A Picture's Worth
Contents and photos ©2012 Mike Pascale
Hope you enjoyed the Oscars. I didn’t watch, as usual, so I’ll have to let Bru-Hed comment on the winners on his next Beer Abby blog. (For his surprisingly accurate predictions, check this out! But don’t blame me if you’re offended!)
Now, where were we? Yes, the Warner Brothers Studios tour. Highly recommended. At just over two hours, it lasts longer than the others in town, and if you get a great guide like we did, it goes much faster than you expect. That’s a good thing! It’s not cheap (under $50 per person) but it’s certainly worth it. They also offer a more in-depth, five-hour version with lunch in the commissary for $250. (So does Universal. We had read that the Paramount one, unfortunately, was dull as drying paint. We were offered Sony’s but just didn’t have the time.)
What happens: You meet at the studio store and are ushered into a small theater to watch a 10-minute film of WB background and history. (Mostly clips of films and TV shows past than a documentary. Fun fluff.) Then your tour guide introduces him/herself and takes you thru the parking lot to the tram (basically a long, glorified golf cart) you’ll be riding. Since the tour is limited to just a dozen people (ours had nine), it’s a good intimate size.
Best aspect for me was the “off-mic” feature. If there’s a shoot going on while you’re driving by, the guide will turn the mic off; she’ll also do the same to tell you “off-the-record” facts or answer otherwise-sensitive questions. (Some good stuff to come.)
We drove all over the huge lot, saw the normal sights you’d expect (the WB water tower, the production offices, the Main Street sets, various stars and execs’ parking spaces and golf carts and so on) and a few bonuses, like a tour of the inside of a couple “houses” that serve(d) as sets for current and past shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Waltons, The Vampire Diaries, Gilmore Girls, Pretty Little Liars, Chuck, The Mentalist, Little House On The Prairie, Touched By An Angel, Murder She Wrote, and others.
The three major (pleasant) surprises were:
1. A visit to the “official” WB museum. This was like a secret storage lair of some of the most iconic props and costumes in film history! A small example: Christian Bale’s BATMAN uniform and weapons, Heath Ledger’s Joker outfit, plus production sketches. Same for WATCHMEN (including Rorschach’s full outfit and mask). Full costumes for the three principles of THE MATRIX, plus weapons and gadgets (including the creepy “plug-in jack” molded into the backs of the actors’ heads), and six life-sized replicas used for the multiple “Agent Smiths” seen throughout the movie. A full miniature set from THE CORPSE BRIDE including the major stop-motion figures. Add to that Bogart’s suit and Sam’s piano from CASABLANCA, several costumes and gadgets from INCEPTION and THE LAST SAMURAI, SYRIANA and various TV shows like MAVERICK and THE WALTONS, costumes for everyone from John Wayne to John Travolta, posters from the 1920s to the present and more than I can hope to recall. And that was just the first floor!
The upper level was all decked out with official Harry Potter memorabilia and props. These included the hats and costumes, the spider creature, wands galore, miniatures of sets, a life-size Dobby and more. You could even have the “sorting hat” tell you which house you would attend. Everyone there was very nice and helpful.
Only major downside of this great place? We only had 15-20 minutes there, including bathroom breaks and private conversations with the guide. (She was filling a couple others in on Ashton Kutcher and I had to listen a bit…more later.) And of course, no photos or videos! Argh. So I literally just walked thru the Potter stuff as I was holding up the rest of the tour. One way to get us to go again!
2. A walk-thru of one of the garage warehouses, filled with familiar classic and new cars and other vehicles seen in WB film and TV. (See pics.) This former Motor City citizen went nuts! Unfortunately, my camera’s batteries decided to quit the minute we entered, and my replacements were locked in the golf cart outside! So while I was able to snap a few, I couldn’t use the flash; so my apologies for the blurs. Cars I didn’t get: Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine and Clint Eastwood’s fully-restored Gran Torino from the film of the same name. He owns it and stores it at the lot. When he’s with it, no tours are permitted in the garage. No one else can drive it without his permission. (For facts on the others, see the captions for each photo.) The lot also has its own gas station, strictly for production vehicles.
3. A private visit to the “Central Perk” closed-door set of TV icon, FRIENDS. The set has been moved and preserved just for tours. We were instructed to stay on the wooden floor at the front so the carpeting doesn’t wear out. The room is surprisingly small compared to what you see on the show; we learned that not only does the camera “add ten pounds” like we always hear, but it adds ten square feet as well! If you watch reruns, you can notice that most of the time when someone walks in, there’s a cut or something else to distract you from seeing it only takes a couple steps to get to where the gang is.
We were told a plethora of interesting, useless and useful things/anecdotes about the biz and production, including:
–Jack Warner (one of the early studio heads) insisted on using everything for production wherever possible. So the production offices are actually within sets. The one below doubles as a cheap two-story motel or apartment building (such as Simon Baker’s on The Mentalist). One of the commissaries can double as a bank, another office building looks like a hospital, and so on. The employee parking garage, of course, is used for a parking garage. All have back exits in case the front is being shot and anyone working inside needs to leave. (See below.)
–Ashton Kutcher has not only the largest trailer on the lot (larger than Steve Carrell’s and Jim Carrey’s), but the only two-story one they’ve ever had. (And apparently the largest ego.) He’s cool to the guides, playing basketball with some of them, but hates the tours–even giving the middle finger to them when he sees them. (Make your own joke!)
–The cast of The Big Bang Theory are all very nice, but most are very shy, especially Jim Parsons (aka Sheldon). Taping for the show can last hours, as there are emergency rewrites if the audience doesn’t laugh at all the gags. A comedian usually keeps the audience entertained, and sometimes they’ll even bring in pizza for everyone while they wait.
–Clint Eastwood is held in very high-esteem there. The multi-talented (actor, screenwriter, director and film scorer) has not only won multiple awards but brought in lots of bucks for the studio. He’s currently working on a reality show suggested by his daughters. Not bad for a guy in his 80s! When a tour spots him, guides must shut off their mics. (Same for certain other actors.)
–Dressing one of the outdoor sets can take three 16-hour days, even for just a couple hours of shooting that ends up on screen for a few minutes.
–When George Clooney was working on ER, he asked for a basketball court so he and the crew could stay in shape/exercise during shoots (and because he’s a basketball fan). The then head of the studio told him to circulate a petition. If he could get 350 signatures, the court was his. Clooney said, “No problem”, and came back fifteen minutes later with just one signature–Clint Eastwood’s. He got the court.
–Two of the industry’s biggest stars, almost as famous for their allegiances to L. Ron Hubbard’s made-up religion as their movies, have long been rumored to be “playing on the same team” if you know what I mean. That’s confirmed after this tour. All I’ll say is it’s not “Impossible” and I hope their fans say “Welcome Back” if it ever gets out to the mainstream. (Frankly, I find it incredibly sad that such a thing has to be hidden in this century. But that’s another column.)
–It’s common for one studio to rent another’s sets or lot. When Universal’s JURASSIC PARK was being filmed in Hawaii, hurricanes destroyed their sets. They finished shooting on the Warners lot. (We rode on the same dirt road used for the big T-Rex chasing the Jeep scene–see below.)
For the rest of the facts and trivia, see the photo captions.
Whew! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading all the way. Hope you enjoyed it and learned at least a couple cool things.
That should tide you over till next week. Enjoy your Leap Day! It only comes around every Presidential election year, so make it count. Hey, how about a commission? I’ll set aside that day for yours and you’ll have the only one I’ll do on February 29th for another four years! Just ask Craig here. But hurry!!