Wow, doesn’t time fly when you’re having a busy semester! I meant to tell you about this early March shoot a while back, but got swamped and it fell off the desk. I recalled that I’ve been neglectful because I learned that the show in which some of this will be used will air on Tuesday night (9:00pm I think – “The Universe” on the History Channel). The episode discusses the end of the universe, as far as I know. The point is to discuss the various speculations that have been made about how the universe might end, and what current knowledge (such as the famous 1998 supernova observations showing that the universe’s expansion is accelerating) seems to suggest about which of those scenarios might be more likely. Of course, for the discussions to make sense, you need someone to talk about some of the basics, such as what it means for the universe (indeed, the whole of spacetime) to expand and collapse. Who you gonna call?
Ok. I’m one of many you can call. It was a new (to me) producer/writer, Savas Georgalis, who called this time, and we worked together on plans about how we might illustrate some of these ideas, doing some things on the USC campus. So, I’m happy to announce that I got to visit some parts I’ve not visited before. We did some very lovely shots inside the newly constructed USC Galen center to start the day. We needed a space with people filling it up and getting close to each other when it got very packed (so they shot some footage there during a basketball game a night or two before), contrasting that situation with there being few or no people in the same space (a young vs an older, much more expanded, universe), which is what we filmed together. The shots were lovely because of cameraman Jason Newfield’s work with Savas to film me talking while the camera moves on a track, keeping the speaker in the same place on the screen while the background moves. All rather more creative camera work than is normally done on these talking-head-type contributions. I’m curious to see how that worked out visually. I’ve worked with Jason on two or three other episodes in the past (see here, for example), so it was good to see him again. Erica Caskey took the rather nice photo above (more on her below), and you can see Savas Georgalis, production assistant Jeff Larsen, Jason Newfield on camera, with Rory Nix on audio.
In fact, I learned of parts of the campus that I did not even know existed. Case in point. Part of our telephone conversation (not word-for-word), after we’d agreed that it would be fun to have me talking about tossing a baseball (and discussing escape velocity from a mass like the earth – analogy with expanding universe: does it escape – open universe – or come back down – closed universe):
SG: Well, maybe we could get a professional baseball player to hit the ball on camera.
cvj: Yes! That would work very well! (We’d already established that I would maybe not the best choice of person to use for hitting a baseball on camera…)
SG: Hey, I wonder if… We could use your baseball stadium.
cvj: Er…. yes… we could use our… baseball stadium…
Shortly thereafter, I arrive at my GR class. I immediately ask:
cvj: Er…. We have a baseball stadium?
class: Duh!! (I paraphrase a bit…they did not really say that explicitly.)
cvj: Where is it?
class: Right next to the football team practice field, and the sport center.
cvj: Wait, you mean where the tennis courts are?
class: Behind the tennis courts.
cvj: Oh! I thought it was tennis courts all the way down (as it were).
I later remembered that I’ve noticed that we have a baseball diamond on the USC campus map that I look at regularly. I just never connected the shape on the map to the real thing, and in fact had just extended what I could see (tennis courts) further than where they really were to fill the gap in my mental map of the campus. This is all right next to the building I teach my class in too! Odd. Later, I mentioned this to David Morrison, who was visiting a day or two later and he proceeded (with my Mathematician colleague Wayne Raskind) to tell me that before USC was a football power, it was a baseball power, and still holds records for some of its past wins, and so forth. The students had mentioned that they were pretty good too. I’d never known about any of this, strangely enough…
Well, we used the baseball stadium (see right – click for larger view) for the shoot. There’s a lot of sitting around in this business, and so you can see me practicing my levitation skills while I wait for the setting up of a shot to complete. It was a fun shoot. (This photo was taken by Savas using his own camera, since my camera had been stolen the week before, and my old camera was ailing. The photo at the top of the post was taken by Erica Caskey using Savas’ camera. Erica is employed by USC to work with production teams and crews to help with shooting logistics and so forth. She’s pretty crucial to the coordination of this sort of thing. She found us our baseball player, for example, and worked out all the access permissions for us to use the various spaces. I’ve worked with her on other shoots too (there she is on the left). Thanks Erica!)
I don’t know what parts of the work we did will make it to the final show, and I’ve not seen any of the show’s final form, or what story Savas chose to tell (he had a difficult job, with too much material to choose from), but I expect it’ll be definitely worth a look, if you’re interested in some of these ideas.