My Finnish room-mate and first-place winner of third quarter of Writers of the Future, Leena Likitalo, arrived around midnight. A sweeter person you have never met! She and I immediately hit it off and decided to go on a trip to Warner Brothers Studio together the following day.
Warner Brothers is a massive, working movie studio started many decades ago by four brothers (and no, not Yacko, Wacko and Dot from the Tiny Toons cartoon …) and if you want to get an idea how movies and TV series (especially sitcoms) are made, this is the studio tour to do!
We were taken to the studio by LA City Tours (this was organised for us by the concierge of the Loews Hollywood Hotel). The bus ride took us over the Hollywood hills to the San Fernando Valley, where many of the huge movie studios lie (the region is called Burbank). This location is possibly the reason so many movie stars live up in the Hollywood hills (places like Beverly Hills and Bel Air) – their houses are halfway between the ritzy shopping and cafe precincts of Rodeo Drive and the studios they are working in.
Many of the tourists disembarked at Universal Studios, which is apparently part movie tour and part theme-park (it’s on my list for next time I return to LA).
At Warner Bros, you have to go into the gift shop to get your VIP tour passes. Just pass between the huge Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (squee!) statues to get there.
Hint for overseas travellers – take your passport with you! Security to get into Warner Bros studios is as strict as any airport and you have to pass through metal detectors and have your bags checked to get in.
After running the gauntlet of security and buying a Big Bang tee-shirt and tiny Sylvester hat pin and coveting an amazing Harry Potter Chess set, the tour started. It began with a small theatre and moving video montage of Warner Brothers films.
After that, our tour-guides appeared. Me and Leena had a tour-guide called Kipp and his enthusiasm was absolutely infectious – you could tell he loves showing folks around the studio (either that or he’s in the right place for his budding acting career!) and his insight into the place was amazing.
The huge golf-carts we toured around in (wear sunscreen):
The driveway (famous Warner Brothers water tower in the distance) and boom-gates leading into the studio lot. The studio is backed by lovely, treed hills with no overlooking houses (Kipp wasn’t sure if this was a deliberate request by the studio or if it was just chance no-one was living up there):
The studio lot is full of different street-scapes designed to look like everything from New York to 1950s Chicago to small-town America. The buildings are literally all front (many just have front rooms for the benefit of the cameras), which is why, when viewed from the side, they are so narrow. Anyone is allowed to knock anything down and tack anything onto any of the buildings, so long as any damage done is returned to the way it was afterward.
You’ll notice there are no leaves on the trees in the second shot, yet Spring was in full-bloom. When shooting winter scenes, the greens department have to pluck all the leaves from the trees that will be seen in the movie. What an onerous job!
This is the front that was used as the orphanage in the musical: Annie:
This is the little subway entrance Billy Peltzer has to go down to find the shop selling the Mogwai in Gremlins.
This fire escape has appeared in many movies, but you might remember it from the “Hard Knock Life” scene in Annie.
More street-scapes of all different flavours:
The last remaining front from Casablanca:
The fake courthouse whose steps were used in the movie, Argo:
The stretch of “Chicago” railway used in ER:
What I loved about Warner Brothers was their clever use of space. Most of the street-scapes and houses have been used in numerous movies, but you wouldn’t know because the crews just put fake fronts up to cover what is already there and create a unique look. Many of the houses have “fronts” at the rear of the house so that they can appear to be two entirely different houses depending which entrance you take. The car parks and offices of the staff are also fair game – if a film has need of a specific place, the staff are simply moved out to make way for the movie crews. One of the carparks we saw had a huge H painted on it and became the helipad at the top of the hospital in ER. It was, on another occasion, covered with sand for a beach scene.
Believe it or not, this is an office block. It has been designed to look like a seedy motel, just in case a movie has need of a seedy motel.
This is one house. On the front, it is the Gilmore Girls house. From the back, it is one of the homes on Pretty Little Liars. It is over the road from one of the homes used in the movie, Gremlins.
Streets are built on curves disappearing around trees or other buildings so that the movie audience has the impression the streets and houses keep going. To create a sense of depth, the buildings, doors and windows are built on a smaller and smaller scale the further along the street you go. This is ‘forced perspective’ and it’s really effective.
Everything on the street can be changed around. Even the lamp posts, which seem solid and permanent, have power cords and can be removed as needed.
The buildings not-currently-in-use have no door knobs, handles or front light fittings. The electricals hang out: a blank canvas for whatever adornments the next movie crew would like to place.
You think this brick work is real? No. It’s been painstakingly painted on.
Not even plants are permanent. Plants are put on set in pots for ease of removal later.
Traveling further along, we came to the massive sound stages the various shows are filmed in. These are massive curve-roofed hangars with numerous, open-front sets inside (for intellectual property reasons, photography was not allowed inside the sound stages). Many of them had “extras” (now called “background actors”) loitering outside, awaiting their cues.
Each sound stage has a plaque on the front, showing the films and TV shows filmed in them. We went into the Big Bang Theory stage – Stage 25.
We also went into the stage where Friends was filmed. For tourism reasons, they kept the Central Perk set intact so people could see it.
Being a “behind the scenes” tour, we also got to travel through the design sections where all the props were housed. Anything you could ever want to decorate a room or put as a back-drop for a speech is there.
Props from Argo:
Costumes from The Last Samurai:
All the lamps and light fixtures you could ever want:
Presidential seals? You got it.
A huge warehouse holds the workshop used to create the various sets and building frontages. Stuff for each film is stacked together. The ones on the right were labeled with Big Bang Theory.
Warner Brothers also has a collection of cars used in their films. The Great Gatsby Rolls is there as well as the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard; several batmobiles; cars from the Matrix; the Gran Torino from the Clint Eastwood film and the Ford Anglia from Harry Potter.
Last but not least, there is also a museum where costumes from such films as: The Great Gatsby; The Hangover; The Dark Knight Rises and Gravity are on display. There is also a massive Harry Potter collection upstairs.
The Harry Potter room!
I adore the Weasley costumes:
Look at that fabric!
The room also has amazing props and monsters!
Here is an uncanny, creepy model of a petrified Hermione:
All in all, Leena and I had a fantastic time at Warner Brothers!
After going on a tour through the surrounding suburbs of Hollywood and looking at some of the enormous star homes in Beverly Hills and Bel Air, we arrived back at the Loews Hotel in time to catch the other winners of Writers of the Future as they made their arrival and were greeted at the hotel entrance by Joni Labaqui from Author Services.
We were then taken to the top floor of the hotel where, overlooking Hollywood, we all got a chance to meet one another and our tutors: Dave Wolverton and Tim Powers. We were briefed on the fun week awaiting us and each given a wonderful book of writing essays by the late L. Ron Hubbard, which would constitute our assigned reading for many evenings.
Gold Pen winner – Randy Henderson – is delighted to receive his book from Tim Powers while Amanda Forrest waits with baited breath!
Past winner, Brad Torgersen (nominated for two Hugo awards this year), and Contest Director, Joni Labaqui, addressing the room upon a background of LA:
The 2013-14 Winners of Writers of the Future: