Every USC student has caught a glimpse of the all-too-familiar brick siding, perfectly trimmed bushes or Trousdale Parkway brimming with bicyclists and skateboarders in the background — or even the foreground — of a feature film, television show or nationally syndicated commercial. For those of us who pass these landmarks on the way to class each day, whenever a hint of USC’s landscape or architecture is flashed in the background of our favorite TV shows, it’s like sharing a best kept secret between those only worthy of knowing — the Trojan Family.
Although USC’s picturesque campus has been a prime filming location for decades, the last 10 years have brought an eclectic array of cinematic projects to the grassy hills of Alumni Park and the regal entryway of Bovard Auditorium. Victoria Daves, director of Campus Filming and Special Projects, reasons that in her 15 years at her post, filmmakers have come to USC primarily because of its Ivy League look and its pleasant weather. However, in many cases, it is also somewhat of a homecoming. Daves estimates that in 95 percent of the projects filmed at USC, there’s a Trojan involved.
Since it would be impossible to list every strip of celluloid stained with USC’s cardinal and gold, the following is USC’s top-10 on-camera moments caught in the last 10 years.
Being John Malkovich, 1999
Directed by Spike Jonze.
In this bizarre film that involves puppets, uncomfortably low ceilings and the quiet, unassumingly erudite John Malkovich and the lonely people that long to see things through his eyes. Viewers catch a brief glance of the expansive Bing Theatre stage while Malkovich rehearses for a Shakespearean piece until he is interrupted by his lover, Maxine (Catherine Keener). It’s a short sighting, but a pivotal point in the haunting film.
What Women Want, 2000
Directed by Nancy Meyers.
When womanizer Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) fakes a pleasant call with his teenage daughter Alex (Ashley Johnson) to impress his new boss (Helen Hunt), it’s not on the streets of Chicago, the film’s supposed setting, but sunny Southern California — Alex’s payphone is stationed right in front of Bovard Auditorium’s distinguishable entrance. Nick also conducts research on the female psyche by taking a yoga class in the Physical Education building, room 201, and listening to his classmates’ thoughts in Hoose Philosophy Library.
Legally Blonde, 2001
Directed by Robert Luketic.
Perhaps USC’s most beloved film role in recent years, Bovard Auditorium once again makes an appearance on the silver screen, this time serving as the dormitory of bright and bubbly Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) in this hilarious albeit classic chick flick. Numerous scenes on Trousdale Parkway were also depicted as the winding paths of Harvard campus.
The Girl Next Door, 2004
Directed by Luke Greenfield.
In this teen comedy, the denouement shows a slow-motion shot of high school loser Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) finally attending the school of his dreams, Georgetown University — representing by a bustling Trousdale Parkway. The girl of his dreams, pornstar-turned-girlfriend Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), waits for him as he exits class, leaning against her trendy baby wblue Volkswagen bug with Doheny Library peeking from behind her shoulder — a cute ending to a typical teen affair.
Herbie Fully Loaded, 2005
Directed by Angela Robinson.
Rebel redhead Maddie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) scampers on her skateboard just in time to snatch her high school diploma as her proud daddy (Michael Keaton) snaps on an archaic film camera. Graduation, of course, takes place on the beautiful grounds outside Doheny Library.
Running With Scissors, 2006
Directed by Ryan Murphy.
In the cinematic adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’s memoir of the same title, a young Burroughs (Joseph Cross) watches his adoptive family bury the family cat, Freud, after it had been held underneath a laundry basket for four days by a zealous and eccentric Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow). The film just might make you weep, and not because the cat died. Burying feelings, even among the canopy of trees in Founders Park, doesn’t do anyone any good.
Musician Dave Matthews guest stars as a pianist with a mental disability whose miraculous skills begin to deteriorate during a concert held in Bovard Auditorium. Later in the episode, doctors Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) talk on the walkway between Bovard and Founders Park, with a squat, nondescript “Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital” placard standing nearby. While upperclassmen might remember being able to watch Matthews play in the dark auditorium, the grumpy genius doctor was nowhere to be seen.
Electra gum commercial, 2008
Some students might remember craning their necks to catch a glimpse of an aging Carmen Electra donning a bathrobe as she waited in between takes for the 30-second chewing gum spot filmed in front of Bovard Auditorium. Ms. Electra, chewing Electra? Clever, advertisers.
The Office, 2008
Episode: “Weight Loss”
Jim visits his girlfriend Pam while she’s cultivating her passion for drawing at an art school in New York. Pam (Jenna Fischer) serves as a resident advisor for her dormitory at Parsons the New School for Design which is a spitting image of the dorms in Pardee Tower. From the carpet to the dirty wooden doors, Pardee Tower is the leading model for an ordinary college living space.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Christmas Day 2009
Directed by Betty Thomas.
Though this computer animated, high-pitched children’s film might not open until the end of the year, Daves describes the filming as “pretty cute — they had stuffed chipmunk stand-ins do whatever the actions the chipmunks will do, running them up and down in front of the Galen Center.” Just what Alvin, Simon and Theodore will do in front of the athletic facilities is yet to be seen … unless, of course, an insider, ahem, squeaks.