It all started with the appearance of a gigantic blue cherry picker. Wires, lights and cameras came next, followed by a mass of black-clad individuals wearing headsets. Finally, a group of Hollywood-beautiful actors and extras with perfect teeth and well-fashioned haircuts arrived on the perimeter. It was official: Oxford College’s Hoke O’Kelley Library had been temporarily transformed into a television set.
Early last week, the Oxford library acted as a shooting location of the new hit CW show “The Vampire Diaries.” Filming commenced early Monday morning and spilled over into Tuesday before moving to other nearby locations.
Based on a popular series of young adult books by author L.J. Smith, “The Vampire Diaries” involves two recently orphaned siblings, Elena (Nina Dobrev, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of legendary action star Steve McQueen).
Set in the small, fictional town of Mystic Falls, the show follows Elena as she becomes romantically involved with a classmate named Stefan (Paul Wesley, “24”) who she later discovers to be a vampire. Meanwhile, Elena and Jeremy realize that their neighbors and classmates are being attacked and tormented by Stefan’s psychotic brother (Ian Somerhalder, “Lost”).
Developed for TV by “Dawson’s Creek” and “Scream” maestro Kevin Williamson, the show mixes the teen soap opera aspects of the former with the horror/comedy tone and pop-culture savviness of the latter.
Originally shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, the show relocated to Monroe and Covington, Ga. to take advantage of the tax incentives provided by the 2008 Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, which boosted the state’s tax credit for qualified production expenditures by as much as 30 percent.
Although the show has previously been filmed in locations around the Covington area, this marks the first time the program has made its way onto the Oxford campus.
According to the show’s location manager Danny Sconyers, the Oxford library provided an ideal setting, both for its small-town feel and its general proximity to other shooting locations.
“Creatively, it had the look for what the director was looking for,” he said in an interview with the Wheel, noting the library’s winding staircase and immense chandelier fixture. “Logistically, it was close to another location that we’re filming in the same amount of days. So we paired them together and saved on travel.”
Filming was restricted to the second floor of the library with students being allowed to roam quietly at the lower level. In order to prevent unwanted background noise, students were instructed to silence their cell phones upon entering the library.
Despite these minor inconveniences, many students were thrilled to have their school be part of a popular TV show.
“It was exciting,” Oxford freshman Necol Ronda said. “I didn’t really feel as though it was a hindrance on our studies and it was an interesting experience. It brought something new to Oxford.”
Cathy Wooten, director of communications for Oxford College, sees the filming as being highly beneficial for both the college and its students.
“It’s a great opportunity for Oxford,” she said. “It’s good exposure, we can get good public relations and it’s a lot of fun for the students.”
Besides the obvious economic advantages, Emory’s Business Development Manager David McClurkin believes that hosting film productions is an excellent way for Emory to build up its relationship with the both the local community and the state.
“Emory has such great venues and locations. It can really support the community in that way,” he said, adding, “this is one of the fun parts of my job.”
Prior to “The Vampire Diaries,” Oxford College and the general Covington area have played host to several other movies and TV shows, including “In the Heat of the Night,” “My Cousin Vinny” and Rob Zombie’s recent remake of “Halloween 2.” Most notably, Oxford’s Seney Hall was featured in the opening credits to the classic 1970s show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Depending on the direction of the show’s storyline, Sconyers predicts that the cast and crew may be returning to the Oxford campus several more times before the season wraps in April. In any case, he says they would be all too happy to come back.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It took a lot of people to coordinate getting here and getting things done but they’ve all been very helpful.”
McClurkin also had nothing but good things to say about his experiences with the Hollywood community.
“You usually think of Hollywood people as being pushy,” he said. “But by-and-large they’re sweet people and very professional.”
According to Wooten, Oxford will be investigating future opportunities for hosting film and television production.
For now, Oxford students wait in anticipation to see their school on national TV. Many more look forward to informing friends that they attend a school where savvy teenagers and vampires collide, rather than just where the “Dukes of Hazzard” boys used to crash their car.
— Contact Mark Rozeman and Courtney Ward