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Movie borrows a bit of MIT campus -- and reunion outfits

Members of the Class of '47 have the chance see their custom-made red 50th-reunion blazers twice this year--once in the mirror next month, and later on the big screen.

A note to class members from Jay Rosenfield (SB '51), who provides the garb for them to wear during Commencement and Tech Day reads:

"In late April, I received a call from Miramax Movies. 'Could I supply them with one hundred 50th-reunion outfits for a movie shoot of an MIT reunion?' I made the impetuous decision that you would enjoy seeing your MIT outfit on the big screen.

"The shooting went great. The garments were cleaned and are being shipped immediately. Be sure you go see `Good Will Hunting.' Maybe Robin Williams or Matt Damon will be wearing your blazer."

Mr. Rosenfield, owner of Concord Dry Cleaners in Concord, NH, delivered the Class of '47 reunion outfits to the Miramax production crew for use during the one-day shoot on the MIT campus on May 8.

The movie stars Robin Williams as a therapist whose clients include a brilliant but alienated math whiz with a custodial job at MIT. The story tells of the young custodian's uncanny ability to solve problems left overnight on a blackboard by an MIT mathematics professor. In the film, Matt Damon plays the young man, a native of South Boston, whom Williams counsels. Cambridgeport natives Ben Affleck and Mr. Damon wrote the screenplay.

The reunion scene, filmed near the barbecue pits in front of Briggs Field House, is supposed to celebrate the Class of '72, Williams' character's class.

To give the scene authenticity, Miramax production assistants and an art director pored over photographs, printed materials, invitations and press accounts, said Susan Tomases of the Alumni Office

"They definitely tried to understand the overall traditions and the spirit of the event," said Ms. Tomases, who provided the archival material. For example, Miramax acquired a dozen hula hoops to be used in one of the Tech Challenge games.

Ted Johnson, assistant director of programs in the Campus Activities Complex, added an MIT flag to the pole in front of Briggs Field House.

The filming was a "great opportunity for the students to see a movie production," said Mr. Johnson. "Some may even be included as 'walk-arounds' in the background."

As for the story itself, nitpickers may wonder whether Williams' character could actually be licensed to practice therapy with his PhD in brain and cognitive sciences.

But, as Mr. Rosenfield said, "Hey, this is Hollywood. It's fun! I was all set to be an extra--they hired 100 of them in a casting call in Boston--but it was enough for me to waylay the Class of '47 reunion sets and get them to Cambridge. It was a 5:30am casting call."

Mr. Rosenfield had some fleeting concerns about how his custom-tailored blazers would fit the Miramax extras. "Hey, no problem. They just said, 'You give us the sizes, we'll get the bodies to fit,'" he said with a laugh.

A full reunion outfit, he explained, includes the traditional cardinal-red blazer, a gold crest with the MIT logo, gray pants and a gray and red striped freshman tie. Mr. Rosenfield has been providing the 50th-reunion clothes to MIT alumni/ae since he went to his own 20th reunion in 1971 and noticed "all these very old men" who needed reunion outfits.

"I was in the industrial uniform rental business and the career apparel business. When I found out the atrocious prices that a local place charged, I offered a better deal. Now, the reunion class committees start working with me a year in advance of the actual ceremony," he said.


Like Ms. Tomases and Mr. Rosenfield, other members of the MIT community started working with Miramax about a month before the crew arrived to start filming.

And, like Ms. Tomases and Mr. Rosenfield, preparing for a reunion, Hollywood-style, was nothing compared to what's required to prepare for Technology Day and reunions during the first week of June.

Norman Magnuson of grounds services in Physical Plant said preparing for Miramax was "not even close" to preparing for Commencement week. "We cut the grass and put flags on the heads of the irrigation system so the crew would know where they could put up their tent. It took two men about three to four hours."

"We displaced about 30 people from the Kresge lot," said John McDonald of the Parking and Transportation Office. "Then the extras took about 100 spaces from the West annex. But they all cleared out. Commencement is 10 times harder than a film crew--for that, we utilize everything we have."

Added Campus Police Lt. John Cappucci, "We set up barriers, cordoned off the area by the Student Center, put up signs and had details to keep the public and curiosity-seekers away. Commencement is a different event. It's joyful, but with many more serious security issues."

"Organizing the logistics for this shoot went very smoothly, as the Miramax location manager was very amenable to working within Institute parameters for filming on campus," said Gayle M. Fitzgerald, director of conference services and events. "When a problem arose in the afternoon, he was quick to rectify the situation and very concerned about any negative reactions from the community. Events of this nature are a nice change of pace; I enjoy watching the community watching as a day like that unfolds. My thanks go to my colleagues who helped make that day a success."

For Mr. Rosenfield and his staff at Concord Cleaners, the rehearsal reunion is over, and the real one is just revving up.

"The Miramax people got all the blazers back before I could start charging them a late fee," he said. "Now we've just got to clean and press them all for the real thing."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 1997.

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