Vassar becomes historical backdrop for HBO mini-series

This past summer, HBO filmed its upcoming six part mini-series “I Know This Much Is True” on Vassar’s campus. Based on the book by Wally Lamb, the mini-series—set to be released in 2020—revolves around twins played by Mark Ruffalo who go through the journeys of breaking one’s soul and rebuilding oneself while navigating relationships with others. The series discusses, in the words of the series’ Assistant Location Manager Nicholas Pray, “the American legacy” and how one generation relates to the next.

According to Pray, Vassar became the location for several scenes after Marist declined the production company’s request to film.

As an unexpected benefit, Vassar’s unique architecture allowed the production team to recreate the ambience of different time eras during which the plot is situated. 

Pray explained: “It reminded us of this kind of old school look with Noyes Hall. It had that post-modern Jetson Lounge that we needed for the 60’s and 70’s.” Pray also indicated that some architecture reflected the aesthetics of the Vietnam War era.

Producer Jeff Bernstein elaborated on the need to portray different historical settings, saying, “We shot two different time periods there. We shot the 1990’s and the 1960’s and Vassar allowed us to have both looks.”

According to Pray, Vassar’s campus was just one of 25 locations on which filming took place. On campus, the production company worked on many different sites, with many requiring rearrangements to render them appropriate for filming. 

“Rocky Hall, which was our main office location, will be Juliette Lewis’ office in the show,” Pray said. He also indicated that Associate Professor of Philosophy Barry Lam relocated his Hi-Phi Nation recording operation, usually found in Rocky 407, to accommodate filming. After having toured all buildings on campus, the team also decided to film on the Main Residential Quad. They also filmed on the Main Residential Quad, although the Production team toured all of the buildings on campus. 

One unique feature that filming at Vassar offered was the opportunity to have a genuine Italian manuscript appear in the film, which was necessary to the plot of the series. “We needed a college that both the twins went to, but also where one could find somewhere where an Italian manuscript could be interpreted,” described Pray.

The production company expressed gratitude to Vassar for providing them with room to serve their crew, security and parking space for their 12 trucks and 60 crew cars.

According to Vassar’s Associate Vice President for Communications Gladwyn Lopez, who worked as the liaison between Vassar and the production company, Vassar receives many applications from various production companies who want to film on campus, and reviews them to make a final selection. “I think [filming on campus] has always been done, in terms of opportunities. More recently it has become more prevalent. It’s decided on a case by case basis. When possible, we look to always incorporate an education component for students,” Lopez explained. 

Vassar benefits from these partnerships with production companies, since they have much to offer film students. “We worked with one of the film professors to try and have production members come to a class, and there were opportunities to cast students as extras, and for them to learn the behind-the-scenes process. We work with [the production company] to try and get students involved with that. We are still looking to develop this further,” Lopez related.

Vassar alumni themselves have come back after graduating to produce films on campus. Lopez shared that in the winter break of 2018, Bobbie Luca ’15, a Vassar alum who at the time was pursuing an MFA in Film and Television producing at UCLA, arranged and produced a filming on Vassar’s campus for a UCLA MFA director’s thesis film. They shot scenes in a Main dorm room, the Athletic Center swimming pool, and other external sites on campus.

This project and the filming of the mini series are not unique experiences for Vassar; many other production companies have filmed on campus. While students leave campus during breaks, Vassar’s stately architecture remains to provide a backdrop for other projects.

[Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that a previous filming on campus involved a student, the filming taking place in their dorm room. Rather, the 2018 filming involved an alumna, who served as the producer/coordinator of the shoot as part of a student thesis project in UCLA’s film program.]

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