Transformed SSU campus welcomes ‘13 Reasons Why' film shoot

Sonoma County is making another Hollywood cameo as the popular and sometimes controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” continues filming in the area, this time at Sonoma State University on Wednesday as part of a forthcoming season.

Season 3 of the teen drama is expected to debut this fall, but actors and production staff are already at work shooting Season 4. This week they’ve landed in Rohnert Park after three years of filming around the North Bay, including in the cities of Vallejo and San Rafael, and scenes shot at Sebastopol’s century-old Analy High School, site of the series’ fictional Liberty High.

Minor spoilers ahead, dear fans. Those who have been following the characters originally featured in Jay Asher’s 2007 best-selling novel of the same name will get to watch the gang from Crestmont as they make their way to college.

Show regulars Dylann Minnette, Christian Navarro, Brandon Flynn and Alisha Boe are expected back as Clay, Tony, Justin and Jessica, among others schoolmates. Actress Katherine ?Langford, meanwhile, who played show protagonist Hannah Baker in the first two seasons, confirmed in May 2018 that her character would not be returning.

To make way for the storyline, Sonoma State has been transformed for the week into Sanderson University. On Wednesday, parts of the campus were adorned with signs welcoming Liberty High students. A row of vertical banners hanging along the campus’s main pedestrian walkway turned the school’s Seawolves mascot into the Division II national champion Hawks. Another sign declared, “We Are Sanderson.”

“I have to get a new sweatshirt,” Janelle Rossi, administrative executive assistant to SSU President Judy Sakaki, joked as she walked past the redecorated campus architecture.

Golf carts sped by, whisking stars to their locations as extras made the post-lunch saunter to their marks. Scissor lifts with tripods and camera rigs sat stationary, and lighting reflectors and other production equipment laid in wait beneath pop-up tents in the afternoon sun.

“Rolling!” the director shouted, with a cascading echo from the crew between the university’s two main classroom buildings. Umbrellas to protect the actors from the heat were removed. “Action!” came the next order and actors began their choreographed stroll as a camera cart rolled backwards in front and guided them across the cement path into the university’s oldest structure, the austere Stevenson Hall.

Besides some new landscaping and tree trimming, a handful of the campus’s buildings received a needed power wash and in some cases a fresh coat of paint. The four-decade-old art sculpture known as Bacon and Eggs next to the university’s main instructional area also got a scrubbing, just as the adjacent snack bar Toast was rebranded the Hawk’s Nest.

“We’re getting visibility, but also a nice makeover, and we could use it,” said Paul Gullixson, spokesman for the university. “Some of the improvements are definitely permanent.”

The college campus has been the location of some past film shoots, including a McDonald’s commercial, he said, but never a production of such a scale, including hundreds of crew and extras.

In addition to reimbursements and payment for any incidentals, the university stands to receive a site fee of $12,000 toward its general budget. The total payment is still being finalized but is expected to be more than $30,000. It will go toward bolstering educational programming, such as helping students overcome some of the hard-hitting issues the show presents, from depression, drug abuse to suicide - the main grist for the series’ plotline - and the specter of school shootings.

None of those heavier themes are being depicted against the SSU backdrop, university officials said.

“That’s not in the script,” said Neil Markley, SSU’s associate vice president for administration and finance. “But what’s interesting is a lot of the themes that have happened in the show are not really too much different than what our students face on a daily basis, and across the country. Revenue generation like this, it helps us support our students.”

In March, Paramount Pictures also signed a deal to continue shooting at the Analy High School between August and February for the fourth season, according to a West Sonoma County High School District spokeswoman

Back at Sonoma State, summer courses were in session this week, and tour groups were likely to encounter signs leading them to believe they were exploring a different campus, Sanderson University, and then discover that they were clearly on the set of a Hollywood production. Security was tight, however, and rubberneckers were asked to move about their day if they strayed too close.

Sonoma State junior Sarahi Alvarez, 19, was out for a walk with Suki, her 1 ½-year-old wire-hair terrier, to spy the set of a favored show. After spotting familiar areas around the county in the first two seasons, she said she saw only benefits from “13 Reasons” coming to her campus, despite some of its difficult subject matter.

“I like that they talk about the issues. They aren’t positive things, but the way they show it is real,” said Alvarez. “It’s definitely exciting. It should bring more attention to the university, and people will look it up and see what it’s all about.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or On Twitter @kfixler.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette