Dahlberg Hall on the Campus of Georgia State University. The setting of the Post Office heist in Baby Driver (2017)
by Petra Goettel
Dahlberg Hall, located at 30 Courtland St. SE in Downtown Atlanta, is part of Georgia State University’s main campus. The building holds offices, a memorial hall, and a theater. It is an integral part of the campus for Georgia State Theatre students and for almost anyone who attends a special event in their years at State, due to the sheer number that are held in the special facilities there.
Dahlberg Hall was featured in the film Baby Driver, with its exterior being turned into a US Post Office, the location of a heist followed by a thrilling chase scene (Inman). Unfortunately, the fact that the location was renovated into something entirely different takes some of the limelight away from the school itself. Tweets from April 2016 come from students saying they thought Dahlberg Hall had been sold to the government when they saw the new signs placed there for filming (@LetsGo_Ugo). It instead became a hidden gem in the film for Georgia State students who recognized the building and its surrounding areas, like parking decks and street signs.
Filming on campus can be disorienting for many students and an opportunity for others. The first shot of Dahlberg alone shows the film’s thieves arriving at the location via a two-way street. Anyone familiar with the area this was filmed at would tell you that first, that street is one-way and always packed with cars or students walking through the area. Gun battles break out and a foot chase ensues that winds through places like University Lofts, the front of Student Center East, and Hurt Park. Within seconds, the character is then seen running through Peachtree Center. As is often the case in film-making, editing sutures together locations that are not very close to each other – near each other, yes, but not mere seconds of running apart. Locals would also tell you that it would be incredibly hard to take off running through any of these areas during the light of day due to the mass amounts of students, business-people, or tourists on the sidewalks and driving in the streets.
Trying to coordinate the efforts of filming a movie with a massive chase scene at a location that is home to tens of thousands of students in the heart of a major city is no easy matter. GSU Magazine featured an article after Baby Driver filmed on campus that asked the school’s Legal Affairs department about how permits are obtained for shooting on campus. Negotiations are made and efforts must be coordinated with Campus Services, Georgia State Police, and any other departments that might be affected by the filming. They say that they try to balance the mission of the university, the impact on the campus, and the plans to film, in a way that best accommodates everyone. They have arranged for students to help work on films in the past, in an attempt to create opportunities and fulfilling experiences for students (Hodges).
Attempting to balance these interests is a worthy cause, but this doesn’t always mean that the students agree with the way filming on campus is handled. Angry tweets can be found online like one from February 1 of a student upset that they can’t find parking spaces near their class (@_kaylovely) or one from a student wishing they didn’t have to go to class while the commotion was happening (@strydumb). While some students are lucky enough to take part in the filming process, many others are left annoyed, irritated, and tired of the number of shoots taking place on Georgia State’s campus, hindering their daily attempts at gaining an education.
As of now, it seems that students’ reactions are mixed when it comes to the frequent filming that takes place on campus. While it helps that some students benefit by gaining work experience and the school receives money from production companies, there is still a delicate balance that must be found between creating perfect backgrounds for films and allowing students to go about their daily education in a stress-free manner. While Baby Driver did use so much of the school’s campus, it also replaced the location name, not telling viewers openly where or what this place was. Reddit commenter jjvasil shared this thought on the GSU subreddit that says,
“I saw this with a friend last night and heard about it being filmed/set in Atlanta but I gotta say it was pretty shocking to find out pretty much the entire movie takes place on our campus and downtown Atlanta, and that they unabashedly pay so much homage to the area. I really wasn’t expecting until I saw the movie to see main characters walking past GSU signs and grabbing coffee at Octane. Multiple action scenes literally take place outside of the Student Center. Regardless if you like action movies (and it was pretty good just look at the RottenTomatoes score), it’s worth going just to support Atlanta and see such a big movie take place here at our school and the surrounding area.”
As Helen Morgan Parmett talks about, there are struggles that come with shooting in places and wanting to keep authenticity of the locale with it, and this particularly holds true for a place of education. However, by using local crew, keeping so many local businesses in the film, and paying homage to some of these sights, it is a step toward fully representing Atlanta’s prime filming locations as they truly are. While Dahlberg Hall was not shown as its true self in Baby Driver, by films one day treating it as they did Octane or Peachtree Center, we gain the possibility of Georgia State being represented as it is and as its students know it.