“Trip To Hollywood Part 2 of 2: Warner Brothers Studio Tour, History and Secrets” February 27, 2012 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: ,

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.)

 

Baby Otter was eager to take the WB tour after he sat on the sign. (No, he didn’t wet it.)

Who better to greet you at the tour entrance than giant bronzes of Bugs & Daffy? Well, maybe a half-nude Power Girl, but that wouldn’t be family appropriate.

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 preferred method of transport around the WB lot. Also saw parking spaces for cast of The Big Bang Theory. Notice Chuck Lorre’s parking space. Alas, no sign of the BBT/Two And A Half Men honcho. (I dig his vanity cards!)

The famous WB water tower. It was moved after an earthquake to a place where it couldn’t fall on a set during the next one!

Looks like a beautiful neighborhood. But just like most of the starlet breasts in Hollywood, it’s all fake! Most of these “houses” are actually production offices with cubicles. The street was used for Ashton Kutcher’s old neighborhood in Two And A Half Men, George Lopez’s neighborhood for his show, and in the flashback “Trick Or Treating” scene in the new Muppets film, to name a few. One of these homes was in The Waltons. Others can be seen in various WB TV shows. Look for ‘em!

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!

 

Talk about history…Every stage had a list like this, and there are over 25 of them. The higher the number, the later the construction date. (Stage 5 was built in 1926, Stage 15 1927, Stage 29, 1999.) If you can’t read the titles here, they include Casablanca, Rebel Without A Cause, Ocean’s Eleven (‘60s), My Fair Lady, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Camelot, Police Woman and T.J. Hooker.

 

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.

 

Hey, there’s a Batmobile in the body shop!

The WB vehicle warehouse. Though there were 41 Chargers used for The General Lee, only two survive in mint shape, including this one. Sadly, to be PC, the Confederate flag on the roof was painted over to avoid offending anyone. (Yikes.) The Jag is from (what else) Austin Powers.

Originally, Ford requested all logos be removed from this Lancia used in Harry Potter, because it’s shown crashing (after FLYING!). However, once the film took off, Ford was happy to trumpet its appearance. (Publicity beats paranoia!)

Three shots of Clooney’s Batmobile from Batman & Robin. Probably the second coolest version next to the ‘60s TV show.

More Batman movie cars: The “Tumbler” can be heard a mile away when it’s running. Costume is Val Kilmer’s from Batman Forever. Poster on the wall is from Bonnie & Clyde. The old ‘40s coupe is from the upcoming show, Gangster Squad.

Batcyle from the latest trilogy. Driver has to lie down to drive. Only two people permitted to ride it, Christian Bale and his stunt double. That is, until the star wiped out on it while filming. Now only one driver allowed!

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.

 

Central Perk set from Friends. You’re not supposed to sit on the couch, but the guide told us we were a good group and let us do so for photos. (Notice the coffee descriptions on the board. I’d never read them till now.)

 

 

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.)

 

Private houses adjoining the studio are also used for productions with the owners’ permission (Some can be seen on the Two-And-A-Half Men episode where Charlie gets arrested in a neighborhood.)

–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.

 

This and other photos show the “town square” which can be anything from Smallville to NYC. Notice the tree in a couple shots only has green leaves on the lower portion? That’s all the camera will see for the shots needed. The leaves are hand-applied with twist-ties for the shot–took one guy 16 hours to do them all. Dressing the rest of the set took two more 16-hour days.The filming lasted a couple hours, then they all had to be taken off again. Fun job, huh?

The signs for “City Hall” and the restaurants/shops are of course, all removable and changeable. You’ve seen them in lots and lots of shows. The parking meters are also removable. Notice the railings and walkways on top of some buildings for the crew and equipment.

–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.

 

In addition to the famous dirt road, there’s a man-made lagoon that’s used for everything from a swamp to a lake, forest or jungle. (Most recently seen in the show Heart Of Dixie.) If they need a dirt pile or pit, it can be drained in a couple hours; then refilled the same day for another shot.

Need the front porch of a house for a shot? Roll it on in. The actor walks up, opens the door, then cut to a sound stage for the interior. (There’s also rolling walls of leaves used for jungle/forest shots. If the leaves turn brown after a few years, they’re painted green.)

We got off the tram for a tour inside this place, used for Della Reese’s office in Touched By An Angel (and many other productions). There’s no room at the top, but a platform in case an actor needs to be shot looking out the window.

Not all house fronts are facades or offices. The three shots above show the interior of one used for shooting. (The stairway can be seen in Carrie and many other productions.) There are usually no roofs because the rooms would be much too hot with all the lights. If one is needed for a shot, they use a white muslin. (That’s a thin sheet, not a worshiper of Allah!) You can see catwalks above for the crew and if an actor has to stick his/her head out an upstairs window. There’s no plumbing of course; water in sinks are just a big bucket pumped thru a continuos loop.

Looks like wooden steps on the porch? Recycled rubber from car tires. Less of a fire hazard, sturdier and more comfortable to walk on during long shoots and multiple takes.

This “church” was used in The Lost Boys when they grab some holy water.

How fake can you get? Check out the life-size building facades. (The cars, however, are real!)

More movie magic–or fakery. You’ll see this “subway” entrance everywhere, including Seinfeld. Want it to look busy? Get five extras to walk up, five to walk down simultaneously. Once out of camera, they change clothes and walk back up and down, so ten people can look like fifty. Change the sign in front to make it any subway entrance in most any city.

Hey, look, it’s the “L” train in Chicago! Wait, Chi-town has mountains? Just cover ‘em with fake building fronts or keep ‘em out of the shot.

An actual, real theater! Used for employee screenings. Nice perk! (Note the film playing won the Best Picture Oscar…coincidence?)

A giant baby otter is attacking the building! Run for your lives–and hold onto your clams!

Tour’s over, now buy some overpriced souvenirs, fanboy! (I bought a hat that says, “Writer.” Couldn’t find one that said, “Wednesday’s Heroes”. Maybe next year!)

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!!
Bru-Hed Closeup

 

See ya,
Mike

 

 

 

 

 

 

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