Why does Stanford restrict entertainment filming on campus?

Feb. 2, 2024, 1:11 a.m.

From “MythBusters” to “High School Musical 3,” Stanford has been a backdrop to numerous well-known TV shows and films. Yet, though campus is open to visitors, the University’s communications department heavily regulates filming for entertainment purposes.

The University receives filming requests at most once per year, University spokesperson Luisa Rapport wrote in an email to The Daily. Filming requests are fielded by University Communications for initial review, but final approval is provided by the Office of the Provost, according to Rapport.

A filming proposal has to cross numerous hurdles to make the cut for final approval. In its initial review, University Communications assesses the relevance of the story line to Stanford “or whether the producer is looking for a generic university campus,” Rapport wrote.

Rapport wrote the review also gauges “the logistics, campus impact, available support and resources, alignment with University priorities and the significant investment of time and resources needed to make the shoot successful.” There is no required fee for on campus filming.

Student filmmaker Zach Lo ’23 said these rules impact student productions, especially those with low budgets. “Being at Stanford is a huge opportunity to add production value, but [the restrictions] end up just being another obstacle to think about during location scouting,” he said.

Former art practice lecturer Barna Szász MFA ’19 shot his thesis film “Let’s Talk?” on campus, for which he sought permission from the University. Although the policy seemed “extremely restrictive” at the time, he felt the process to obtain approval was “surprisingly straightforward,” Szász wrote in an email to The Daily.

Szász believes that given Stanford’s fame, “the restrictions are beneficial, as long as the University administration can establish a quick approval process for student projects.” He wrote this approach would protect the University’s identity and logo while also “allowing students to thrive creatively.”

Issa Rae’s ’07 series “Insecure” (2016) is one of latest TV shows to have scenes shot at Stanford, with glimpses of Main Quad seen in the trailer for Season 5. Although the series “Silicon Valley” (2014) makes numerous references to the University, many scenes meant to portray Stanford were taken at other campuses. A website alleges one episode had the Dish in the background.

“Legally Blonde,” starring Stanford dropout Reese Witherspoon who plays the fashionable law student Elle Woods, was allegedly denied permission to film at Stanford. Witherspoon tweeted that in light of this decision, scenes were shot at Harvard instead.

Some student film fanatics called for the expansion of on campus filming, which could lead to more Stanford-related films.

“I wished they filmed ‘The Dropout’ at Stanford,” Hillary Tran ’24 said, referring to the miniseries that chronicled Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes’s fraudulent company Theranos.

Others expressed hope that Stanford maintains its long-lasting connection to film history.

“Home to the first-ever motion picture, the Horse in Motion, our university holds a unique legacy,” Darren Redic ’24 M.S. ’25 said. “Why not continue the legacy by capturing campus life to showcase our commitment to a vibrant community of learners, thinkers and achievers?”

Redic hopes the University grants permission to more incoming filming requests.

“What… like it’s hard?” Redic said, quoting Elle Woods.

Contact Sarayu at smpai918 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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