California Day 5 – Lights, Camera, Action!

Today was mostly about Hollywood – our main activity for the day was the deluxe Warner Brothers Studio tour which would take at least 5 hours, but I also hoped we’d get to see the Hollywood sign, Manns Chinese Theater (now named the TCL Chinese Theater), and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

To start the day I got up at 06:00 for a short run – this was along Santa Monica Boulevard to the ocean and back again. Whilst out on this run a taxi pulling off a drive almost hit me as he didn’t look before pulling out. The breakfast that followed this short run was very basic and consisted of oats, some toast, and some apple juice.

We were on the road to Warner Bros. by 08:00 and we thought this would give us plenty of time to get there, and hopefully see some sights along the way. This was not to be the case though – traffic in LA is chaotic (though maybe erratic would be a better description) and slow. When we turned onto one road we had about an hour to spare and thought there may be the opportunity to see the Hollywood sign to kill a bit of time, but the traffic was not moving and before we knew it the estimate increased.

Eventually the ETA increased so much that it predicted we’d arrive 1 minute before we were told to arrive. The satnav though kept insisting we take a different route that was 1 minute faster and involved a U-turn – it just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

As we arrived at the security desk it had just turned 09:45. We’d made it, seemingly just in time – but when we got inside it turned out the deluxe tour wouldn’t leave until 10:15 anyway. The tour started with a brief film about the history of the studio and this was followed by being introduced to our guide for the day. At this point we got to hold one of the academy awards they had received a few decades ago for a photo opportunity in front of the Warner Bros. Studios sign. The group then boarded the cart and proper tour begun.

To start with we headed into the backlot where we were shown office buildings that get redressed to be used as exteriors for TV shows – a practical way of using space that is required for admin for productions also. This then led into the greenery area where they have real trees which include a few buildings scattered around inside. One of these was used in the TV show Tru Blood.

Next to this is a lagoon, which is currently empty to conserve water during the drought, and another house. One section of the trees around this area was hired out to Universal during the shooting of Jurassic Park to be used for the scene where a T-Rex is chasing Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). They shot this in different directions to give the impression that the road was longer than it really was, and was winding around.

Different pictures require different set dressings so they make up these areas to suit their needs, but they then have to change it back to how they found it. Except in the case of if the studio like the change it may be something they decide to keep – such as two of the buildings in the jungle section.

Fairly recently they tore down their western backlot to make way for an upper-class town area. This has been done by building actual buildings for offices for writing staff, and have then made the fronts look like an upper-class suburban area. At the time we were there this was being used by Fuller House and 2 Broke Girls.

The next backlot was originally decorated by the decorator of an old movie, Annie and is named Hennessy Street in his memory. This backlot has been used to represent New York, Chicago, and many other cities and has also featured in films such as A.I., Road to Perdition, Minority Report, and The Last Samurai. Not all of these were produced by Warner Brothers, but was space rented out by Universal, Sony, and other companies in order to meet their needs.

Again these are dressed to suit their needs and had recently been used by the TV series “Supergirl” for a very short scene in the second episode. Some of the buildings on this backlot are also practical sets so they can be filmed indoors as well. One of them also has an upstairs built and was one where we were allowed inside on the ground floor. We were being led into the sun whenever possible as it could get quite cool in the shade.

Around this area they also have the alleyway which was used for a famous scene in the first Sam Raimi-directed Spider-man movie, and was also used in Batman Returns and Batman Forever, and an episode of Friends featuring Jean Claude Van Damme. Similarly we were told about many other famous productions to use this backlog and how the set dressing and post-production effects make it unrecognisable. They’ve found though that in the days of high definition and budget savings in other cities that it is now being used less.

By the time we’d been led around this backlot it was time for dinner. We were warned that we couldn’t take pictures there as it is also used by staff and cast. The room used for this was also used as a dining area in a Looney Toons movie, though it’s one I don’t think I’ve seen.

The meal and drinks were included as part of the tour. I went for the Warner Burger which was a gourmet burger with fries, and the beef soup for starter. For the desserts they bring out a small selection of desserts (mostly cookies) on a plate which you can take what you want from. The drinks seemed to get constantly topped up as mine never dropped below half full. For those that did want alcoholic drinks though this was something they had to pay for. As we ate we were able to ask questions about Warner Brothers, and was pointed out anyone who might be recognised that walked in.

From the dining room we walked around the corner, passed their theatre, to the museum. At the time there were two exhibits – one per floor. On the ground floor they had exhibits from the 75th Batman anniversary which featured many costumes from Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and the Christopher Nolan trilogy. In the entranceway they also had the costumes for Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman from the (at this time) upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie.

I dashed around photographing the Batman exhibit as quickly as I could – getting photographs of absolutely everything they had before going upstairs. On the second floor they’d dedicated this to the Harry Potter films. Having been to the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden I wasn’t sure there’d be much to see though as it turned out, even though there was some overlap there were also quite a few bits I hadn’t seen. For those that want to they can even be sorted into a Hogwarts House by the Sorting Hat. Amazingly the one it chose at random was the same one as what I was wearing a t-shirt for.

From the museum we got back on the cart and headed over to another backlot that is made up to look like a small town. At the time we got there a show called The Middle was using it to film a scene involving a sorority. We got to watch some of the filming but was not allowed to take photographs and had to be careful to not get in the way of the shot.

Once they’d finished their take they switched to a steady cam and for that we had to move on. The tour then took us passed the soundstage for “The Big Bang Theory”, but that one was currently filming so instead we went into the one for “2 Broke Girls”. The soundstages used for short episodes that have a live audience work by having all the sets in a row in front of some bleachers. The ones used most frequently by the production are in the middle, directly in front of the audience, whereas the lesser used ones known as swing sets are made up as necessary and are off to the sides. Again this was an area where we couldn’t use cameras.

The next stop was at what I would describe as the “Batman Garage”. In this building they have the batmobile from the 1980s Michael Keaton Batman movie, some of the bikes used in the various films, the batmobile from Batman Forever, one from Batman and Robin, as well as tumblers used in the Christopher Nolan trilogy. For the tumblers, one of them was the black one that Batman used, and the other was the camouflaged one used by Bane. In the centre of this room was the new Batmobile from the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie, the same Batmobile that Zack Snyder, the director used to surprise fans at this year’s SDCC.

A short walk from this was the props department – from here different productions, not just Warner Bros. ones, can rent out props to be used as set dressing. There is an incredible amount stored here, some of which that have tags on to say what production they’re going to next. They even have a fully fitted out Oval Office from the White House which you’re allowed to sit in for photos.

We were then driven to the soundstage that has walk-in sets built for the TV show “Pretty Little Liars”. This one differs to the sitcom style soundstage as the rooms are built in full, but with the ability to take out walls for filming if required. We walked around some of the different sets – a loft apartment, a cafe, and a school room.

As we left the soundstage we passed an actress in costume from Supergirl, taking a break outside of the soundstage she was working in. The guided tour then concluded at the entrance to a cafe that has the “Central Perk” sign from friends. The next section of the tour was self guided and didn’t take too long to do. To start with there were details about the production process for different films such as writing, casting, and preproduction. This included costumes from the Zack Snyder “Superman” film, Man of Steel.

One of the fun interactive parts of this tour is the set replica for Central Perk from Friends. It’s not 100% perfect as I noticed a few bits missing, but it was good to have my picture taken on a set I recognise from TV. I then photographed a set from “Two and a Half Men” before having my picture taken again on the “forced perspective” set from The Hobbit, and “The Living Head” example of a practical effect used in horror movies.

For the last section of the tour they’re a little pushy about you having a go on the green screens – purely because they want to sell you photographs and videos of it, but I don’t think they were particularly good. This was then followed by the “Art of Sound” where they played three different clips from Gravity containing different audio mixes: dialog, sound effects, and then music. Finally they then shown these all come together to create the final mix.

As with most American tourist attractions you then exit through the gift shop. The studio then operates carts to drive people back to the front of the studio once they’re ready. This was only a short drive, but it was starting to get dark and chilly.

My friend then took over the driving again and drove to Griffith’s Observatory up on the hill. This was busy and a lot of cars were parked up on the road – we never did find out why though, but we know they weren’t in the observatory. We got to the top of the hill and then had to descend the other side quite a way before we found parking. From there we walked back through the chilly night up to the observatory.

Inside I found the observatory to be a little boring. The majority of it was informational signs describing things I already know, and the equipment wasn’t usable during the night or when it’s cloudy. Still, we probably spent about an hour there before heading back to the car, but first standing out in the cold to get some photographs of LA at night.

The drive back to Santa Monica wasn’t too bad, but it seemed to wind all over the place despite on the map it looking like we could take a single road to get back from where we were. We parked up in a public carpark just off Wilshire before heading over for food at Milo and Olive.

This restaurant is one where you can sit at a bar and watch them cook as you eat, though it seemed the majority of what they cook is pizza. I did opt for the pepperoni pizza though and it was actually quite good. One odd thing about this place is that they add 3% onto your bill for providing health care for their staff.

Although late, it was at least then only a short drive back to the hotel.

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