At Woolsey Hall, DeNiro films new movie

Robert DeNiro cannot avoid Yale forever.

In 2005, the actor shied away from filming at Yale for his movie “The Good Shepherd” — a drama about a Yalie and his role in the CIA. And last September, DeNiro shot a scene for another movie, “Righteous Kill,” near East Rock, just miles from campus. But now, he has finally made his way to the University — to act in his newest film, “Everybody’s Fine.”

While filming is confined primarily to Woolsey Hall and the adjacent rotunda, trailers and a permanent buffet have flanked both College and Grove streets since Monday, when filming began. Approximately 10 trailers provide space for production equipment, makeup, hair, costumes, and for private areas for the director and cast. (Facing the gates of Silliman College is one trailer labeled “Robert.”)

The production has brought a noticeable increase in police presence around Woolsey. Passers-by trying to cut through the rotunda, which is closed to the public during filming, are turned away by police. Summer students and other gawkers striving to catch a glimpse of the production saunter alongside Woolsey, spying through the cavernous hall’s open side doors.

The movie – a remake of a 1990 Italian film with the same title – tells the story of a widower traversing the country to re-establish ties with his estranged children.

In “Fine,” DeNiro stars alongside Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, although DeNiro and Rockwell are the only celebrities who will grace Yale with their presence, the University and a crew member confirmed.

In the scene filmed at Yale, DeNiro reconnects with his son, an orchestra member played by Rockwell, said University Licensing Manager and Assistant Secretary Denise Castellano. Handily, New Haven offered ideal extras for such a scene: members of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, the country’s fourth-oldest symphony orchestra.

According to Castellano, film staff descended on campus in March to scout Woolsey — which most Yalies know best as the venue for Yale’s Baccalaureate Service, Freshman Address and countless concerts. The film’s director and co-writer, Kirk Jones — who most recently directed “Nanny McPhee” and “Waking Ned Divine” — was instrumental in choosing the location, she said.

“They were looking for a concert hall, and Woolsey Hall is beautiful,” Castellano said. “As soon as they saw it, the director fell in love with it, and he knew he wanted to film there.”

Still, despite its iconic Yale beauty, Woolsey Hall is only being used as a stand-in for a concert hall somewhere in America, and it will not be identified as a part of Yale.

In fact, the entire movie is being filmed in Connecticut, but all locations will serve as substitutes for other settings across the country, said the film’s publicist, Jacey Taub.

Other than the aesthetic beauty of Yale, Castellano called a recently enacted tax credit a key draw for filmmakers with an interest in shooting at the University.

Since Jan. 1, 2006, Connecticut has been offering a 30-percent tax credit to shoot films in the state as the result of a law passed by the Connecticut legislature. According to a March study by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, film-production companies have spent $282 million in expenditures since the credit was established, creating a “modest impact” on the Connecticut economy.

DeNiro was in New Haven for the same movie only a month ago, filming a scene at Union Station with Beckinsale.

With production crews expected to leave by Wednesday, students and staff at Yale have relished their last few days of celebrity sightings. Martin Moore, a senior custodian in Silliman, said it was only a year ago that he watched filming for the Indiana Jones movie occur in nearly the same campus location.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “Yale is a good place to work. A lot of good things go on here that you wouldn’t see if you didn’t work at the University.”

Even bustling summer-school students cannot help but pause on their way to class.

“It’s exciting to be at a place that has a history of being in film,” said Allyson Walsh, a Trinity University junior taking Latin at Yale this summer.

“Everybody’s Fine” is being distributed by Miramax Films and is scheduled to premiere in 2009.

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