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The Act of Filming on Campus

Set signs, with cast and crew seen in the background in the middle of the quad. PHOTO/ Sheba Antony
Set signs, with cast and crew seen in the background in the middle of the quad. PHOTO/ Sheba Antony

By Radhika Viswanathan 

Brooklyn College students are typically unfazed at the sight of large production trucks and trailers parked on Bedford Avenue, or signs that display another school’s name hanging from the banners on the campus quad.

From 9 am to 3 pm on Thursday, Dec. 7, trucks, a film crew, and “George Mason University” signs were brought to the campus courtesy of The Americans, a television show on FX. While students were happy that it would bring visibility—and presumably money—to the Brooklyn College campus, they also felt inconvenienced by the production staff preventing them from walking across the East Quad.

The show takes place in 1980’s Washington D.C., during the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War, but it’s filmed in New York City. Brooklyn College’s campus was used for scenes that took place at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“When we look for locations, we have to find places in the city that look more suburban,” said one of the production assistants, who asked not to be named. “So since this scene is taking place at a university, we had to find a college campus that’s pretty, with open space.”

In order for a company to obtain permission to film on campus, they must coordinate with an administrative events specialist. These requests are then reviewed and approved by a group of senior campus administrative members, which include the senior vice president for finance and administration, the chief of public safety, the assistant vice president of facilities, the dean of student affairs, and the assistant vice president of communications and marketing.

According to a spokesperson for the Office of Communications & Marketing, the money the college gets for being a film location goes into the Auxiliary Enterprise Corporation Fund. “[The Fund] is used to support various campus initiatives,” the spokesperson said. “For example, auxiliary enterprise funds were used to pay for the 2017 commencement ceremonies at Barclay’s Center.”

Giselle Thomas was trying to access the Bedford Avenue entrance into Boylan Hall when a production assistant redirected her. “Now I have to walk outside all the way around to enter Boylan,” said Thomas, who is a high school student at the Brooklyn College Academy. “It just sucks because I’m already running late to class.”

Because students did not receive an email or any other correspondence from the college notifying them of the filming, they were not able to ensure they could plan around this inconvenience and come earlier to campus.

“It’s just that we’re students, it’s finals, we pay to be here and campus is students’ home away from home,” said Brooklyn College student Chloe Combs. “And right now we have some random film crew telling us where and when we can walk into buildings for our classes.”

A majority of the inconvenience for students was due to the fact that the trucks and trailers were blocking parking spaces. “This morning, I actually woke up early to study and get some work done before heading to class,” Brooklyn College student Bryan K. said. “But because it took me so long to find parking with all the film trucks and catering trucks, I wasn’t able to do so.”

Parking by the college is already a challenge, even without the extra vehicles lining the streets. However, because film companies request parking spaces through the Mayor’s Office, Brooklyn College does not have jurisdiction to keep spaces free for student parking.

The production assistants were generally sympathetic towards the students. “Most students do listen when I tell them they can’t walk through,” one said. “But y’all are doing finals and some people are like crazed, running to classes, so I understand that it’s an inconvenience to be diverted.”

Many students were wondering why they couldn’t simply walk across in the background during filming, essentially playing the roles of extras. After all, the set is supposed to be a typical college campus. As Brooklyn College student Michal Slowik posted in the “BC: In the Know 2” Facebook group, “They’re importing college students from other colleges across the country to act as college students while preventing us from going about our day on our college campus.”

However, according to another production assistant, the extras are not only paid, but also dressed in specific period clothing in accordance with the T.V. show’s setting.  Therefore, they were required to keep a tight control on who was in the background during filming.

But in typical Brooklyn College fashion, not all students were willing to take these orders lying down. “I actually walked right through one of their ‘guards’ and she yelled. ‘Hey you can’t go there!’ and I’m like ‘I just did,’” Slowik posted, yielding several “laughing” reactions.

At the end of the day, the filming was merely a minor inconvenience for students, most of whom were happy that their campus would be on the T.V. screen. “I think it’s great for the school,” Bryan K. said. “That we get to show off the aesthetic value of our campus.”

“In retrospect, it doesn’t really bother me,” said Combs a few hours after the film crew had left campus. “I just wish I had been notified.”

“Depending on the nature of the shoot, we notify the parties involved,” the Brooklyn College spokesperson said. “As we schedule bigger and more complex shoots, we are determining the best method to notify the campus community.”


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