Article by Heidi Butler; photos by Jaye Beetem, Heidi Butler and Patti Canavan
February 14, 2012
If you are watching public television this summer and see a lab that looks like Room 238 in Penn Hall, do not be surprised. You may also spot students from Northampton Community College, and a science professor who resembles Dr. Sharon Lee-Bond. Your eyes are not deceiving you.
During the week of February 6, a production crew hired by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS,) flew to the Lehigh Valley from Wisconsin to produce a promotional spot that will air on public television stations nationwide.
The 60-second videos will feature five individuals whom public television has inspired to "Be More." One of the five is Christian Ramos, a student in Dr. Lee-Bond's Biology I class.
During the video shoot, Ramos still seemed a bit incredulous at all the attention. As a fan of the local public television station, PBS39, he sometimes checks their Facebook page. One day last summer he responded to a post asking visitors whether public television had affected their lives.
He reported that as a child he was "obsessed" by dinosaurs and dreamed of becoming a paleontologist, but by the time he graduated from Liberty High School, financial concerns led him to join the Army and then take any job that would pay the bills. When he wasn't "on the clock," his time was his own. He spent much of it reading and thinking about science.
One night when he and a friend were watching the award-winning science series NOVA on PBS39, Ramos said he couldn't help adding his own observations to those of the narrator. Impressed by Ramos's knowledge, his friend asked him why he didn't pursue science as a career.
It was an "aha" moment. That goal had seemed impractical before, but now Ramos thought, "Why not?" Money was still an issue. He worked. He saved. Finally he was able to enroll at NCC as a biological science major with the goal of going on to graduate school to study evolutionary genetics. "There is so much we don't know," he says.
Ramos thought no more about his Facebook post until he received a call from Jon Hornbacher, a director with Tilt Media -- a company he'd never heard of. After talking with Ramos for an hour, Hornbacher was convinced his story could inspire others. From there "things just snowballed," according to Ramos.
Five months later Hornbacher and a coterie of broadcast pros converged on Penn Hall from Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maryland. The team included award-winning videographer Dale Doebert, gaffer/grip (aka lighting expert) Tom Mathews, still photographer Peter Krogh, PBS's Associate Director of Broadcast Production Jared Traver, and PBS's senior director of brand strategy and promotion Kelly Chmielewski, as well as Vivian Elam, an Allentown-based hair and make-up artist.
A "scouting" mission occurred the day before videotaping began. Three members of the production crew met with Dr. Lee-Bond and with NCC lab tech Dan Peters to discuss the kinds of labs that Ramos would be doing in Biology I to determine which would look best on camera. Lee-Bond offered a myriad of options from which three were chosen: one involving pH testing, another requiring use of a microscope, and a third in which Ramos would use a spectrophotometer.
By early the next morning Peters and Lee-Bond had set up the lab stations accordingly, adding other appropriate props such as test tubes, petri dishes and beakers full of brightly colored solutions for an effect Lee-Bond jokingly described as "lab chic."
The work had just begun. The production crew spent an hour and a half setting up the lights and testing different camera angles before "the talent" arrived. "The talent" in production lingo meant Ramos and the students in Jaye Beetem's Intro to Acting class who were recruited as "extras."
"I'm the first mad scientist in my family," one of the theatre students quipped as he donned a white lab coat and safety glasses.
Meanwhile in another part of the lab, Ramos found himself in the hands of a hair and make-up artist who was wielding scissors and lecturing him about drinking more liquids so his skin looked hydrated. He didn't protest as she washed and styled his dark locks to fit her vision, but - perhaps spotting the eyelashes with butterfly wings in her traveling "arsenal" - he looked a bit alarmed when she reached for the make-up.
"Don't worry," Hornbacher assured Ramos."She just going to powder you up for the lights." It was at this point that the crew got their first glimpse of Ramos's sense of humor. "That's good," he said. "I'm not expecting a David Bowie thing today. As long as we're all on the same page with that..."
David Bowie probably never did as many takes transferring liquid with a pipette as Ramos did. "Why do we keep stopping?" Macy Stom wondered, as the director instructed Ramos and the extras to go back to their "marks" (starting locations) over and over. A theatre major, Stom was used to live theatre, but classmate Matthew Velasquez, a communication studies major, explained that video requires "a lot of shots to get it right."
Lee-Bond was definitely in character as the professor in the video. "You might as well learn some science while you're doing this," the biologist told the students with a smile as she explained lab techniques both to Ramos and to the theatre students.
Over the next two days additional footage was shot in the library and the Quad where more NCC students, including some radio/TV majors, had a chance to be part of the action.
Those who participated in the 3-day shoot are curious to see which scenes will make it into the 60 seconds that do not end up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
Like public television itself, the videotaping proved to be an educational experience for all involved. And, as marketing major Nick Howe pointed out, "It's good marketing for Northampton. People will get a sense of what we have to offer."
See more photos of the filming in this Flickr gallery.
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