News & Stories
July 1, 2022

Hollywood at Berry College? Stranger Things Have Happened

After three years of waiting, fans of the nostalgic ’80s horror drama, “Stranger Things,” finally got to reunite with their favorite gang of teens on Netflix on May 27. Within a week, the first seven episodes of the show received the highest weekly viewership Netflix had ever seen at 335 million hours of watch time.

Now, as viewers all over the world anxiously await the last two episodes of Season 4, here’s the scoop on Victor Creel’s mental institution location and how Berry College became a hot filming spot for movies and TV shows, from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to Reese Witherspoon’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Is the Mental Institution Real?

Episode 4 is a major turning point in the “Stranger Things” universe. At this point, two murders have taken place, and a main character is experiencing symptoms similar to those murdered. After finding a 1950s newspaper article describing murders that fit the hallucinations and torture experienced by other victims, Nancy Wheeler and Robin Buckley must find a way to visit the only person known to survive the experience. They must sneak into Pennhurst Mental Institution.

The mental facility setting is beautiful yet creepy. Patients wander the grounds, disoriented in the gardens, surrounded by a gothic facade. The wood-paneled office, the arched hallways and the “listening” room give the place an official air. But then Nancy and Robin follow the director down a flight of stairs to a much darker space, the criminal ward.

In real life, the Ford Complex at Berry College houses the alumni building, the admissions offices, a residence hall and the music department’s recital hall. The spaces seen in “Stranger Things” are real offices, a dorm common room and gardens. But, on a daily basis, there is no criminal ward. This set was constructed to mimic the look of the Ford buildings, but it does not exist. In reality, however, there are a series of closed tunnels running underneath the Ford buildings, known on campus as the “catacombs.” Though surrounded by campus lore, their main function is to house air conditioning ductwork for the buildings.

Why Berry College?

With a variety of rooms and settings, the versatility of these buildings is just one reason Berry College makes such a unique filming location. Berry is consistently found among the rankings of the country’s most beautiful colleges by Travel+Leisure, Buzzfeed, Architectural Digest and Southern Living. Filmmakers use Berry’s stunning vistas of mountains, lakes, forests and fields.

The architecture of campus also acts as a perfect chameleon for filmmakers. It is remarkably varied and spread out. For example, the Oxford-inspired collegiate gothic Ford Buildings seen in “Stranger Things” have been used before to portray Ivy League schools, colleges and more. After their discovery in the movie database Producers drive from miles around to find the “castles” nestled in north Georgia. Just around the corner from the Ford Buildings sit a log cabin and small cottages, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical buildings in the Beaux-Arts American collegiate tradition.

On the mountain campus, Berry College is home to a dairy inspired by the Normandy region of the French countryside. And just beyond the dairy, Berry also owns a wooden overshot waterwheel, considered one of the largest in the world at 42 feet in diameter. Campus is even large enough to house four unique chapels. With all these different settings, once inside the gates of Berry College, it can feel hard to recognize where you are. Are you at Hogwarts? In Europe somewhere? Are you in “sweet home” Alabama? Or maybe near Indiana?

Not only are the landscapes and architecture versatile, but, as the world’s largest campus with 27,000 acres, Berry is uniquely positioned to make space for large film crews and sets. As the state of Georgia is now one of the nation’s top filming spots, Berry College is an easy drive from the bustling hub of Atlanta.

When asked what surprises producers most, Chris Kozelle, the campus film liaison, laughed and said, “Well, they are always stunned by the beauty of the Ford buildings, but you will not believe the number of producers from L.A. who stop to take pictures of the deer. I keep trying to tell them the deer aren’t going anywhere.”

Beyond Berry’s gates, the small town of Rome is used to flexing for film crews. Visitors to the city will find the famous Victorian Creel home from “Stranger Things,” but they may also recognize the brilliantly lit pedestrian bridge from “Black Widow” or Myrtle Hill Cemetery from “The Need for Speed.”

Film at Berry

Want to know more about filming at Berry College? Contact Chris Kozelle in the Office of Public Relations. She handles the approval process, from site visits to scheduling and pricing rates for each production team.

For students applying to Berry College, it is not likely that Berry’s film culture will make you a star. The Hollywood world often protects production from curious eyes. However, students have acted as extras and production assistants, learning from film crews.

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