Knowing all the Texas State community endured throughout 2020, making it to a major streaming platform, even if it was not exactly (inserts chuckles) the way we imagined, should have been the least of student outrage.
Last year, Texas State got its big Hollywood break when the FX and Hulu series “A Teacher” filmed a scene on campus. The show follows an affair between a high school teacher and her student, an uncomfortable and overplayed plot, with a goal of exploring "the complexities and consequences of a predatory relationship."
It quickly gained attention, especially from the students of Texas State and the University of Texas at Austin. Why? The show's teacher, a character named Claire Wilson, is a former Texas Longhorn, and she takes her student, Eric Walker, on a tour around UT since it is his dream university — but the location the show tried to play off as UT was actually Texas State. In San Marcos. The LBJ Statue in plain sight.
The show aired on Hulu Nov. 10, and Texas State students took to social media to share their displeasure with the misrepresentation of the campus. But little did they know: Texas State was never under the impression the university would be portrayed in the show. In fact, the show would not have been legally allowed to do so without proper licensing, which it did not pursue.
“It’s not a situation where we were offended,” said Jayme Blaschke, Texas State's senior media relations manager. “It was never going to be Texas State.”
Most of “A Teacher” was filmed in Canada, but the winter was approaching, and the show needed to film somewhere on a college campus. Luckily, the Texas Film Commission has an online, public database with available filming locations listed, and Texas State has an entry. Film productions are able to reach out from the database and scout locations that fit their vision.
The film scout for “A Teacher” reached out to Blaschke, visited campus and concluded Texas State was the optimal location. Blaschke says after that point they developed a location use agreement, which essentially gives a film crew permission to visit campus, film on-site and use the material in a commercial product of some sort — television, film or even a web series.
“We are more welcoming to film production than many other campuses in the Central Texas area,” Blaschke said. “I know most of the private schools won’t even discuss it.”
Although UT is not listed on the TFC database, it does occasionally allow filming. However, it has more stringent and extensive requirements that can be off-putting for smaller projects. This, along with potential higher fees, is the reason “A Teacher” did not film there.
The Texas State commercial filming policy details the procedures and guidelines by which the university reviews projects. In terms of financial compensation, the standard fee is $5,000 per shooting day while fees for set-up days are $2,000 per day.
The production crews are also responsible for: Providing proof of liability insurance, acquiring a campus officer to be present during filming and negotiating a separate contract with campus Parking Services.
Proposed shooting days are required up front. For “A Teacher,” the crew arrived on campus on a winter day in December 2019, shot for four-to-six hours and was never to be seen again.
Along with proposed shoot days, filming crews must disclose how the scenes are going to be used and provide a film script for what is actually going to be filmed on campus. The entire script is not required for consideration, but Texas State is entitled to review exactly what will be filmed and decide if it is appropriate or not. Blaschke vaguely remembers seeing UT mentioned in the script.
“With the location use agreement, production companies are explicitly prohibited from referencing Texas State when they film. They can’t feature Texas State signage or logos or Boko the Bobcat because that gets into licensing, which is an entirely different animal.”
One frustrated Tik Toker, John Martin, made a video the day after the show’s release that received almost half a million views and nearly 50,000 likes.
“[The LBJ statue and maroon flags] is one of the most iconic parts of Texas State,” Martin said in the video. The film production's manipulation and editing of the campus were also mentioned — and certainly not praised.
Blaschke, on the other hand, believes the majority of the people who watch the series “are not going to recognize the LBJ Statue for what it is or recognize the Bobcat Statue for what it is, or even recognize that it’s not the University of Texas.”
Students feel a sense of loyalty to Texas State, which is fair and understandable, but they should be aware of how the film industry works. Every move or decision might not always make sense to the general public, but there is a method to the madness.
"A Teacher" likely felt it was too much to work through UT's loopholes, so the crew chose to hop on I-35 and use Texas State instead. This is not the first time a film production borrowed Texas State as a fill-in, and it probably will not be the last.
Johnny Knoxville filmed a scene for The Ringer in 2005 at Bobcat Stadium; the crew only had 1,000 extras, and the rest of the stadium was filled with inflatable dummies.
Friday Night Lights, an Emmy-winning series, filmed in multiple facilities at Texas State, including Bobcat Stadium between 2006 and 2011. When Coach Eric Taylor was offered a position at Texas Methodist University, he went to visit the stadium. That stadium was actually Bobcat Stadium.
“It was digitally duplicated, the decking, to make it a three-tiered stadium, and [the crew] used computer wizardry to add the Austin skyline in the background,” Blaschke said.
San Marcos itself has been a filming location used in countless productions, including “The Getaway” in 1972, “Piranha” in 1978, “Courage Under Fire” in 1996 and “Boyhood” in 2014.
Just like previous productions, “A Teacher” had no obligation to showcase Texas State as itself. The film crews manipulated and edited the truth to better fit their narratives.
Films are not required to be truthful; they are supposed to be convincing or, at the very least, entertaining. For the show’s audience not from Texas State, that requirement was likely fulfilled.
Texas State has been the location for many beloved filming productions and, hopefully, that trend will continue. The student body should welcome the opportunity for their campus to be showcased around the world.
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