Student filmmakers, professors, book company team to create educational videos

August 04, 2015

Associate Professor of Mathematics Papiya Bhattacharjee’s daily summer lectures have an audience of just one unblinking video camera, but the potential to reach millions of math students.

Bhattacharjee is one of four calculus teachers chosen by regional audition to act as talent in supplemental video content to be distributed by Erie-based Larson Texts. The video series is being produced using equipment provided by Greater Erie Arts Rental (GEAR), a new outreach services of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and with the assistance of Behrend students working as production interns for Larson.

“I think the videos are going to be extremely helpful for any student, but especially the visual learners,” says Bhattacharjee, who spends four hours each morning in the Kochel Center television studio, working aloud while illustrating her commentary in grease marker on a large pane of glass. (The glass will be flipped in post-production to make the pane readable.)

Years of teaching have left Bhattacharjee comfortable speaking in public. It’s the addition of technology that’s the challenge. “I need to remember to always look at the camera while speaking, move away from my writing so it can be seen clearly in the camera, and so on,” she said. “I am trying to have fun. All I have to remember is that the camera is my student, and I am tutoring my student.”

But this is no average student: The camera is an Epic-M Red Dragon Pro, the same model used to film "Game of Thrones," "The Hobbit" and "Avenger: Age of Ultron." This camera is just one piece of equipment in GEAR’s inventory, which includes high-end cameras, lighting kits, and other hardware and software. The equipment is available to professional and student filmmakers and regional artists. GEAR’s equipment inventory, purchased using a $500,000 gift commitment from the Samuel P. Black Family Fund of the Erie Community Foundation, also includes lenses, tripods and stage legs; six-channel sound mixers; shotgun and wireless mics; Fresnal, LED, and HMI lighting systems; and Mac Pro, Adobe and DaVinci Resolve editing and rendering software.

Tim Larson, a 1987 Penn State graduate, is a partner in Grant Larson Productions, creator of the calculus video series. He anticipates filming 700 individual videos averaging seven minutes in length by the time the shoot wraps in August. Larson calls GEAR “a wonderful resource. It’s so nice to have this kind of equipment in Erie. On previous shoots we’ve had to rent cameras and equipment from Columbus and Buffalo, so this is an astounding benefit to us.”

An additional GEAR benefit is a ready-made film crew, since a rental discount is available to GEAR clients who hire Penn State Behrend students. “I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to work on this project,” said Erik Brown, a spring communication graduate and one of six Behrend students and young alumni working for Grant Larson as paid production interns. “The great thing about working here is not only learning about the film industry itself, but also being exposed to high-quality equipment. We’re not using just a couple house lights and DSLR cameras, but industry-standard gear for lighting, sound recording, and cameras. I’ve always wanted to work in the film industry and, now, working on this shoot, I feel like I have a realistic chance of doing that.”

Intern Shelby Dailey, a communication major starting her senior year at the campus, appreciates that Grant Larson rotates its student workers. “We’re given the chance to experience all the moving parts of film, such as camera operating, producing, directing, and script supervising. I’ve learned things that textbooks can’t adequately prepare students for, such as (crew) dos and don’ts, set etiquette, and (the importance) of networking.”

“We want to offer an educational experience that is at the same time a close facsimile of what students will experience once they enter the professional environment of producing film and television,” says GEAR coordinator Michael Berlin, whose previous professional experiences include managing crew and equipment for New York City’s Fashion Week and the E! and Pop television networks and production management for ABC World News, CNBC, and ESPN. “The students working on these calculus videos are gaining technical know-how and a type of muscle memory that characterizes this industry, plus they are learning the responsibility that comes with arriving on-set day in and day out. They also are enjoying the benefit of getting paid for their hard work—believe me when I tell you that this type of arrangement is a very rare and very special as a teaching tool that is fair to all parties involved.”

For additional information about GEAR, email Michael Berlin at mbb21@psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 05, 2015