What it takes to get NU into the movies

    The people behind College Road Trip didn’t ask permission to use the Northwestern name, according to Alan Cubbage. Photo courtesy Disney Pictures.

    Last time I checked, that doctor from The Exorcism of Emily Rose who claims to be a psychology professor at Northwestern is not on the faculty list. I also know that if Buffy the Vampire Slayer had come to Northwestern instead of the invented University of California–Sunnydale, my irrational fear of vampires sneaking into Bobb in the middle of the night would finally be at ease. And I’m just waiting for Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls to show up in my American cultural history lecture.

    Whether you happen on a rerun of Still Standing or catch one of the many utterances in Mean Girls, Northwestern’s name, logo, pennant and sweatshirts seem to pop up in the most unexpected places. Sweet, right? Who doesn’t like sitting with a best friend from the University of (insert home state) and innocently boasting, “Oh yeah, weird. I go there. Hm, just wondering, what was the last movie that referenced your school?” Sure, it was one line but, hey, it’s something.

    These references may seem random, but Northwestern actually has some control over and reasoning behind whether or not John Krasinski gets to wear a shirt with our logo in License to Wed. The man in charge is Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations. “In order to use Northwestern’s name in any film or television show, a script is sent to me. It must then be approved and given my permission,” Cubbage said.

    Cubbage and his staff review about five or six films a year, with requests ranging from having a Northwestern diploma on the wall to actually shooting scenes on campus. The office favors one factor over all others when reviewing a script: a flattering reference. “When [the film Proof] sent the script and asked if a Northwestern sweatshirt could be sent so Gwyneth Paltrow could wear it in this film based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, I said, ‘Great. Can I deliver it personally?’” Cubbage sent the sweatshirt to England where the production was filming, but unfortunately, the scene was cut.

    The best reference I have seen was in that poorly written, joke of a spin-off, Joey. If you’re looking for an obvious plug for the Northwestern film department, here it is: Joey pretends to be a graduate of our fair university to get a job, after attending an alumni party and hearing about the famed “Northwestern Mafia.”

    On a more prestigious note, 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada was nominated for two Oscars, and for Cubbage, Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, was an ideal character to wear the Northwestern sweatshirt. “The character in that film was great,” Cubbage said. “The purpose of the movie was to show that she was a hard-working, intelligent girl who proved her worth, as opposed to the other flighty assistants.”

    Of course, Hollywood is full of badasses, and not every film and television show gains official permission from Cubbage. When a film bypasses Cubbage’s office and uses Northwestern’s likeness without permission, Cubbage says there is little they can do. Heard of this year’s College Road Trip? The film’s plot revolves around a character played by Raven-Symoné (That’s So Raven) not wanting to go to Northwestern, but they never had permission to use our name. “Someone e-mailed me the trailer asking what I thought about it. And I replied, ‘Not a thing,’ because I had no idea the [Northwestern] name was used.”

    And though there is no guarantee that a quick reference to Northwestern actually makes anyone jump on U.S. News and World Report to look us up, whose interest wouldn’t be a little peaked after seeing John Krasinski don the Northwestern shirt inLicense to Wed?


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