Silliman sophomores Susan Truong and Keely Macmillan were peering out a window in entryway B, watching Julia Stiles and Topher Grace filming a scene on Friday night when Grace jokingly called up to their window, “You’re watching this? Don’t you Yale students have anything better to do on a Friday night?”
This past weekend, Revolution Studios filmed several scenes from “Mona Lisa Smile” at the Yale University Art Gallery, Silliman College, and Sterling Memorial Library. Starstruck Yalies followed the crew around, hoping for glimpses of director Mike Newell and stars Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Stiles and Grace.
Thirty-five lucky Yale students, 25 men and 10 women, were selected by a casting agency to be extras for some of the scenes, but they were not permitted to comment on their roles in the film.
For many students, the most exciting part of watching the afternoon filming in Silliman was that they were able to watch a few of their friends and classmates make their debut performances in a major motion picture. The 25 male student stand-ins looked like what one would expect a 1950s student to look like — clad in clean-cut tweed and khaki suits with their hair slicked back.
“This is an educational opportunity for everybody to get a look into something we wouldn’t ordinarily see,” Silliman Dean Hugh Flick said.
Flick almost got the full experience.
“I was going to be an extra, but I got a call saying I was too young,” he said.
Another 28 students, half of them Silliman residents and the other half members of the Dramat, worked as production assistants.
Tanya Palomo ’03, a film student, worked as a production assistant, coordinating all of the other Yale production assistants and helping with crowd control.
“It’s a really good learning experience and [the production company has] been really good about keeping us in the loop,” she said.
Starting last Wednesday afternoon, set crew members were already busy putting brown tape around the window frames of the Wall Street side windows to give them an older look. Residents were asked to move their bikes to temporary bike racks, while antique bikes from the 1950s were put in their place. Green wood replaced the brown wood of the benches, and dark green Adirondack chairs were scattered about the courtyard. Crew members removed all waste disposal containers and signs. Even the graffiti “hi” was removed from the outside wall of entryway A.
“It’s cool waking up every morning and seeing something different about the courtyard,” Zvika Krieger ’06 said.
Security was high during Friday morning filming outside the art gallery, with production assistants monitoring the spectators. The 100 members of the crew, many of whom were proudly wearing Yale hats and visors, moved swiftly around, helping to ensure that they stayed on their tight schedule.
Donald Filer, one of Yale’s associate secretaries, was a liaison between the University and the production company throughout the entire process of negotiations and filming and was present at the four movie shoots on campus. He said his priority was to ensure that students experienced as little inconvenience as possible while the production company was on location at Yale.
“We’re delighted to have this production here, working with the city and the state, and that students can be directly involved as extras and production assistants,” Filer said. “If the movie industry wanted to film more movies here — we’d be delighted to help.”
In the earlier hours of the filming, only a couple of strategically situated fans stood outside the gallery, waiting to catch a glimpse of Roberts.
But by 12:30 p.m., a sizeable crowd had congregated underneath the High Street arch.
At one point, a member of the production staff attempted to entertain the starstruck audience by teaching them the “wave.”
“This is a scam to distract us,” one woman said.
Several Yalie production assistants helped keep the audience silent when a production staff member said, “Picture’s up — rolling.”
Despite the chilly weather, the atmosphere was electric as spectators eagerly observed and absorbed every detail, from 1950s stand-ins wandering over to the food tent to production staff transporting film equipment in and out of the building.
Slightly before 2 p.m., Roberts was quickly whisked away in an SUV to the trailers lined up on the edge of New Haven Green, across from the tent city.
Few passers-by noticed as Roberts, dressed in a loose-fitting denim jumpsuit and wearing sunglasses, exit one trailer and enter another.
Silliman College, the setting for two scenes, attracted the largest group of spectators, mostly students. Silliman residents were particularly excited to see how their college would be transformed into a movie set.
Newell said he chose Silliman because of its architecture and large courtyard. The brick portion of Silliman stood in for Harvard University, while the Wall Street entrance stood in for Wellesley College.
“I am terribly sorry to tell you, but you’re doubling for Harvard,” Newell said at the Silliman Master’s Tea. “It’s the damn red brick.”