Day in the Life: Professor, filmographer, protestor

Connor White

While Professor Mehmet Caglayan may only teach one class a week, his time with Georgia Southern University has been anything but ordinary.

He grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, and despite having lived in the US, remains strongly tied to his home, having visited during citywide protests just last year.

Caglayan owns his own production company in Savannah, Blue Voyage Productions, which works with clients on a wide variety of productions, including communication media and documentaries.

Caglayan divides his time between his production company, teaching an Underwater Cinematography class at SCAD and teaching a three-hour, once a week course on film at GSU, having taught both Intro to Film Studies and Art of Film, which is his current class.

From Istanbul to Statesboro

GSU wasn’t his first choice when Caglayan arrived from Istanbul, Turkey in 1991. He had originally planned to live in Florida.

Florida State, University of Florida, Miami… it didn’t matter. I just wanted to go to Florida because I loved the beach and warm weather, usually in that order,” Caglayan said.

But because Georgia Southern offered Caglayan a scholarship, he ended up in Statesboro, and grew to love it all the same.

“I loved the people. I loved the school,” Caglayan said. “I felt at home, even though it was completely different from where I grew up. When I left Istanbul, it had a population of about six million. It was metropolitan, the traffic, it was huge. Statesboro was different, but the people were very nice, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to stay in the South.”

Originally, Caglayan wanted to pursue broadcasting, and from there, go back to Turkey with the knowledge he gained at GSU. But when he graduated, he landed a job with NBC’s news division, which granted him the once in a lifetime opportunity to cover the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“It was fantastic. Every day I was out on a boat, covering the sailing events. We were getting up at eight in the morning, shooting all day. And then at five or six we would be doing live shots in Japan and Hong Kong. We’d go to bed at 2 a.m. and be back up at eight to start all over again. I don’t remember sleeping that entire month,” Caglayan said, laughing.

NBC offered him a chief position at the same time his wife was completing her Master’s at GSU. Their first child came soon after, and Caglayan decided to stay a little longer, and then a little longer still, before finally deciding to call Georgia home. He completed his own Master’s degree at SCAD for Film and Television, and started up his own business.

A Businessman

Blue Voyage, Caglayan’s production company, specializes in what is known as Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer video messaging. Corporations communicate with other businesses and consumers through online media, especially through YouTube. “It’s the second largest search engine in the world,” Caglayan said. “You can find anything and everything there. So if you’re a corporation and you don’t have a video component, you’re missing out on that search engine utilization.”

Blue Voyage also films and produces documentaries, with productions ranging from small, one-man operations to up to 40 people being hired on to help complete larger projects, with contacts all around the world, from Istanbul to Los Angeles.

“The Internet and everything becoming digital has democratized film production. I don’t need my graphic artists sitting in the office with me,” Caglayan said.

Using tools such as Google Drive, he and his employees can work together on projects from anywhere they want to, and that’s how they’ve done business ever since.

In the midst of protest

Caglayan’s career has spanned across the globe, having visited places like Afghanistan and Japan, but it came as a surprise when his home country of Turkey rushed to the forefront of world news, just as he had planned a visit with family.

“While I was at the airport in New York, I was looking at Twitter when it just exploded about this massive protest. Police gassing people and complete chaos. And this was over a shopping mall. The last thing Istanbul needed was another shopping mall,” Caglayan said.

He had arrived just as the 2013 Gezi Park Protests has erupted, over the government’s decision to tear down more of Istanbul’s little remaining green space, and replace the park with a state-of-the-art mall complex.

“When we landed, it was like a battle zone. It was in ruins. There was gas and rocks being thrown. On Sunday I went with my kids and all my cousins to show them the solidarity of the situation, and talk with the protesters. It was something I’ll never forget,” Caglayan said.

“I met the person who started Occupy Wall Street, completely accidentally, because he overheard my son and I speaking English. He gave me a little booklet on how to start a peaceful movement, and at first I was like ‘sure, this is the guy’, but then I did a little research afterwards, and it really was him, in Istanbul. The protests brought so many people together. I even have a photograph somewhere of an American tourist standing on top of an overturned police vehicle.”

Film and photography

It was partly because of his love of photography that Caglayan started to work with film.

His interest in filmmaking grew out of a desire to work with public relations, while he was still living in Turkey. His mother’s cousin worked for the country’s largest firm as head of International Public Relations, so he was exposed to it early on and already possessed a few connections.

At the time, Turkey’s only television conglomerate was akin to the United Kingdom’s BBC, which is regulated almost entirely by the government. The privatization of Turkey’s media was just starting to develop, and Caglayan saw that as an opportunity to leap into an emerging market of film and television. He had the means to come to the U.S. and learn what he needed to learn, but Turkey’s operations were still very small by the time he finished, and he chose to remain in the States.

“I was always a very visual person, as a child. I liked drawing a lot. I was in my theatre club in high school, and I loved working on those kinds of productions and organizing them. I especially loved photography, and I think that all people behind a camera have some kind of interest in photography,” Caglayan said. “I always loved that the person behind the camera was in control of the visual part of the story.”

Mehmet Caglayan sees a chance to help college students expand their mind, which is why he comes back to teach every year he is asked. He loves the world of film and television, and wants to share that with GSU in what ways he can.