A trip to Hollywood wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a movie studio. After deliberating over the options we decided to take a guided tour over to Warner Brothers and do their studio tour.
Before I get onto the Warner Brother backlot, I have to say that hindsight is a marvellous thing.
<Begin RANT> Had we known then what we know now we would not have joined a bus tour to Warner Brothers but instead booked our own tickets and taken a taxi. The tour company *cough* Starline Tours *cough* who bussed us over there were … well … useless.
Our hotel pickup was over 1/2 an hour late, only to have it drop us off in the middle of Hollywood to get on another bus. A bus full of angrily waiting tourists whose eyes ran daggers into us as we boarded with NO apology from the company or explanation whatsoever. We were all then told that because of the delay the actual studio tour would be cut short and that the tour bus to take us from Warner Brothers back to Hollywood would not wait if we weren’t back on time. Nice way to stress everyone out before we’d even got to the studio. We worked out it actually would have been cheaper or the same price if we’d hired a taxi instead of relying on the tour company. Once burned, lesson learned.
I’ll point out here that the stress and rudeness was caused entirely by the tour operator and NOT WB who were as accommodating as they could be. </End RANT>
Meanwhile, the actual studio tour at Warner Brothers …
Warner Brothers have produced a plethora of shows and movies over the years and unlike Universal most of their backlot tour is through 100% fully utilised sets and sound stages. This tour highlighted how sets work and gave us a little insight into the workings of a modern day studio from the ground up. It is a completely different experience from the Universal Studio Tour (post on that one coming soon).
Our tour group was whisked around sections of the backlot on a small open-air people mover (tram) which our tour guide drove himself. Our guide was very personable and tried to customise the tour, or at least locations pointed out and some interesting stories behind the shows as we moved through various streets and locations. He tailored the tour to the shows we said we enjoyed as much as he could.
We were able to hop off the tram at various points on the tour and walk the streets used in shows like “ER”, “Lois & Clark”, “Big Bang Theory”, “Friends”, etc as well as movies like “Spiderman”, “Zohan”, and numerous others I’ve forgotten. The list seemed endless. Some of the streets or facades were being prepared for upcoming shoots while others were being stripped back after recent filming. The only area we weren’t able to see the day of our tour was the jungle set as “True Blood” was making use of it for the day. Alas no sightings of Anna Paquin or a naked Eric Northman to report. Honestly though, we didn’t expect to see any actors nor did we realise anything would be filming in areas we were passing through.
It amazed me how versatile and adaptable al the buildings in Warner Brothers are. Even the administrative buildings are designed in a way they can be propped out and used for filming if needed.
Our guide showed us George Clooney’s brownstone residence from “ER”, noting that the curb had been designed higher than a normal curb to make George look taller. Amusing for me it also looked a lot like the brownstone used in the last season of “Lois & Clark”, although with a street of exterior brownstones I guess one can take their pick really!
From the urban apartment blocks of a busy inner city we were driven over to a more suburban set with grass lined streets and a variety of houses.
Most of the houses are only exterior sets but a select few do have enough structure inside them to be detailed for interior filming. We were taken inside one of the houses to see how they are able to produce multiple or repeated interior shots from a variety of angles and how the houses are designed to work with the cameras.
The tour did stop at a few, shall we say, gimmicky areas. One of these was a building full of stage cars dominated with Batmobiles dating from the Christian Bale movies back to the Michael Keaton original movie in 1989. There were also a few vehicles from other movies like “Scooby Doo”, “The Matrix” and the “General Lee” from the TV show “Dukes of Hazard”.
At this point in the tour we also got to experience green screen technology first hand with everyone allowed to do a still framed photo in which the green screen would be replaced with the train from “Harry Potter”. Ange and I decided to go all out much to the surprise and amusement of our guide and the other guests on our tour. What is life if, at 40, you can’t have a little bit of insane fun. 😄
We visited the props department but because of the time constraints it was basically a walk up and down a corridor lined with a variety of furniture and paintings. We were shown a reconstructed set from the tv show “Friends” where a select few were allowed to sit on ‘the couch’. This set is used purely for the studio tours and housed in a room near the props department.
We even got to go inside a currently working sound stage to see how it was set up to film with a live studio audience. We saw the sets for ‘Big Bang Theory’ all lined up and ready to go. The guide explained to us how the studio audiences work and I have to admit it was fascinating to see how one shed can be used to create so many different settings.
Then there was a visit to the WB museum. Here notable pieces (mostly clothes draped on mannequins) from movies and TV shows were on display. It was interesting to wander around but to be honest I would have preferred this not to be a part of the tour but something you could do at your leisure afterwards. For everyone in our group the time spent here was either too long or too short depending on individuals interests. Setting a time limit meant we couldn’t really appreciate it fully.
Personally I would have liked more time to walk around the exterior sets near the museum as it held a lot of interest for me – Daily Planet from “Lois & Clark” anyone?
Overall this tour was fantastic. We learnt a lot about the back end of movie and TV making which is what we hoped would be the case. The ability to get out of the tram and walk around sections of the lot was great. The guide was willing to try and answer all our questions and took a genuine interest in what we wanted to know which I appreciated.
I hope WB keeps the tours more ‘intimate’ like this and doesn’t have to resort to the mega-production line situation Universal is in now. It makes a nice contrast to still be able to experience something hands-on.