|Following a Dream to the Bottom of the Ocean: A Q&A with David Schott '98
David Schott ’98 studied economics and political science at the Valley, and set his sights on a career in finance, even going on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Widener University in 2004. But throughout his career, Schott always saved his vacations for what he liked best: technical scuba diving and underwater photography and videography. In fact, it was on a diving vacation that he met his future wife, Becky, also an underwater videographer. In 2007, the two launched an underwater videography company, Liquid Productions LLC, and they married in 2009.
Today, the Schotts have earned an Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award for their work. Together, they’ve logged thousands of highly technical dives in waters ranging from the Caribbean to the sub-Artic regions. They’ve worked with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on a variety of documentary films, recorded the exploration of historic shipwrecks such as the USS Monitor and the Andrea Doria, and even participated in the 2010 expedition exploring the ocean floor wreckage of the Titanic.
Schott is the third member of his family to graduate from LVC. His father, Dr. Richard Schott ’67, graduated with a degree in biology, and his brother, Jeffrey Schott ’95, graduated with a double major in political science and economics.
David is currently working on a project documenting the exploration of the deepest underwater cave in the United States, which extends more than 400 feet in depth.
How did you acquire your competitive spirit?
I’ve always been competitive. I think part of that was due to my parents. My dad is a very competitive person—no matter what we do, it’s always a competition.
What motivates you?
Succeeding in my business!
What activities, people, or courses at LVC helped you prepare for success?
One of my best courses at LVC was business communications with Dr. [Leon] Markowicz, [late professor of English emeritus], one of the best professors ever. He was tough, but it was a good class and I learned a lot.
How has global competition changed your field?
In underwater videography, it’s a small group of competitors—we know them all well. And when you get into the challenging environments that Becky and I shoot in, it’s even smaller. Only a handful of people do what we do. So it’s a small niche market, but it’s competitive. We have gotten to the point where it becomes name reputation, getting the job done, and getting it done well. Competition isn’t necessarily based on price but on having the reputation for being able to get the shot. In a lot of these shoots, you have one chance to get that shot, so you can’t have equipment failure or physical failure.
What’s most important to remain competitive in your field?
One of the biggest things is to get the job done and done well—get the shots that the director or producer is looking for. Equally important is doing that with a good attitude, with teamwork, in a scenario where you can explain what’s happening. Directors and producers don’t typically understand diving and videography underwater as well, so situations can arise where they want us to shoot something that’s unsafe or that won’t work at all. So part of being competitive is having good communications with them, and having a good attitude.
How do you prepare physically and mentally for competition?
There are a lot of physical and mental aspects to extreme diving. You have to be in good shape and be able to haul hundreds of pounds of equipment. We definitely have to work out when we’re not out doing jobs.
More important is the mental side, because in extreme environments it’s a perfectionist sport—if you’re not perfect, you’ll die. So we train a lot. We’re always working on skills so that it’s muscle memory instead of thinking that will help you recover if something goes wrong. If things go wrong you need to be able to fix it immediately. For instance, we just returned from three weeks of shoots down in Florida doing cave diving video work for CBS. While there, Becky and I spent an extra four days diving, just practicing and doing drills.
What is your favorite book about competition?
There are some great books. “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” by Atul Gawande, is one. Another is “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why,” by Amanda Ripley. Those two have a lot to do with diving and life.
Who is your favorite competitive role model?
I’m not a big believer in role models. I look at aspects of all different people and take an aspect that I like and might push toward that. But there are so many different scenarios to life, it’s tough to choose one role model.
Do you have a guiding philosophy about competition?
We both do the morally right thing. We don’t rip off clients, even if that means we make less money or don’t always get proper credit for our work. I think that comes through and people see it, and in the long run it’s a better philosophy, even though it may hurt you in the short run.
What makes LVC competitive?
One of the best aspects of Lebanon Valley is the size. I would have had a lot of problems as an immature 18-year-old going off to college at a school the size of Penn State, where you don’t have to go to class and professors don’t necessarily notice if you miss class.
Another one of the great things about Lebanon Valley is that you knew every student. It was too small for football players to dislike band people, for instance. Everyone knew each other, whereas my friends at Penn State, they only had a group of maybe 20 people who they knew.
What advice would you give to current LVC students?
Think for yourself. Many students take what professors say for granted and assume it’s true, especially in economics and political science—but there is a great variety of opinion about what’s true in those fields.
This alumni Q&A is one of many captured in preparation for the Spring Valley Magazine, which hits mailboxes in April 2014.