Oglethorpe University used in Love, Simon (2018)
by Rosa Wardlow
Oglethorpe University has served as a shooting location for multiple productions taking advantage of the Georgia tax incentive. Oglethorpe University was chartered in 1835 and re-charted in 1913 at its current location near Brookhaven, GA where it is now listed in Georgia’s Registry of Historic Places (“A Brief History”). The school has heralded its “unique masonry and Gothic architectural style” as its attraction for location scouts (McGuire). This is
certainly true for productions like The Vampire Diaries , however many works utilize the location for its general campus appearance. In 2017, Love, Simon shot a dance sequence at Oglethorpe’s Lowry Hall.
Love, Simon is an adaptation of Atlanta author Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The book is entirely set in Atlanta and the movie followed suit with an Atlanta setting and shooting location. The movie features plenty of locations Atlanta residents would recognize; the Atlanta International School serves as the exterior for fictional Shady Creek High, the characters stop by Dancing Goats Coffee on their way to school, a pivotal scene
in the movie takes place in a Waffle House, etc. Despite this, the name “Atlanta” is never mentioned in the film and the most definitive marker of the city is a shot featuring the Atlanta skyline in the background of a scene at the very end of the film.
The movie is also one of the few productions to film at Oglethorpe with an actual Atlanta setting. However, the scene was the only scene in the entire movie that was not set in Atlanta. Simon, the main character, is describing his ideal post-high school graduation life at a random liberal university in Los Angeles. Oglethorpe fit the bill and the historical institution was dawned with flags rechristening the place “Liberal University.” The aesthetic of Oglethorpe University does not align with the national expectations of Georgia, despite being a historic landmark of the state. It is an external shot for fictional “Memphis University” in Vacation , a random prestigious high school in The Candy Jar , a great hall for The Vampire Diaries. Oglethorpe seems to appreciate what the tax incentive has done for their university.
As of 2016, they grossed $150,000 which they report to use to give scholarships. They also say students are given the opportunity to work as extras and supervise production. The university said that, “The film and television industry in Georgia is showing no signs of slowing-and neither is Oglethorpe’s starring role in that economic growth,” (McGuire). However, Oglethorpe
can hardly claim to have a starring role as its identity is nearly always erased when it appears on screen. Tinic hits the nail on the head when she describes shooting locations being used as, “an industrial setting…rather than a cultural and historical site,” (Tinic 10). In Vacation , the Oglethorpe sign is entirely covered by one reading “Memphis University.” In The Candy Jar , the
university “stars” as a New England prep school. However, as an institution, specifically a historical Georgia institution, its identity is undermined when movies like Love, Simon use its buildings to represent an escape from Georgia to Los Angeles.
In a behind the scenes interview on set, a video posted on Georgia’s official tourism website and YouTube channel titled “‘Love, Simon” plays Atlanta for Atlanta,” the cast and director describe the Atlanta shooting location as “capturing the spirit of the whole film” and helping the actors really get into the setting (Georgia FMDE). The movie plays a very particular version of Atlanta. It’s suburban with upper middle class characters and, while the film boasts
more racial diversity than most (though the bar is not very high), predominantly white. In “Hollywood Elsewhere: The Runaway Locations Industry and Transnational Production Cultures,” Serra Tinic describes the common ideology within the industry that “stories that were overly particular to a place were difficult to pitch,” (Tinic 6). Where the book specifically explores the cognitive dissonance necessary to eat Chick-fil-A as a gay person or at least
addresses the segregation of metro Atlanta, the movie is much less specific to place, despite the narrative is being spread by those responsible for Georgia Tourism.
“A Brief History of Oglethorpe U.” Oglethorpe University ,
Georgia FMDE. “‘Love, Simon’ plays Atlanta for Atlanta.” YouTube , 13 Aug. 2018,
McGuire, Oliver. “Lights, Camera, Oglethorpe!” The Source , 28 Nov. 2016,
Tinic, Serra. “Hollywood Elsewhere: The Runaway Locations Industry and Transnational Production Cultures.” The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies , Edited by Angharad Valdivia, vol. 2, 2013.