Since I was already in Hollywood, I just had to go for a behind-the-scenes studio tour. There are a few to choose from – Paramount Studios, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Studios and Adventures by Disney: Backstage Magic. Paramount Studios is the only one operating out of Hollywood today, while the rest are outside – which you can just drive to.
I chose to do the Warner Brothers one – although I want to go back and do Universal Studios and Disney someday. The VIP Studio Tour at Warner Bros cost USD 49 and can be booked online, or you can book through a tour agency like Starline Tours who will bring you there so you don’t have to find your way there if you don’t have a car.
The iconic WB water tank that has no water.
The Warner Bros Studio is a real working film production area (since 1927) and is not a theme park. Every tour is unique and different, because it depends on the film and television production schedules. That means when you go today you might see the production set of one show but tomorrow, or even later in the day, it is another show already.
The tour starts off with a short film highlighting the history of the company (they have been at the same place since 1927) and then you are allocated into groups with a designated guide who will drive you around in an open-air tram. The group is kept small, about 12 or less, and the guide will stop at certain spots to let you off or you can request to stop if you see something.
I was taken around some of the studio’s 20 acres of exterior sets, or what they call back lots. Photography is allowed here so you can snap all you want while on the tram. This facility is somewhat like property management, where Warner Bros rents out the areas to production companies, as long as you put back the areas the way you got them.
Look closer at the roads of the picture below and you can see how it has been patched back in so many ways after being used for different types of production. It’s amazing how the place can look so different with lighting and props.
This scene from Minority Report?
It was shot somewhere here: (The mended holes were from the blowing up parts in the scene.)
Another interesting spot is the wall of the scene of Spiderman and Mary Jane’s first kiss in the movie:
It is just a plain boring wall but they dressed it up with lights and fake rain that falls at a speed with the right raindrop size which would look good on screen.
Look at how real these neighbourhoods are! We were also taken behind these facades and building fronts – they are just empty rooms within with no ceiling and will be turned into practical sets for shooting.
The other part of the studios are the sound stages which have sets built to look exactly like a place instead of having to move a whole production team to shoot on location. For example, this scene at the Caesars Palace lobby from The Hangover Part 1? It was shot on a sound stage.
All the buildings you see are the various stages…
The picture above was the aftermath from shooting an episode of The Voice.
Each stage has its little wall of fame that has the various productions filmed in there before:
The guide took us into some of these sound stages, but photography was not allowed as these have not been aired yet. Your cameras and phones will be locked into the tram so don’t get all protective. If you are lucky, you will get to see some of stars driving in or even filming on set but you are not allowed to take photos or approach them.
One set that has been kept for viewing purposes with photography allowed is the Central Perk cafe from F.R.I.E.N.D.S.:
It is a lot smaller than what it looks like onscreen, but remember everything is magnified on screen. My favourite part of the tour was the automotive museum with some iconic cars used in their productions, such as the Sunbeam Tiger driven by Steve Carrell in Get Smart (2008), General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo 2, Shaguar from Austin Powers’ Goldmember, the Weasleys’ flying car in Harry Potter and Batman’s collection.
I noticed the tyre tread pattern of the Batmobile and thought it was damn cool!
There is also the Studio Museum where some of the memorabilia collection like costumes, scripts, props, and letters are on display out in the open and not behind glass. However, no cameras are allowed and you are only given 15 minutes to browse both levels (Level 2 is entirely Harry Potter). A visit to the sets of the sitcoms like Two and a Half Men was also included, but again, no photos allowed.
While we were at the automotive museum, the guide took a photo for us that we collected at the end of the tour back at the reception. No additional charge required for the photo – it comes with the package.
The thing about production is how everything is make-believe and even then, it still can take hours just to get a 5-minute show time in a production. *Phew* Look! Even the speed bumps are fake – painted to create an illusion…
Warner Brothers Studios
3400 W. Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Parking fee: USD 7
Directions on how to get there here
Ticket office hours 7:30am – 7:00pm
Tours depart continuously Mon-Fri 8:20am – 4:00pm
Saturday are limited – call or purchase tickets online to reserve your tour
For more of my photos from the Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour, view here.