After we combined our first two days-worth of plans into one day on Sunday, we made a plan to do two things on Monday: visit the Griffith Observatory and hike from there up behind the Hollywood sign in the morning, and do a Warner Bros. studio tour in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we failed to check the open hours of the Observatory when we made this plan, and found out too late that they are closed on Mondays. Not only did that mean no Observatory itself, but without their shuttle running from the metro station, we couldn't figure out a good way to get up to hike without a car. Had we realized they would be closed on Mondays sooner, we might have switched our plans to do the Observatory on Sunday morning and Hollywood on Monday, but what can you do? Bad planning.
So, as I mentioned in my first post, we ended up back in Hollywood for a bit Monday morning. It ended up being really nice, because we were able to see some things we missed (including the beginning of the Walk of Fame, and all those historical signs I enjoyed reading). We walked around for a bit and had lunch at In-N-Out, then went back to our hotel to get ready and take a cab to Warner Bros. Studios.
Let me just tell you, the Warner Bros. tour was AWESOME. We really debated about doing it, because the cost of admission was a little more than we wanted to spend (and a Paramount tour was $15 cheaper), but it was so worth the cost. Just to forewarn you, this post might get long because I have lots of pictures that require explanations. I'll try to just pick my most favorite ones, and you can always see the rest on our photo share site if you're interested.
Our tour group was small - just nine people, I think. When we first arrived, they had us go in this little theater and showed a 10-minute film featuring clips Warner Bros. movies and TV shows. It was a great way to get us excited for the tour, because there were a lot of good clips in there!
After the movie we met up with our guide, who was very informative and we learned quite a bit about movie-making! Man, a lot more goes into both movies and TV than I realized. We got onto a big golf cart thing and headed into the studios.
We drove right onto one of the street sets they have on their lot. Our guide parked the golf cart and we were all able to get out and wander around. He explained how they're able to alter the signs/features of all the buildings along the "street" to make it look like all kinds of different cities - New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, even Tokyo. He pointed out a couple of notable sights on the street, including a hair salon that was Adam Sandler's hair salon in Don't Mess with Zohan and most recently was Jennifer Lopez's pet shop in The Backup Plan. We also went in to that building so we could see how they leave the ceilings open for lights and cameras.
Other sights to be seen on this street included the spot where the first Gremlin was sold, the spot where that famous upside-down kiss between Mary Jane and Spiderman occurred, and two spots from the episode of Friends where Rachel and Monica are watching Jean Claude Van Damme film a movie - the spot where Jean Claude actually was "filming," and the alley where Rachel and Monica stood watching.
While our guide was explaining all this to us, I was listening intently and almost missed our one L.A. celebrity sighting! All of a sudden, Eric nudged me and said "That's Ben Affleck!" I then realized the guy who just walked past our group was, in fact, Ben Affleck. I was so busy listening to our guide talk about Gremlins that I didn't even realize it. I quickly snapped a picture, but all I could get was his back. But still, yay! Celeb sighting!
From there we moved on to another area with a little plaza and some buildings around it. Our guide pointed out one of the buildings and explained how it is pretty much just a "blank face" - they can decorate the outside of it however they want to make it look like whatever they need. In this case, it didn't look like much of anything, but it had been used as the exterior of the Bank Hotel in Ocean's 13. We also were able to go inside it to see that there really is no interior, it's just a bunch of platforms at each of the windows. Those platforms enable them to decorate the windows as needed, or have people looking out the windows if they want.
I thought it was just so cool how they are able to take a permanent set and change a few things to use it for so many different movies. It's so creative! They also use some of their other functional buildings for different purposes - they have offices than can double as a motel set, more offices that can serve as a residential street set, and they've used their parking lot as a helicopter landing pad. It's so cool to take what you have and figure out a way to make it work, I think.
Our guide also showed us some "fake brick" on one of the buildings, and how they used to put it up with nails, etc. He said that now with all this high definition filming, they can't get away with that anymore and they're going to greater lengths to make things look real. Interesting.
My favorite part of this little plaza area was actually the grassy spot in the middle of all the buildings. It didn't look like anything, but apparently it was used for the scene at the end of Oceans 13 when the helicopter takes off with the diamonds by pulling the case through the roof. The grassy area was made to look like the landing pad, and they put green screens all around the area to take care of the rest. They lowed in a helicopter on a crane and simulated the wind. The actual helicopter propeller is added later with computer graphics. Our guide informed us that they started doing it that way after an actor was decapitated using a real helicopter. I think that's good thinking.
From there we stopped at another city street set. On this street we saw a building that was used in Minority Report and The Mask. Our guide told us that the fire escapes on the buildings are actual NYC fire escapes brought in to make it more "authentic." We were also told to check out the gum on the sidewalks - it also looks authentic, but really, it's just drops of tar!
We also saw "The Jungle," which is a big open pit surrounded by trees. Our guide told us they can fill the pit with water, heated to bath temperature, in about 15 hours. That water/forest area has been used in a number of movies and TV shows, as has the little building that sits on the edge of it. That building was used in Million Dollar Baby, and was the bar in the background in that famous Budweiser frogs commercial!
The pit that they fill with water. That barrel in the foreground is used to create ripples in the water -
a production assistant stands on the barrel and bobs up and down in the water!
a production assistant stands on the barrel and bobs up and down in the water!
Of course, as we drove around the lot, we saw the exteriors of the various sound stages. A few of them have been named for their notable shows that have filmed there. My favorite? The Friends stage, obviously!
We also were able to go in to two different sound stages, but no photography was allowed. We went in to the studio for Two and a Half Men and were able to sit where the live audience sits. Our guided explained to us how the show is written and produced, from start to finish. He explained how they use the sets, how they work the cameras, and what it's like to be in the audience. Very cool! We have attended a couple of talk show tapings, but now I want to see a sitcom taping one day.
We also got to go on the set of the show Chuck. One of the neat things the guide pointed out was the special tiles on the floor that absorb the sound. He said they try to minimize any extraneous sounds (heels on tile, fountain water falling, etc.) during filming, and then then have special "artists" who actually go back and recreate those sounds to add in later. They do this so they don't have to worry about continuity during different takes. Can you believe it's somebody's job just to do things like walk in heels on tile to create the sound?
Another area of the lot where we weren't allowed to take our cameras was their "Midwest Street." It certainly did look midwestern! The only thing I remember our guide mentioning being filmed there was Music Man. I'm sure there were many others, but this is a lot of stuff to remember, people! The reason we weren't allowed to take our cameras there was because they were currently filming the show Dark Blue. We got to watch a couple of takes. Our guide explained what all was going on, which was cool because now we have a better understanding of what is happening when we see shows/movies filming here in NYC!
Did you know that it takes forever to film a one-hour TV show? Our guide told us they generally film all day long (I want to say 12-14 hours?) for 8-10 days just to make ONE hour-long TV show. They have to have 45 minutes of material, and they generally get five usable minutes per day of filming. Holy cow.
Oh hey, and another cool thing about the Warner Bros. lot - it's like a city within a city! They even have their own zip code, gas station and three Starbucks. (Our guide told us that if you have less than three Starbucks, you're just considered a village within a city. They wanted to aim high so they have three!)
One of the really cool parts of the tour was the automobile museum. We got to stop there and spend some time checking everything out. Our favorite part was probably all the Batman cars - there was George Clooney's Batmobile, the Tumbler from the more recent Batman movies, and the Batpod from The Dark Knight. There was also Brad Pitt's chariot from Troy, the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, and cars from Austin Powers, The Matrix, Artificial Intelligence, and Harry Potter. Pretty fancy.
Also, while we were in the car museum, they let us take a souvenir photo with a green screen behind us, which resulted in us posing in a Where the Wild Things Are setting. Yay for a fun, free souvenir!
Okay, the next thing we did was the coolest part of the whole tour. This was worth the admission price all on it's own. Are you ready?
WE GOT TO SIT ON THE FRIENDS COUCH.
If you don't know me, you may not realize that Friends is my most favorite show of all time. I can answer nearly every Friends trivia question you might throw at me. I can often name what episode it is based solely on what Rachel is wearing. At my wedding, I had my bridal party introduced into the reception to the Friends theme song, and my favors were Friends-themed (gummi lobsters with a tag quoting Phoebe - "It's a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life...you can actually see old lobster couples walking around in their tank, holding claws..."). Basically, I love Friends.
Now, this Central Perk set we saw is not in the place where Friends was actually filmed (that stage is now being used for other things), but it is authentic. That is the real Central Perk couch, as seen on the show. And I got to sit on it. I was just beside myself! And now whenever I watch Friends, I can be all, "see where Chandler is sitting? I sat there, too."
Fun "Friends" fact: The cappucino machine behind the bar is real, and actually does work. In an early episode, they wanted to use it in the show, but nobody knew how to work it. One of the background extras was a former barista, so he stepped up. He then landed the recurring role of Gunther!
After the Friends excitement, things calmed down a bit. We got back on our golf cart and did more driving around and passing various things. We got to drive through a warehouse where they make all the sets, past Ellen's production offices (we saw Ellen Degeneres's parking space!), past a theater that supposedly has some of the best acoustics in the world, and past two more street sets: Brownstone Street and New York Street.
New York Street, which again is used for many cities. You can see the platform for the "el" train (Chicago) in the background, and the NYC subway station by the building on the right. They also said they covered the street with dirt to make it into Tokyo in The Last Samurai.
After all that, our final stop on the tour was the Warner Bros. Museum, which was amazing. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by costumes from The Dark Knight, including all the masks worn by the Joker's accomplices in the bank robbery scene from the beginning of the movie. AWESOME. There were many, many other fabulous costumes and props, including stuff from Cool Hand Luke (even one of the parking meters Paul Newman was arrested for destroying!), Charlie and Chocolate Factory, Fool's Gold, Casablanca, 300, The Departed and many others, and even the giant costumes from Where the Wild Things Are. No pictures allowed, though. Bummer!
And with that, our tour was over. They took us back to the gift shop (of course), where I bought a souvenir mug that says "Writer" on it, in the hopes that it will inspire me while I drink my morning tea! We spent some time wandering around in front of the studios, taking pictures and enjoying ourselves.
There's not too much more to share about our L.A. trip, and I had planned on just including all the rest here and wrapping everything up with this post. But, this post has gone on long enough, and frankly, I'm tired. So, stay tuned for our last night in L.A.!
Note: As I mentioned way back when in the beginning of this post, you can see the rest of our pictures from L.A. on our photo share site if you are interested. This includes all of our Walk of Fame pictures, plus more from this studio tour and the rest of our time in Los Angeles. Enjoy!