Ellen Davis

Standing in front of Mood-Bridwell Hall, Pipkin goes over the movie script with locations manager Logan Cooper and production assistant Luke Crawford.

On Location

by Ellen Davis
When Shawn Pipkin ’94 comes back to campus, she brings Hollywood with her

The filming of an HBO movie on campus in October was particularly exciting for Shawn Pipkin ’94.

Pipkin had the chance to return to her alma mater as the second assistant director on the movie about the life of Temple Grandin. It was the latest in a string of more than 30 movies and television shows that Pipkin has been involved with since graduating from Southwestern.

Although she has always been interested in movies, Pipkin says she didn’t plan on pursuing a career in the film industry when she came to Southwestern. “I was thinking more about business, like marketing or advertising,” she says.

After graduation and a three-year stint working in the publicity department of NBC Sports, Pipkin decided she wanted to be involved with movies after all. She returned to her hometown of Houston and called the Houston Film Commission.

“I told them I didn’t have any experience, but I wanted to know what I needed to do to get into the business,” she says. She sent in her resume, and two weeks later, she got a call to be the production assistant on a commercial for Kroger.

And from there, her career took off. “I kept meeting people. This business is all about referrals,” she says. She met her mentor and first assistant director, Phil Hardage, working on the 2002 movie “The Rookie” with Dennis Quaid. Hardage then brought her on board to help with “Tears of the Sun” and “The Life of David Gale.”

In 2002, Pipkin was accepted to the Directors Guild Training Program in Los Angeles. About 2,000 people a year apply for this program, and less than 20 get accepted. The program takes two years or 400 days on the sets of various movies and television shows. Shows Pipkin worked on during this period included “Haunted Mansion” with Eddie Murphy, “Without a Trace” and “NCIS.”

After completing the Directors Guild program, Pipkin was qualified to be a second assistant director. Her name was put on the Southern California Qualification List for job opportunities. She got her first job—working on “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler—just two weeks after graduating.

“For two years straight I just went from show to show,” Pipkin says. Shows she worked on during this period included “School for Scoundrels,” “Dreamgirls,” “Reign Over Me” and “The Family Stone,” which she says has been her favorite project to date. It was working on this movie that Pipkin first met Claire Danes, who stars in the Temple Grandin movie filmed at Southwestern. (A complete list of all the shows Pipkin has been involved with can be found at www.imdb.com.)

In her current role as a second assistant director, Pipkin serves as the management on the set—coordinating everything from make-up, hair and wardrobe to lights and grips. “We’re the director’s team,” she says. “We make it happen.”

As the Temple Grandin movie was being filmed at Southwestern, Pipkin was right in the middle of all the action, moving back and forth between the set and the off-campus staging area where a variety of trailers were brought in for costumes, changing and make-up. “My job is to look ahead and make sure everything we need will be there,” she says.

These days, Pipkin can be selective about the shows she works on. She moved back to Austin in the summer of 2006 to be closer to home, although she still travels back to California frequently to work on shows.

Pipkin says she hopes to be able to produce her own movie some day. “I’m really blessed,” she says. “I get paid to do what I love.”

Both the Cullen Building and Mood-Bridwell Hall became sets for an HBO movie last October. At left: spotlights were used to help light a classroom scene filmed in Cullen.

Southwestern on Screen

About 60 Southwestern students got a taste of what it is like to be in the movies as HBO filmed several scenes for a movie on campus over Fall Break.

The movie is the true life story of Temple Grandin, a woman born with autism who went on to become one of the country’s leading experts on animal behavior.

Grandin earned her undergraduate degree from Franklin Pierce College (now Franklin Pierce University) in New Hampshire. She earned a master’s degree in animal science from Arizona State University and Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently is a professor at Colorado State University and a noted leader in both the animal welfare and autism advocacy movements. She used her insight into the minds of cattle to help design more humane slaughterhouses. Livestock handling facilities she has designed are used worldwide to help reduce stress on animals during handling.

Most of the scenes from Grandin’s undergraduate days were filmed at Southwestern. These included a shot of her mother dropping her off at college, a scene where she gets called to the dean’s office, a classroom scene and her college graduation. The scenes at Southwestern were filmed in the Cullen Building and Mood-Bridwell Hall, and on the Academic Mall.

“It was fun to see how they do everything,” says Katherine Shipman, a first-year student who was selected to be an extra in the movie. Shipman was filmed in several shots with Claire Danes, who plays the role of Temple Grandin in the movie. In addition to Danes, the movie stars David Strathairn, who played the role of Edward R. Murrow in the 2005 movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” as well as Julia Ormond and Catherine O’Hara.

Other scenes for the movie were filmed at various locations throughout Central Texas in October and November. During a filming day in Bastrop, two Great Danes owned by 1979 Southwestern graduate Lisa Pelosi Butterfield ’79 also had the opportunity to be in the movie. The dogs, Lucy and Sadie, were used to portray a Great Dane owned by one of Grandin’s mentors, William Carlock. During the filming, Butterfield had the opportunity to meet David Strathairn, who plays the role of Carlock in the movie. “He even signed a photo of Lucy for us,” Butterfield says.

The movie was directed by Mick Jackson, who directed the 1992 movie “The Bodyguard (1992), the television series “Numb3rs,” and the 2002 HBO movie “Live From Baghdad.” It is expected to air on HBO in May.