Thrilling times at Trinity as filmmakers take over campus

Trinity’s head of central events explains what attracts studios to the university

Instead of the usual cast of lecturers, students and tourists, this summer Trinity’s campus has been populated with cast and crew members. Filming of the TV series Harry Wild and the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends took place in Trinity this summer, and Disney’s “Disenchanted” arrived on campus yesterday (July 28). With Trinity preparing to be bustling with lights, cameras and actors, it must be asked – what makes Trinity so filmworthy?

Over the years, there have been a number of movies and series alike filmed within college’s walls. From older productions such as Shake Hands with the Devil and Circle of Friends, to the recent hit series Normal People, Trinity has historically been viewed as a prime location for filmmakers.

In order to understand why the university is so filmworthy, Trinity News spoke to Liane Donnelly, head of central events at Trinity. Having worked in college for over thirty years, and serving in the role of head of central events for the past three, Donnelly has overseen and helped to organise the behind-the-scenes logistics for productions such as The Professionals, Foundation, and Men Who Built America, as well as the two previously discussed Sally Rooney series.

“Successful filming projects, like Normal People, have brought the Trinity experience to new audiences around the world.”

When asked why Trinity was such a popular location for filmmakers, Donnelly highlighted both the historic aspect and the iconic architecture. The classical buildings of Trinity not only appeal to the eye, but can be used strategically in film to transport the set to ancient, pre-war or medieval Ireland.

As Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity boasts spectacular grounds. In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked the campus among the 15 most beautiful college grounds in the world. Front Square, with its ancient Georgian style architecture and the Campanile as its centerpiece, is a popular location for tourists. As you walk to class, prepare to be papped in the background of several photos. Trinity is one of the only universities in Ireland that allows tour groups on campus; people travel far and wide to see the beauty of the grounds. The famous Book of Kells hosts over 500,000 visitors every year, and the iconic architecture, ancient busts and endless rows of untouchable books of the Old Library certainly add to the sense of history and prestige that College prides itself on.

As a campus known for its history and popularity among tourists, it is easy to understand why College has been such a hot spot for filmmakers over the years. The microcosmic world of Trinity, located in the bustling heart of Dublin, is a filmmaker’s haven, and to have such a contained space boasting a wide range of architectural aesthetics is ideal for any production.

Donnelly also suggested that film productions on campus benefit college itself as well the filmmakers: “Successful filming projects, like Normal People, have brought the Trinity College experience to new audiences around the world. It’s a special pleasure to work with a production based on a book by a Trinity graduate and directed also by a Trinity alumnus.”

There is also a financial incentive to allow such film projects on campus, Donnelly pointed out; revenue yielded from such productions on campus is “used to support the College’s academic mission”.

“The microcosmic world of Trinity, located in the bustling heart of Dublin, is a filmmaker’s haven.”

There is no doubt that successful film projects on campus have had a significant impact on College. The success of Lenny Abrahamson’s Normal People was felt in the CAO – there was an 11% increase in applications to Trinity in 2020, dubbed by some the “Normal People Bounce”, drawing correlation between increases in applications and the airing of the acclaimed adaptation. There was a particular increase in applications for English Literature, the chosen subject of Normal People’s chain-wearing sex symbol Connell Waldron, and Drama Studies, the subject studied by actor and Trinity graduate Paul Mescal, who received an Emmy for his performance as Connell. Certainly, Normal People’s stunning cinematography of Trinity’s campus and the sordid affairs of its fictional students generated buzz among prospective students.

Trinity College and Normal People didn’t just gain the attention of students, either. The series received widespread acclaim across the globe and Trinity by extension gained mass media attention. Even the Kardashians watched the series, which in turn meant that they – along with millions of others – were visually introduced to our college grounds.

The beauty and history that surrounds us on Trinity campus has clearly attracted lights, cameras, and lots of action. After a year spent online, many newer students may have only experienced college through their screens, but as we wait in anticipation to enter the grounds again, at least we can look forward to watching Conversations with Friends, when we can all point and scream, “I go there!”