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On Location

Occidental College gets an A grade from location scouts

August 14, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • The TV series "Arrested Development" films an episode at Occidental College in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The TV series "Arrested Development" films an episode at Occidental… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

In a computer room crammed with students, freshman George-Michael Bluth is conferring with his dad, Michael, about his ambitious plans to create a social media website.

The scene, featuring actors Michael Cera and Jason Bateman, was set at UC Irvine but played out on the campus of Occidental College, where the crew of the TV series “Arrested Development” spent two days last week filming around the campus.

Occidental College is perhaps best known as the school once attended by President Obama. But the private liberal arts college in Eagle Rock also is making a name for itself as a hotbed for filming, thanks to its classic college look, proximity to Hollywood and aggressive courting of the film industry.

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In the last year alone, the 120-acre college has hosted more than 16 productions, up from 11 the prior year, college officials said. Those include commercials for Best Buy, AT&T, Doritos and Xfinity as well as TV series such as “Arrested Development,” “CSI,” “NCIS,” “Private Practice” and “Rizzoli & Isles.” Several feature movies also have filmed there, including “The Kids Are All Right.”

Occidental, which has an in-house film coordinator and retains a scouting firm to drum up business, actively encourages film shoots, at least when classes are not in session.

The filming tradition goes back to the silent film era. Its alumni include actor and director Ben Affleck, screenwriter and director Terry Gilliam and producer, director and American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr.

“Anytime you’re looking for a school, this is always on the list to shoot,’’ said Darrin Cummings, key assistant location manager for “Arrested Development,” the Fox TV series that has been revived after several years and will be distributed by Netflix.

“When you’re filming on a school [or university], there are a lot of rules and regulations. This college really works hard to cut the red tape for us,” he said.

To be sure, there’s a monetary incentive. The university charges about $9,000 a day to film crews, depending on the size of the shoot, and generates about $100,000 a year from renting its property to film crews, said Mary Grogan, director of filming at Occidental College.

But Grogan said there also were educational benefits to having film crews on campus. The college encourages film and art students to shadow the crews. Some are occasionally hired as extras.

“Sometimes directors will take kids under the wing and give them tips of the trade,’’ Grogan said. “It’s a great hands-on experience for the students.”

Film student John O’Neill chatted with an assistant director and observed the “Arrested Development” crew filming in the college library. The crew also filmed in a dormitory, school bookstore and courtyard.

“This is an opportunity for me to be on a film set and see a major production being made,’’ said O’Neill, 21. “There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting.”

Although it has a Southwestern-style architecture, the college’s look is generic enough that it can represent just about any college on either coast. In addition to standing in for UC Irvine, Occidental has appeared on screen as UCLA, Boston College, UC Berkeley and Columbia University.

And beyond school campuses, it has been the de Young Museum in San Francisco in “Eli Stone”, a foreign embassy in Washington, D.C., in “NCIS” and Planet Vulcan in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”

The college got a rare opportunity to play itself this spring in the upcoming movie “Look of Love” with Annette Bening and Ed Harris as an Occidental College art professor. The film included art students as extras.

Established in 1887 in Boyle Heights, Occidental has been a popular film site since the silent film era. The Marx Brothers used the college for their 1932 movie “Horse Feathers.” It was also featured in 1936 college football comedy “Pigskin Parade,” where Judy Garland made her big screen debut. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy also graced the campus in the 1952 movie “Pat and Mike.”

Occidental College also was used through the 1990s as the backdrop for the fictional California University in "Beverly Hills, 90210."

Activity tapered off until 2006 when the college hired Unreel Locations, a Los Angeles scouting company that specializes in promoting university properties for filming. Joaquin Nunez, a partner, said the college is one of his most popular locations.

“The look is Anywhere, USA,’’ he said, standing next to a courtyard draped in oak trees. “It’s very collegiate, and we don’t have a lot of palm trees, which is a plus.”

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