CAMBRIDGE — At first glance, it may look like a sly prank pulled off by Harvard University’s longtime Ivy League rivals: blue-and-white banners suddenly appearing on lamp posts on Brattle Street, the insignia of Yale University defiantly facing passersby.
But there’s no mischief behind the signs that arrived just outside Harvard Square this week, and students from the New Haven, Conn., school are not to blame.
It’s actually the work of Hollywood star George Clooney, and while the movie set will surely raise eyebrows among Harvard students and employees, it’s not on Harvard property.
For the last few weeks, crews have been spotted in the Greater Boston area — and beyond — filming scenes for “The Tender Bar,” a movie starring Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan. On Wednesday and Thursday, they descended on Cambridge.
Clooney is directing the movie, which is based on the memoir of the same name by best-selling author J.R. Moehringer. Filming is likely to wrap up in mid-April, sources familiar with the production have told the Globe.
According to a New York Times book review from 2005, the memoir features some of Moehringer’s time at “seemingly out-of-reach Yale University.” The author graduated from the prestigious school in 1986.
While the banners and insignia on set this week were dangerously close to enemy territory — a stone’s throw from Cambridge Common and the main Harvard campus just beyond it — filming was actually taking place on Lesley University property.
In 2018 Lesley, which also has a campus near Porter Square, purchased St. John’s Memorial Chapel and several other historic buildings where the Yale banners were displayed, a move to expand the liberal arts college’s presence in Cambridge and complete its Brattle Campus. The property was once owned by the Episcopal Divinity School.
On Thursday, two large boom lifts towered over the school buildings as workers set up equipment below. People shouted “rolling” through masks and face guards while others paced the set outside, carrying walkie talkies and rolls of black tape on their belts.
Three large trucks — one bearing the name New England Studios — lined the road nearby, filled with equipment. Benches, bike racks packed with older-looking bicycles of different colors, and street lamps hung with Yale banners dotted the browning grass where crews were standing, all props brought in for the movie.
A worker said they were filming inside of a second-floor room in one of the brick and stone buildings. Outside the window, a large black box attached to a lift was used to block out the March sun.
A crew member in a second lift created a fake sun using a powerful light with a “gel frame” in front of it, a worker said. The light was aimed at the second-floor windows to replicate daytime and give the scene inside “more of a cinematic look,” he said.
The square box used to block the sun will also be pressed up against the windows to create a nighttime scene inside.
Even though the blue-and-white props lining the courtyard weren’t on Crimson turf, some people found it funny to see Yale’s distinct markings so close to Harvard Yard.
“It’s hilarious. It’s really kind of discombobulating looking at these signs,” a Harvard employee, who did not want to give her name, said while strolling past the movie set. “It’s weird. And I hope that Ben Affleck appreciates as a ‘Good Will Hunting’ star that he has to do this right by Harvard — even though he’s in a Yale movie.”
Cambridge resident Chris Pullman wandered towards the set to inspect the signage with his dog, Rhubarb, in tow, snapping photos of the logos as work got underway. He said it was “interesting” to see them turn Cambridge into Yale.
In a strange twist, Pullman said he teaches at the New Haven school in the fall. But for him, the props and backdrop didn’t quite transport him back to the school’s campus.
“I think it’s sort of convincing,” he said.