‘Animal House of Blues’ director reflects on the production of ‘Animal House’ ahead of Halloween party

‘Animal House of Blues’ director Katherine Wilson poses with John Belushi during the filming of ‘Animal House.’ Wilson served as a location scout, casting director and stage hand during the creation of the film, shot at the University of Oregon. (Courtesy of Katherine Wilson)

For some, the typical image of college consists of students mingling on the quad and mountains of homework to be completed. For others, the idea of college immediately triggers John “Bluto” Blutarsky and Eric “Otter” Stratton rallying the men of Delta Tau Chi chanting “Toga!” at the top of their lungs.

Animal House is a University of Oregon and Eugene classic because it was filmed on campus. This weekend, the spirit of the animals will ride again for an Animal House-themed Halloween party in Portland on Oct. 30. The revised version of Animal House of Blues: 33.3 Edition, a documentary about the making of Animal House, will premiere at the party. Cast, crew, fans and boosters will be reunited at The Exchange Ballroom (123 NE 3rd Ave.) featuring performances by Otis Day and the Knights and the Kingsmen.

The Emerald spoke with Animal House of Blues director Katherine Wilson, who in addition to organizing the party was also a location scout, casting director and stuntwoman extraordinaire for 1975’s Animal House.

Wilson said she had no idea Animal House would become as popular as it is, considering it was shot with a measly $3 million budget.

“First off, it was a very low budget movie that no one would let us film because the script was disgusting,” Wilson said. “We talked the UO into letting us film there because we were actually alumni of UO. We met with President [William] Boyd and he was so cool.”

She also commended Eugene for its acceptance of the film, citing people’s open-minded nature and high tolerance level for cultural experimentation.

The irony of the project was that the contract with Universal said “the world was to never know it was shot here,” Wilson said.

President Boyd did not even bother to read the script before agreeing to allow the production to shoot on campus. Previously, The Graduate had asked to film on UO’s campus and Boyd said no. After seeing the film, he regretted his decision and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to let a classic slip through his fingers again.

The next script he received was Animal House.

“Now we’re Animal House university,” Wilson said.

Wilson was responsible for casting more than 1,400 extras for the movie, and discovered her hires in unique ways. One of these moments was casting the scene at the Dexter Lake Club, a scene which required 90 African Americans — including a 7-foot-tall man.

“What happened was absolutely magic,” Wilson said. “It’s as if God was a prankster and wanted this movie made. Every time we turned around, everything we needed showed up, including the 7-foot-tall black guy who had a hot dog stand on campus who actually was an actor who played Othello off Broadway.”

Wilson recalled her numerous roles on set and explained that everyone had to pitch in wherever needed because it was a small-scale operation.

“It was like whatever it took back in those days,” Wilson said. “We were very collaborative; we all helped each other do our jobs.”

Another example of the crew using its resources to full capacity was its scheduling decision to film the final parade scene.

“There was no meteorologist back in those days,” Wilson said. “We needed to schedule in August when to shoot the parade scene three months later in November, on a day it wouldn’t rain. I said there’s no way — it’s Oregon after all.”

Wilson asked her grandfather, a fourth-generation Oregon farmer, about the weather, and he predicted there would be one rain-free week in November. “He could smell weather coming,” Wilson claims.

It turned out his prediction was just 12 hours off, with rain falling the night before the shoot. To combat the wet streets, Wilson’s grandfather then brought his field burner to the set and dried off the roads.

“The whole community showed up in spades to support this movie,” Wilson said. “Everybody helped get it done.The crew cried when they left because it was truly a magical experience in a loving environment.”

Tickets for the screening and Halloween party are available at AnimalHouse.brownpapertickets.com and will be held in The Exchange Ballroom.

Watch the trailer for Animal House of Blues below:

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