At Jhu: Lights, Camera, Harvard

Many At Hopkins Irked By Stand-in Role In Movie

November 03, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

The Johns Hopkins University passed itself off as Harvard in a movie Monday without feeling the least bit flattered.

"It feels degrading somehow," said Diego Ardila, 19, as he watched workers remove the words "Latrobe Hall" from a stately brick building and replace them with "Kirkland House."

Hopkins' Homewood campus is standing in for Harvard in "The Social Network," a movie about the creation of Facebook by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg.

The movie, like some Hopkins students, couldn't get into Harvard, which has a longstanding policy against commercial filming on campus. So the production has opened some old college-admissions wounds.

"The general consensus is, a lot of kids are not pleased," said Lorre Atlan, 20, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering. "It's obvious they [the filmmakers] could get Hopkins and not get Harvard."

That's left Hopkins, one of the nation's most selective colleges, feeling like a safety school.

"It's kind of like a blow to our pride," said Ray Tsai, a 19-year-old sophomore studying biomedical engineering, an academic subject in which, he and others noted, Hopkins is rated more highly than Harvard.

The sea of Hopkins hoodies and T-shirts on the campus' quads Monday only looked like genuine school spirit. It was attempted sabotage. An anti-Harvard Facebook page urged students to "poke" into the movie by walking by the set in Hopkins wear.

"Hopefully one slips in," said Jack Chan, 19, a sophomore who pulled on a black Hopkins sweat shirt as he watched filming begin outside Shaffer Hall Monday afternoon.

Not everyone thinks playing Harvard, which was tied for first with Princeton in U.S. News & World Report's most recent college rankings, is beneath Hopkins, which came in a none-too-shabby 14th.

"I think the people who have a problem with it are the same people who have latent self-loathing from the college admissions process," said Sam Biddle, 22, a senior philosophy major.

Jan Lee, 21, a junior in biomedical engineering, conceded, "A lot of people came here because they didn't get into Harvard, Yale or Stanford."

Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea put it in terms that might appeal to the competitive student body: "I prefer to think that we play Harvard better than Harvard can play Harvard."

Small changes helped the Charm City campus pass for the one in Cambridge. Signs at building entrances asked for Harvard ID. Bulletin boards bore ads with phone numbers beginning with 617. Digital magic will fudge landscape differences.

For its trouble, Hopkins will receive a location fee. O'Shea declined to disclose the amount but suggested an academic building was not about to be named for director David Fincher.

"My finance person didn't faint when she saw it," joked O'Shea about the figure. "We get a little fun, there's going to be an opportunity for David Fincher and the cinematographer to talk to some of our film students, and hopefully we'll be in the credits."

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