Let’s say a Columbia graduate co-wrote a story about a foolish young man forced to find a way to pay for his niece’s high-priced college education. Let’s say a big-time production company found the idea worthy of a movie — starring Tom Green and Jason Lee. One would logically imagine that the movie would be called “Stealing Columbia.” Yet Columbia was never even considered.
Evidently, logic is not Hollywood’s forte.
Before Tom Green stole Harvard, he stole Stanford — and he had to give it back. After filming scenes at a Stanford look-alike, Stanford refused the movie’s producers permission to use its name without the inclusion of a new ending, where the niece receives a scholarship covering everything. As a replacement, the producers chose the allegedly more flexible Harvard.
In the battle of the college movies, Yale isn’t getting much play, while Harvard gets more big-screen action than all the other Ivies combined. Is Harvard the hottest debutante at the ball, or is Yale simply picky about her suitors?
Harvard media and events manager Chris Ahern said his employer must just be lucky — the school neither expressly permits nor forbids the use of its name in films or television. All the movies set at Harvard are technically filmed off campus or at body-double schools. But there is a loophole — filmmakers can shoot scenes from the street with Harvard buildings in the background since the street is not Crimson property.
“Harvard doesn’t license its name out to commercial productions,” Ahern said. “Harvard does not expressly grant permission for commercial projects to use Harvard’s name.”
Ahern said he was not sure why there was a flood of movies brandishing the Harvard name.
“For a lot of people, Harvard is just shorthand for American higher education,” he said.
Higher education? In “How High,” two friends — played by rappers Method Man and Redman — ace their SATs in a pot-smoking fluke and land themselves one-way tickets to Harvard. While Harvard didn’t “expressly permit” the film to use Harvard’s name, neither did they forbid it.
Stanford, on the other hand, seems to steer clear of Hollywood attention, particularly the kind that could misinform prospective students.
Kate Chesley, Stanford’s associate director of communications, said that Stanford declined “Stealing Harvard” producers’ requests because the movie would have suggested that affording Stanford (which is need-blind in admissions) would require resorting to a life of crime.
“In general, Stanford tries to avoid that kind of exposure,” Chesley said. “[But] Hollywood takes liberties — we understand that.”
The case for “Orange County,” which follows the antics of Colin Hanks’ attempts to get into Stanford after an application foul-up, is much the same.
“Orange County came and asked if they could use Stanford’s name and trademark, and we declined,” Chesley said.
Stanford did not find out the school’s name had been used — despite their refusal — until after the trailer came out. Subsequent negotiations led to the attachment of a disclaimer at the end of the film.
Like Stanford, Harvard gets a lot of attention in Hollywood films, but the references are not universally flattering. None of these movies, with the notable exception of “Legally Blonde,” have either been critically or financially successful.
So Stanford doesn’t want the publicity, and Harvard just can’t say no — or yes.
Yale is another story all together. It is a myth that Yale has a policy refusing any on-screen mention of its name. Still, Yale appears more concerned about its image than Harvard.
As far as “The Skulls” and “Porn ‘n Chicken” are concerned, Yale’s insistence that the school’s name not be mentioned was essentially a foregone conclusion. Unlike Harvard, even Yale’s grounds were off-limits for the film shoots.
“Porn ‘n Chicken” was shot at Columbia, but the good, sexy scenes were not Columbia’s cup of tea. Those scenes were filmed at — and the irony is lost on no one — the nearby Union Theological Seminary campus.
Yale reviews all requests by film and television companies individually, said University Secretary Linda Lorimer.
“There is no blanket policy in effect,” Lorimer said. “Our priority is to ensure that any filming will not interfere with academic needs and would not reflect poorly on us.”
That “Porn ‘n Chicken” and the various “Skulls” films were not allowed to shoot on campus, or allowed to bear the Yale logo, is far from surprising.
The producers of “The Skulls” toed the line of copyright infringement — setting the movie at a fictional Ivy League university starting with the letter Y, whose mascot was a bulldog, and whose colors were blue and white.
While Yale still refuses to give its name away, Revolution Studios gets to make up for its “Stealing Harvard” by breaking Yale’s long streak of silver-screen abstinence. Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles will come to Sterling Memorial Library and Silliman College for a day, shooting several scenes for the upcoming “Mona Lisa’s Smile”.
Still, Roberts plays a Wellesley College professor, not a Yale one.
Well — we’ll always have “The Skulls.”