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Arts & Entertainment

Sunset Boulevard Hits Storrow Drive

Extras needed for major motion picture filming at BU

A Columbia film crew prepares to shoot a scene in front of the Towers dormitory on March 8. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Thinking of the city of Boston, especially during the winter, rarely brings to mind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. But Hollywood came to Boston  last month, when filmmakers shot a scene for a major motion picture at the BU Castle. Over the next six weeks or so, Boston, and BU in particular, will provide several locations for the filming of the movie, which is based on Ben Mezrich’s best-selling novel Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions and stars two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.

But BU is doing more than providing locations. It’s also offering talent. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to a casting call for extras tomorrow, March 10, at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, 39 Dalton St., in the fifth floor’s conference room 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those planning to attend should mention Boston University.

Columbia Pictures first contacted Colin Riley, BU’s director of media relations, about shooting at BU. “Massachusetts is trying to be accommodating to movie productions because they showcase the city,” says Riley. “When someone comes to you with a request to shoot something at the University, you consider it.”

After approaching both BU and MIT about filming, Columbia scouts decided that BU had all the locations they needed and that filming at MIT wouldn’t be necessary. Columbia representatives were so impressed with BU’s facilities that they are shooting scenes here that were initially going to be filmed in Las Vegas, says Diane O’Brien Wall, director of conference services.

“It’s not unusual for BU to be approached because of our location, our size, and the diversity of what we can offer,” says Wall, who is coordinating the filming at the University. “Even Columbia didn’t realize what we could offer.”

Columbia filmed an alumni reception scene in the Castle on February 26 and transformed the Hotel Commonwealth’s Great Bay restaurant into a Las Vegas spa. A last-minute shot involving an actor stepping out of a limo on a bitterly cold day was filmed on March 8 outside Towers on Bay State Road.

Over spring break, scenes will be shot in academic buildings, such as the School of Management and the College of Arts and Sciences, and in early April Mugar Memorial Library, the Fitness and Recreation Center, the Tsai Performance Center, and a brownstone office on Bay State Road will be used.

“It’s quite a bit of scheduling for our office because we are the liaison to Columbia Pictures, developing a schedule of what will be used when and the cost,” says Wall. “It has been a lot of juggling with various departments.”

Despite the work involved, the University is generally willing to provide locations for films, public access programs, and the occasional commercial, she says. “We are interested in doing things like this when they are beneficial to the University financially or otherwise and when we can do so with as little interference with student life as possible,” Wall says. “It also brings a little bit of excitement to campus.”

The fee Columbia Pictures pays BU covers services such as facilities management and police details; the rest goes into a University facilities fund, according to Wall. The production company appreciates the response it has received from the University, she says, and the “nature and the quality of our facilities.”

Robert Devaney, a CAS mathematics professor, has already secured a role in the film. He will work behind the scenes for two days over spring break, putting math equations on a blackboard for a scene showing Spacey’s character teaching. 

“Columbia asked me if I would be willing to do it,” Devaney says, “and after seeing a little of the script, it was clear that I was the natural person in my department to do it because the concepts are very close to my research.” 

Devaney, who doesn’t watch television or go to the movies, says his son, who is an actor in New York, convinced him to help out. “I don’t really even know anything about Kevin Spacey. I actually called him Kevin Speecheck accidentally when telling my son about it,” he says. “He thought I’d enjoy it very much. And as a mathematician, you don’t want foolish mathematics on the board and everyone laughing about it.”
Brittany Jasnoff (COM’08) contributed to this story.

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.