Hollywood in Westwood: exploring filmography on the UCLA campus
Take a virtual tour of the most frequented filming locations, discover the most popular genres of filmography at UCLA and scroll through the recent film history on campus.
Dickson Court, which includes two of UCLA’s most iconic buildings, Royce Hall and Powell Library, is the most popular filming location.
Drama, short film and comedy are the most common genres filmed on UCLA’s campus.
The total number of short films at UCLA increased from 11 prior to 2003 to 89 after 2003, marking an uptick of more than 700% in the last two decades.
In the past century, over 280 titles listed on IMDb have used UCLA’s campus for filming, cementing the school as a prime location for Hollywood productions. On campus tours, Kerckhoff Hall is identified as the backdrop of the iconic film “Legally Blonde.” Many UCLA students can relate to Buffy’s experience of being handed flyers on a crowded Bruin Walk in the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Throughout the school year, students often see cameras and film crews as they walk to class and wonder what production the school is a part of this time. In this article, we analyze trends regarding filmography at UCLA using information from IMDb. This filmography includes movies, television shows, short videos and video games.
The Ideal Filming Location
To film at UCLA, crews must contact the UCLA Events Office and follow a list of guidelines. The cost of filming is a combination of the UCLA film permit fee, event manager staffing costs, location venue rental fees, parking, police and any other facilities or other miscellaneous services. For a full day, between six to 12 hours, the permit fee for movie and television filming by itself is $4,510.
While most of campus is available for filming, some areas are not allowed to be captured by commercial shooting: the full south facade of Royce Hall with roofline and towers, full north facade of Powell Library with roofline, full north facade of Kerckhoff Hall with roofline and spires, Bruin Bear, Health Sciences and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center buildings, Murphy Hall, Chancellor’s Residence, residential halls, dining halls and other housing facilities.
Despite the fees and restrictions, UCLA is still a popular filming location because of its location and its architecture.
“UCLA also has the added advantage of the fact that it’s in Los Angeles, which means it’s right next door to Hollywood and so it’s quite convenient for Southern California film crews to work at UCLA,” said Jonathan Kuntz, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
An added bonus of filming in Los Angeles is the city’s reputation for sunny days yearlong. Ashley Davis, a fourth-year English and African American studies student who also studies film, television and digital media as a minor, said that it’s more practical to be filming at UCLA instead of places on the East Coast, where the weather is less temperate and more volatile.
The Los Angeles sunshine is particularly helpful for filmmakers who like to use old-school methods. David Figueroa, a fourth-year psychology student who also studies film, television and digital media as a minor, has completed a majority of his shorts on Super 8mm film. According to Figueroa, when working with film, it’s typically better to overexpose, so the abundance of sunlight in the city is valuable.
“Nothing hurts more than getting back a roll of film and it’s underexposed,” said Figueroa.
Additionally, UCLA stands out because of its quintessential college look. Kuntz said that since UCLA is grand and gigantic, it is quite distinctive when it appears in the background.
“You’ve got these grand old buildings that call up quickly the associations in our head of university. You know, big, major university. That’s its greatest strength,” said Kuntz. “UCLA also has some good interiors. We’ve got some classic big classrooms that can be used as well.”
Exploring Campus Filming Locations
Dickson Court, which includes Royce Hall and Powell Library, has been the most common filming location on campus. Of the 40 titles shown on the map, 17 of them included scenes at Royce Hall and seven of them included scenes at Powell Library.
“(UCLA’s) got certain parts of it that are very, you might say, old school. Obviously Royce Hall, and I’d also say Powell Library. You can’t look much more like a university than those buildings,” said Kuntz.
As a result of UCLA’s classic brick buildings, it has portrayed numerous different universities on screen, both real and fictional. Notably, because Harvard University generally doesn’t allow commercial filming on its campus, UCLA has served as the Ivy League university in filmography such as “Legally Blonde” and “Angels & Demons.” More recently, UCLA was filmed as the fictional Winchester University in the Netflix Original series “Dear White People.”
“It gives me some satisfaction. Knowing that we’re the stunt double of one of the top schools … in the world, that makes me feel a little smug,” said Davis.
Although much of the filmography on the map is clustered around Royce Hall and Powell Library, other UCLA buildings have made appearances on the big screen as well. The filming of a scene in “The Social Network” at Melnitz Hall, which houses the Film, Television and Digital Media department, particularly stands out to Kuntz, who has taught at UCLA for 35 years.
“They actually brought in snow and recreated a cold Northeast kind of winter there on the sunny UCLA campus so they could shoot several shots there instead of at Harvard. … I guess that’s my favorite just because it’s so different,” said Kuntz.
Other notable filming locations are Kerckhoff Hall and Janss Steps, with 10 and five included scenes, respectively.
For those looking to film outside the hustle and bustle of Royce Hall and Powell Library, the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden and Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden come to mind for Figueroa.
“I want to film something in the sculpture garden. … The botanical garden is also really beautiful. And there aren’t that many people there. If you think about it, as much as there are people walking to Royce and Powell, so if you want to make something where there aren’t people in the shot, it’s really easy to achieve that at those two places,” said Figueroa.
Breaking Down the Most Popular Genres
Drama, short film and comedy are the most popular genres of filmography at UCLA. Of the 288 titles on IMDb, as of April 4, 2021, that were filmed on campus, 40% of them are dramas, 30% are shorts, and 27% are comedies. According to Kuntz, a film shot at UCLA probably involves college students or is related to college students, so comedies and romances make more sense than action or adventure films.
The only war movie filmed at UCLA was the 1954 Oscar-nominated war drama “The Caine Mutiny,” in which Royce Hall served as the background for a naval graduation.
One of the three musicals filmed at UCLA was the 1980 Spanish musical “Del otro lado del puente,” which follows a Chicano student at UCLA.
Over the course of the last two decades, there has been an increasing number of short films. Of the 89 total short films, 78 were filmed in the last two decades. This sharp increase parallels the growing accessibility of smartphone cameras, editing software and video-sharing social media platforms.
Figueroa explains that shorts are more economically savvy for student filmmakers. They are usually between five to 30 minutes and unlike larger, full-length productions, a film crew isn’t necessary. Shorts can be done with just one person and one camera. They are also easy to share and consume on online platforms.
“There’s that chance of anyone being able to pursue their passion and share (their work) with other people through social media,” said Figueroa.
History of Filmography at UCLA
The first instance of filmography at UCLA on IMDb dates back to the 1932 film “Shopworn,” a romantic drama about a forbidden love between a poor woman and an upper-class man.
However, before UCLA was even built, the 1925 silent film “The Big Parade” was filmed on the campus location. The final sequences of the film, which take place in the fields of France, were shot on the undeveloped hills of Westwood, which would soon become the UCLA campus.
Since then, as filmography at UCLA has grown, some periods have been stronger than others. While filmography at UCLA saw a brief period from 1987 through 1995 with only one episode from TV Show “Melrose Place” rated over 7.5/10 on IMDb, it flourished during the 2000s with 18 productions rated over 7.5.
Two of the highest-rated titles were filmed in the last decade. The UCLA short videos “UCLA Baseball Intro” (2017) and “Blue and Gold” (2015) were each rated a 9.6 out of 10. Other highly rated titles in the past 50 years include the film “The Godfather” (1972), TV miniseries “Washington: Behind Closed Doors” (1977) and TV miniseries and documentary “Heja Sverige!” (2015).
In the years since “Shopworn,” “The Big Parade” and “The Godfather,” the film industry and Westwood have changed drastically, but one thing has remained constant – Westwood has continued to attract film crews and cameras. For UCLA students, seeing them on campus has made for some unforgettable memories.
“I remember Quentin Tarantino was filming his last movie in Westwood, and I walked down to see the production. I saw Margot Robbie from like a mile away and I was like, this is insane. I will never get any … closer to moviemaking than I am currently right now. It’s literally the heart of it all. … It’s just a surreal experience,” said Figueroa.
About the Data
The data in this article comes from IMDb and includes filmography that has “UCLA” listed as a filming location. Because much of the data on IMDb is crowdsourced, this list likely contains some omissions and inaccuracies. Some works were filmed on campus but have their filming location listed only as Los Angeles on IMDb. Other works list UCLA as a filming location when the actual filming took place at a UCLA-affiliated building that is not on the university campus. Works in these two categories may not be included in our analysis.