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I have always been fascinated with the making of movies; the glitz, the glam and the make believe of it all. Did you know that back in the days of movies like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind, studios like Warner Bros. destroyed their sets immediately after the movie was made?
It’s true. They had no idea, at the time, that studio tours would become a profitable and entertaining thing. Maybe they thought it would ruin all the mystery of moviemaking. Luckily for us though, studio tours have become a thing. A fun thing. And Warner Bros. does not disappoint.
Warner Bros. studios was founded by four brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner, in 1923, and between then and now, Warners has dabbled in almost everything entertainment has to offer. Silent films, black and white talkies, colour films, musicals, cartoons (Bugs Bunny, anyone?), TV and records. Wow, that’s a legacy!
Warner Bros. was one of the largest studios back in the day, and in order to make sure they always had a great pool of talent to draw from to make their films, they had a contract players system in place. As a sign of making it big, actors would be offered a contract by Warner Bros. to work exclusively for their studio, which generally meant they would always be offered roles.
It was a huge accomplishment at the time, but the system, which many other studios offered as well, fell out of favour with many actors and actresses, because the film offerings were often subpar. They were tied to a contract though, and couldn’t work or audition for any other studio. This was fodder for many a scandal as actors and actresses began to break their contracts.
Some of Warners’s most famous contract players include Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Barrymore, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Debbie Reynolds and Rin Tin Tin (the canine star of one of Warners’ earliest films)!
The Warner’s studio lot is located in Burbank, California, or what I like to call, “Hollywoodland”. Burbank is a few miles north of Hollywood itself and is home to many of the major studios that produce all of our favourite TV shows and movies.
It is a beautiful drive up to the Warner lot along West Olive Avenue and Riverside Drive to the building which houses the start of the studio tour. It’s a tree-lined, scenic route. A route probably travelled by many an actor or actress. Even more fascinating, the studio is a stone’s throw away from Forest Hills Cemetery, the final resting place of many a major Hollywood treasure including Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, John Ritter and Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. It gives me goosebumps.
The Warner Studio tour itself is a real treat for anyone. It consists of a visit to the inside of a soundstage; a walk through the Warner prop room; a drive and walk through the outdoor “Anytown USA” set, two exhibits housing props and costumes from both Harry Potter and DC Universe, and a very large warehouse containing every Batmobile you can think of!
The tour includes a walk through the Warner prop room which reveals an unbelievable amount of items in all shapes and sizes, including furnishings, lighting items, medical items, phones and other accessories, all of which have been catalogued so that the prop department can draw on them when creating a set. They have virtually all the props that have been used in Warner movies and TV shows since its inception, including many from the black and white and silent film days.
The outdoor “Anytown USA” set is just that. It is an area that looks like a small town with real, drivable streets and store fronts and houses which are either facades (meaning that they only be filmed from the outside) or “practical sets” (meaning that they are as close to an actual building as can be, and they can film scenes inside and out and on upper and lower floors).
It even comes complete with a church and a high school. Some of the shows that have been filmed extensively in the small town area are Gilmore Girls and Pretty Little Liars, but of course it is used to film one-off scenes from movies and TV shows as well if the set will work for the scene.
Sadly, there is only one storefront in “Anytown USA” which was used in the old-time movie days; a facade used in Casablanca. Too bad the moviemakers of the 1940s hadn’t had the foresight to know that these relics would be valuable one day!
The tour takes fans to Studio 24, the soundstage in which “Friends” was filmed. The “Friends” set is now long gone, and the soundstage is home to “Fuller House” right now, but it has been named “The Friends Stage” in honour of the show, and it was fun to sit in the studio audience area and see where it was filmed, and listen to our tour guide walk us through the process of creating a sitcom episode.
After the tram part of the tour concludes, guests are dropped off “Studio 48: Script to Screen”. This area houses the set of “Central Perk”, the fictional coffee shop from “Friends”, an interactive film experience with green screens, and displays highlighting every aspect of filmmaking from casting to costumes to set design and everything else! There are many legacy items, costumes and scripts on display here, including Jack Warner’s personal phone number and date book. Pretty cool, eh?
One exciting aspect of this part of the tour is the opportunity to spend some time in “Central Perk” where guests have the opportunity to participate in a scene from the Friends, or get their picture taken on the now infamous couch. Fun! I was even able to purchase what has now become my favourite coffee cup.
Life has a funny way of bringing us special moments and surprises, and for me, my visit to the Warner studio was one of those moments … thanks to a young man named George.
Prior to my trip to Los Angeles, I had become “loosely” aware that it was possible to visit “Central Perk”, at the Warner Bros. lot. So, with no planning, a rental car and a GPS, that is where I headed. Unfortunately, upon arrival, I was advised that the only way “Central Perk” was accessible was if you took the two-hour Warner Bros. Studio Tour first, and I was advised at the tour counter that the next tour that had space available, was to begin at 4:00 pm.
I think I pouted as I told George, the tour counter sales clerk, that since I had to be at the airport at 4:00 pm, I would have to pass even though I had driven all the way there, and paid for parking.
George, as it turns out, is a tour counter sales clerk extraordinaire. He told me to wait a couple of minutes, and he returned with two tickets for a tour that was just about to start! With a sneaky grin on his face, he told me not to tell anyone, and as we walked towards the tram waiting area, I assured him that I wouldn’t tell! Hmmm … guess I lied …
Now, I’ve been around a couple of times, so I know that chances are Warner Bros. has extra tickets for people who show up at the last minute just like us, but getting tickets was still a pretty sweet surprise that turned into a pretty sweet day!
Next time you’re in SoCal, check out the Warner Bros. tour. You won’t be sorry, and say “hi” to George for me!