Smart People on campus

From the writer to the director to the extras, everything about Carnegie Mellon’s lastest stint in the spotlight is “smart.”

The movie Smart People will be filmed entirely on location at Carnegie Mellon and around Pittsburgh. Filming started on November 6 in Baker Hall. Other filming locations on campus include Hamburg Hall, Doherty Hall, Donner House, and Skibo Gym.

While the bulk of filming will end this Wednesday, the production team will return in December to finish shooting the film.

The movie will also feature university staff and students in small roles and as extras, interns, and production assistants.

“By having this movie feature the university prominently, we’re building national awareness for Carnegie Mellon,” said Marilyn Kail, assistant vice-president of marketing communications, in a Carnegie Mellon press release.

Smart People, written by Mark Poirier, chronicles the relationship between widowed English professor Lawrence Wetherhold, played by Dennis Quaid, and Wetherhold’s son and daughter, played by Ashton Holmes and Ellen Page.

According to Poirier, Wetherhold’s children are “faculty brats,” forced by their father to attend Carnegie Mellon for the free tuition. Wetherhold ends up falling for a former student, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. The film also features Thomas Hayden Church as Quaid’s brother-in-law.

Unlike the last movie filmed here, Wonder Boys, Smart People will refer to Carnegie Mellon by name.

According to Poirier, the screenplay is based on his own experience as the son of a professor at the University of Arizona. He later transferred to Georgetown University to major in writing and initially wanted to film in Washington, D.C., but director Noam Murro decided he preferred the look and feel of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon.

“We wanted a selective university, but the buildings here aren’t generic academic buildings,” Murro said, singling out Wean Hall as “disgusting, but it’s beautiful in its own way.”

Location manager Kathy McCurdy said working with Murro has been amusing, and Murro’s constant joking has made the filming process very entertaining.

“He has a great aesthetic eye, and he is very decisive,” McCurdy said, praising Murro’s work over the past few weeks.

According to McCurdy, this decisiveness has extended to casting extras. While many directors have their assistant choose extras, Murro selected many of the extras himself.

“Noam looked at [the picture of] every extra,” McCurdy said. She added that before filming, she and Murro were scouting one of Carnegie Mellon’s dorms for extras when they encountered one student with “hair like a modern sculpture.”

Murro immediately said “I want him,” and walked away.

“We love the people, love the school, love the atmosphere,” Murro said, after quipping sarcastically that filming the movie had been the “worst experience” and that he enjoyed being at Carnegie Mellon because “he loved New York.”
Although this is his first film, Poirier has taught writing at a number of universities, including Johns Hopkins and Stanford.

Quaid’s latest film was American Dreamz, a satire of American Idol, while Parker, the star of Sex and the City, has recently starred in Failure to Launch and The Family Stone. Church starred in Academy Award nominee Sideways.

According to McCurdy, Carnegie Mellon administrators have approached the film’s producers seeking a preview sceening for Carnegie Mellon students before the film is released. The film’s producers, however, have not yet replied to the administration’s request.