they were great. They just needed somebody who could speak and read and be comfortable on TV.
Q: What story from your TV days (1982-2000) sticks out the most in your memory?
A: It wasn’t really a story, but the station community affairs director at the time said, ‘You should get on some boards,” and I didn’t know what that meant, what volunteering was. I didn’t really know. I thought, “Wait a minute. Why would I volunteer and not make money?” I was a kid, I was an idiot. She said, “No, I think you’d really enjoy that,” so I got involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and did the on-air stuff for them for a lot of years and I really found that I really loved volunteering and becoming involved in organizations (and) have gone since then through a series (of positions with various organizations and boards).
Q: How do you decide which issue you’re going to tackle through your films? Are people coming to you?
A: They do, and I have maybe between 15 and 20 projects in development in any give time. They’re things I love and am interested in – that’s the key – and my team of people who work with me are incredible, they love these things, too, because it’s doing really wonderful, positive things. Then we go out and find the funding for it. Sometimes we try to find the funding and we do it, and sometimes we don’t and we still do it.
Q: How did you get involved with SafeTeen?
A: This was 11 years ago. They wanted me to come in and do some video with them. They were doing school assemblies around safe-driving issues, DWI stuff, so I started doing video with them. Then they wanted me on the board, and then I ended up as executive director, sort of a weird series of circumstances. We’ve expanded SafeTeen in the last 10 years to include not only distracted-driving issues, but mental-health issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, bullying, (which) we did last year. We (address) all these different kinds of issues. We still do school assemblies. We’re doing five this year.
Q: You work with a lot of teenagers. Does it get harder and harder to understand them or relate as you get older?
A: I think it just keeps me younger, that’s what I think, and I so enjoy that – their energy, their enthusiasm, their knowledge. They’re the ones who can change the world, because they have the energy to do it. They have the ideas to do it, and we – we meaning older people – just have to allow that to happen.
Q: What’s on your bucket list?
A: I love to visit bizarre places. I don’t know where the next one is, but I can’t wait to get there.
Q: What are your pet peeves?
A: People who are not organized.
Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
A: I have to have at least one Oreo cookie a day.
Q: What do you think of the constant new flavor introductions?
A: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t even do the double-stuffed.
Q: What would you do with an extra hour every day?
A: Oh, wouldn’t that be fabulous. I would probably sit in the backyard with my dog.
Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Driven, inquisitive, passionate.