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Indiana Jones and the Tower of Ivory

New Haven is always a somewhat different place in the summertime, but this July something outlandish happened to one particular downtown block. On Chapel Street across from the Old Campus, Starbucks was replaced by a bar advertising fresh oysters, Ten Thousand Villages became a barber shop, and, where a copy shop had stood just days before, suddenly there was a Woolworth's—with a coin-operated horsie ride out front, no less. It was looking a lot like 1957. Only Enson's, the upper-crust men’s clothing store, looked more or less the same.

It probably helped that Steven Spielberg’s son Theo is in the class of 2010.

The occasion for the overhaul was the next movie in the Indiana Jones series: Harrison Ford is reprising his role as the archeologist-adventurer-college professor, and some of the scenes were being filmed at Yale. The shoot, with camera crews, props, technicians, stars, and all the paraphernalia of big-time movie making, rolled into New Haven in late June like a huge booby-trap boulder in an Andean treasure room, poised to crush everything in its path. But town and gown emerged from the heady fortnight of makeovers, traffic jams, and movie-fan mania in the same way that PG-13 action stars emerge when a building falls on top of them—smiling, unscathed, and ready for the next adventure. Considering Yale’s new openness to letting Hollywood cameras on campus, there are bound to be plenty more.

Even after two weeks of filming at Yale, little is officially known about the fourth Indiana Jones film, not even its full title. Studios don’t like to give anything away too early. The film’s executive producer and producer, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, held a press conference on June 27, but they spent most of it deflecting questions about plot points and determinedly bringing the conversation around to the openness, generosity, and photogenic possibilities of Yale and New Haven. They'd clearly done their homework. It probably helped that Steven Spielberg, director of the Indiana Jones pictures, received an honorary degree from Yale in 2002, and his son Theo is in the class of 2010.

Yale had been cast as the fictional Marshall College, an Ivy-like institution first seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark and originally played by California’s University of the Pacific. Marshall acknowledged that the school’s name is an in-joke: “If my last name was Yale, it would be Yale College.” He and Kennedy, who are married, first met on the Raiders set and have been involved with all four Indiana Jones thrillers. Besides Ford as the not-so-bookish professor (based, some have speculated—though without much evidence—on Yale’s Hiram Bingham, Class of 1898, explorer of Machu Picchu), the new movie stars Shia LaBeouf of Disturbia and Jim Broadbent of Iris and Moulin Rouge. It brings back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s ex-lover from the first film. Kennedy confirmed that Sean Connery, who in an earlier installment played Indy’s father—a more sedentary academic than his son—will not return to the role, having retired from acting.

“It’s 10 or 15 minutes of the film, a very important sequence.”

Many of the action scenes were filmed in Hawaii, L.A., and elsewhere. In their relatively brief time at Yale, Spielberg and his crew used the Old Campus, Branford and Saybrook colleges, Phelps Gate, W. L. Harkness Hall, Commons, the Law School, and Sterling Library as backdrops for their tale. In some cases, only minor set-dressing was required to turn the school into a 1957 rendition of itself.

Kennedy and Marshall insisted that the scenes shot at Yale are essential to the film’s plot and won’t be edited out. “It’s 10 or 15 minutes of the film, a very important sequence,” Marshall said. “You’re definitely going to see New Haven in it.”

Despite the studio silence (and the agreements that extras had to sign, promising to keep mum about the plot), scuttlebutt swirled around campus and in the media during the filming. The Yale scenes are believed to be the beginning of the movie. They apparently show Indiana Jones talking to a dean in an office—actually the Law School faculty dining room; lecturing in William L. Harkness Hall; and observing an anti-Communist rally on the Old Campus. A chase ensues that takes Indy and his son around campus on a motorcycle. Along the way, an Old Campus statue gets its head lopped off (but don’t worry; it’s just a prop).

Finally, in a true Hollywood feat of geography, Indy’s motorcycle zooms toward the front entrance of Sterling Library and blasts through, straight into Commons dining hall (restyled as a library reading room). Papers fly everywhere, and then the motorcycle bursts into the street—from Calhoun College’s Elm Street gate, fitted with a set of styrofoam breakaway doors.

Spectators milled around downtown every day.

To get that Sterling entrance shot, the filmmakers built an 80-foot tunnel inside the library’s nave to contain the potential damage from the cycle's exhaust fumes and other hazards. “We’re doing some crazy things,” allowed location manager Mike Fantasia. He said the tunnel was proposed in response to the aghast expressions on some Yale faces when the scene was first mentioned. “My attitude is, there’s always a way to do it.”

Spectators milled around downtown every day hoping to spot Spielberg, Ford, or others from the cast, but energetic production assistants kept viewers far away from the filming, and the stars could barely be glimpsed as they were whisked to and from their trailers. Still, fans admired the meticulous retrofitting of Chapel Street and the dozens of antique cars lining the streets. And they took in the myriad other details involved in erasing 50 years of history, such as the temporary disappearance of LED traffic lights and LCD parking meters.

Hundreds of extras, dozens of them Yale students, got closer to the action. “I saw Steven Spielberg choreograph a fight scene about 10 feet away from me,” gushed a twentysomething extra from Lyme, Connecticut, who'd stood on line for hours for the opportunity. He'd been paid to have his hair cut so as to better resemble an Ivy Leaguer of the ’50s. Little was left to chance: the extras (or “background specialists,” as the filmmakers called them) were given carefully chosen period costumes, including wool suits, fedoras, twin sets, circle skirts, and even ’50s-style bras to wear. The corps of extras included New Haven alderman Nick Shalek '05, as well as Saybrook College master Mary Miller ’81PhD and associate master Edward Kamens ’74, ’82PhD. Several members of the Woodbridge Hall administrative staff also appeared as extras. One extra recounts taking direction from Spielberg himself: on seeing Indy jump onto a passing motorcycle, Spielberg explained, she was to raise her white-gloved hand to her mouth in a horrified gasp.

Make-up artists passed the time by giving music school staff free make-up tips.

Some extras, says School of Music press office director Vincent Oneppo '73MusM, waited in air-conditioned Sprague Hall between takes on College Street. So did several make-up artists, who passed the time by giving music school staff free make-up tips.

Even as Indiana Jones (or his double) was ripping around campus, another film shoot was taking place with much less fanfare. Scenes for the sequel to the 2005 film Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which stars Alexis Bledel (who played a Yalie on Gilmore Girls) and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera, were shot in the University Theater and on the Old Campus.

Part of Yale’s newfound popularity as a motion picture backdrop has to do with finance: the state of Connecticut enacted a tax credit last year that has already brought millions of dollars worth of film production into the state. Another reason is that Yale has become more generous with its image. Harvard has been the backdrop for everything from Love Story to Good Will Hunting, but Yale traditionally held aloof: in the late 1980s, the university famously declined to let filmmakers use the Davies Mansion, on Prospect Street, as the Addams Family homestead.

Next Memorial Day, when you go to the theater to see a fedora-wearing archeologist roar into Sterling Library on a motorcycle, you’ll know that’s all changed.  the end






Gallery of photos of the Indiana Jones on-campus film shoot.

Map of campus locations you might see in the opening scenes of the film.


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