Maybe you’ve felt seduced by Humphrey Bogart taking a drag from his cigarette, or by Bette Davis’ doe-eyes and sharp wit, or maybe the swashbuckling romantic, Errol Flynn, with his pencil mustache, reeled you in. Well, back in the “studio days” of old Hollywood, they were all contract actors with Warner Bros. Studios.
This Monday we take a tour of the back lot at Warner Bros. Studios with our friend, former Warner Bros. tour guide, movie facts king and all-around funnyman, Aaron LaPlante.
One of the great things about the Warner Bros. lot is that its remained similar to what it was back in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and so on. While the interior of buildings have been updated and sets have been added, the exterior of the main stages have stayed the same. Take away the modern cars, and you’re looking at essentially the same thing Bogie and Bette saw.
The Warner brothers (lowercase “b”) were Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack. Polish immigrants from Pittsburgh, they began their foray into the movie business in 1903, moving throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania with a portable projector, until they eventually opened a movie theater. They moved from film distribution to film production, and their company grew.
The brothers moved to Los Angeles in 1918 and opened their first movie studio, now known as Sunset Bronson Studios, on Sunset Boulevard. They decided, at Sam’s behest, to invest in movies with synchronized sound. It was the early 1900's, remember. They still lived in a world of silent film. In 1927, the Warner brothers release The Jazz Singer, the world’s first feature length “talkie.” It was a hit. They used the money from the success of the film to purchase a plot of land for a much larger studio in Burbank, California, where Warner Bros. Studios exists today.
BACK LOT TOUR:
We parked the car outside Stage 28 (where Fuller House is filmed) just in time to catch Kunal Nayyar, of Big Bang Theory fame, grab an afternoon coffee.
Our tour begins at the periphery of the studio in an overgrown, woody area aptly named, "the jungle." The area contains a group of sets that have been used in near innumerable movies and TV shows. It’s the go-to location for things that take place in the woods.
The first building we walk through is the set for Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in the HBO series, True Blood. Jurassic park was also filmed on the jungle set. Remember when Jeff Goldblum escapes the dinosaurs in his jeep? He drove that jeep back and forth on a small dirt road just behind Merlotte’s to get the shot.
Also filmed in that group of sets was the diner scene from Million Dollar Baby and the episode of ER, when George Clooney saves a little boy from drowning.
From there, we move onto the streets of Boston and get to see where Pee Wee’s red bike got stolen. Coincidentally, riding his own, non-red, bike was Chuck Lorre, creator of The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and Mom. Next, we head off to Chicago where the former ER set is now used for the television show, Shameless.
Then, to a neighborhood with a lovely town center and charming little houses. With the recent Gilmore Girls reboot, the town center is unmistakable as Stars Hallow.
Right around the corner from the Stars Hollow set is the building used at the beginning of Rebel Without a Cause, when James Dean stumbles out of the police department.
We finish the first half of the back lot tour and head for the more tourist-geared, Stage 48. The Stage 48 gift shop is home to all the Harry Potter, Ellen and Friends paraphernalia you couldn’t possibly need.
Just beyond the gift shop is an interactive soundstage that explores the phases of the film and television industry.
The photo-op highlight is obviously sitting on the couch at Central Perk with a big cup ‘o joe.(Friends was filmed at Warner Bros. on Stage 24). There’s an area with old sketches from Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo. We get to stand in front of a screen and moved around as the CGI character, Dobbie, from Harry Potter. We discover the art of forced perspective, which is how they made the hobbits in Lord of the Rings look so small.
In the final room, there’s a collection of awards on view. You can even hold a real-life Oscar statue.
After Stage 48, we hop in a golf cart and get chauffeured to the building where all the cool cars, like the Batmobile, are kept.
Then, to one of the major highlights. The props department. Holy, glorious, well-organized clutter. Rooms and hallways filled with light fixtures, telephones in every color, board games, religious statues, carpets, old set pieces from things like The West Wing and The Matrix.
We end our day in another tourist-geared building that displays props and costumes from the movies, Harry Potter, Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
One final fun fact: The 36 sound stages at Warner Bros. are all the same size, except stage 16, which is one of the tallest in the world. It was raised to its current height in 1935 to accommodate the colossal musical film, Cain and Mabel. Inside is a 2,000,000 gallon water tank, which was used for The Perfect Storm, Poseidon, the pirate ship scene from The Goonies. It also housed the drag racing scenes from Rebel Without a Cause and The Bank Hotel and Casino from Ocean’s 13.