“On the Basis of Sex” Biopic Starts Production on McGill Campus

On September 27, McGill students received an email from Housing Services notifying them of a “major film shoot” soon to be taking place on campus. The film in question, a biopic outlining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s remarkable legal career, involves extensive participation on the part of the university, as the shoot is currently underway.

The biopic, set in the 1960s, will follow Ruth Bader Ginsburg through her early career as a lawyer. Ginsburg studied at Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in a class of five hundred. During her time there, and like most of her female peers, she was made to feel that she was usurping another man’s rightful place. Ginsburg went on to fight for women’s rights over the course of her life, which in 1993 led her to become the second woman in history to ever be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s bench.

Natalie Portman, originally cast as Ginsburg, urged that the chosen director be a woman, an initiative which Ginsburg herself applauded. Since then, the lead has been recast as Felicity Jones, who recently appeared in the latest Star Wars spinoff movie, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Portman’s request was nevertheless fulfilled, and Mimi Leder, who directed “The Peacemaker” and the TV series “Shameless,” was hired to direct the biopic, titled “On the Basis of Sex.”

The Bull & Bear spoke with Rosetta Vannelli, the Associate Director of Housing and Conference Services at McGill, about the university’s involvement in the project, the details of which remain mostly confidential for now.

Ms. Vannelli explained that McGill’s campus was chosen by the production crew to shoot the film due to its aesthetic similarities to Harvard’s campus. Redpath, for instance, is being used to recreate Harvard’s Austin Hall circa the 1960s. Although McGill’s landmark buildings will undergo some transformations for the shoot, they will still be recognizable by students when the movie hits the big screen, she assured.

The payoffs of opening McGill to such opportunities are manifold, Ms. Vannelli further revealed. Aside from being a source of income for the university, renting campus to film crews allows McGill to establish itself as a supporter of the local cinematic industry. The ties that McGill maintains with the Bureau du Cinéma de Montréal in particular enable the university to increase its visibility and quality as a shooting location across the city and North America.

Catering to the needs of both local and international productions entails continuous supervision by McGill personnel. The process begins with carefully running through the synopsis of the film to ensure that the university’s image is not compromised by its content. Then, once the project is approved and shooting starts, the coordinating team is required to ensure the safety of all students.

This is why, as Ms. Vannelli pointed out, film production usually takes place on the weekend to avoid disturbances. There are some exceptions, though. On October 17, for instance, curious passerby got a chance to peek at costumed actors and old time cars on Milton and St. Famille, just off of campus.

McGill students can expect to get a first look at the movie in 2018, which will mark Justice Ginsburg’s 25th year on the Supreme Court. Until then, students can catch a glimpse of the film crew and coordinating team working on October 28 in the McConnell Engineering building, as well as in Leacock and Redpath on the weekend of November 4.


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