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3-HOUR TOUR

Behind the Scenes : Taking a Warner Bros. VIP studio tour offers views of the real and the facade of making movies and TV shows.

June 11, 1993|DAVID S. BARRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; David S. Barry is a regular contributor to Valley Life. and

The Warner Bros. Studios VIP Tour is a behind-the-scenes look at motion picture history--past and present. Tours are small--for groups of 12--and tailored to what's happening on the lot the day you visit. There are no exhibits or attractions--just a close-up, personal look at the famed Warner Bros. Studio lot, at the exterior sets, the sound stages and the scenes being shot for movies and TV.

1:45 p.m.: Arrive at Gate 4 for a 2 p.m. tour. The gate at Hollywood Way and Olive Avenue in Burbank is the gate the stars use to get to work. It's where you pick up a pass from the guard, follow directions to tour headquarters, where you park your car.

2 p.m.: After a brief introductory talk, you see a short video glimpse of Warner Bros. film history: flashes of Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon," Henry Fonda in "Mister Roberts," Marlon Brando yelling "Stella!" in "Streetcar Named Desire," Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," Dudley Moore in "Arthur" and Michael Keaton in "Beetlejuice."

After that appetizer, you take to the streets of the lot with your tour group, which includes an enthusiastic 12-year-old named James. You quickly realize that walking is the prevailing mode of travel, along with bicycles and electric carts (cars are too big, and too noisy).

2:30 p.m.: We're at an exterior set known as New York Street, a block of two-story buildings with the look of pre-mall, pre-minimall, pre-video store, pre-self-service gas station U.S.A. Classic gangster pictures used this street, which has impersonated San Francisco and London, and is currently standing in for Chicago in the NBC-TV series "Sisters." It was a futuristic Los Angeles in "Blade Runner."

The corner building is now the office of the Daily Planet, the newspaper where Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked in "Superman." And, as our 12-year-old notes, it was Gotham City in "Batman Returns."

Our tour guide points out that a brick wall isn't really brick, but imitation brick on a plaster of Paris and hemp surface. Almost everything we see, we will learn, is a facade, a fake or an illusion.

The buildings are nothing but facade, without interiors, which means that once an actor goes through the door, the director yells "cut." The rest of the shot must be done on an interior set, because these buildings have no interiors.

2:45 p.m.: We're on a small-town residential street that evokes the America of Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. This was used for "Mayberry, RFD." It was River City in "The Music Man," and looks so peaceful you expect to see children rolling a hoop with their dog Spot.

But this is Hollywood, remember, and it was also a street in "Fright Night," "Gremlins" and in John Wayne's last film, "The Shootist."

3 p.m.: We're at Laramie Street in Western Town, with frame buildings--a jail, a barbershop, a telegraph office, a gun shop, the Sutter Creek Cafe--which you might recognize from "Bonanza" and "Little House on the Prairie."

3:15 p.m.: We see some of the behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts stuff that make this tour special. We visit a construction shop where special props are built and stored: giant spiders and bugs from "The Karate Kid," a large-scale B-17 bomber from "Memphis Bell," a head-high clock dial, from the 1944 Bette Davis film "Mrs. Skeffington," a miniature submarine, and an umbrella, used, as our 12-year-old notes, in "Batman Returns."

Next door is a building for storing lamps. Hundreds of them, in all styles and sizes. There is a huge chandelier called "Big Bertha," a 1,500-pound piece insured for $75,000. It was used, our guide tells us, in "My Fair Lady."

"And in 'Batman Returns,' " adds James.

3:30 p.m.: We go through the heavy, insulated door of a sound stage to watch a scene from "Lois & Clark," a pilot for ABC-TV featuring Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the interior of the Daily Planet newspaper office we saw earlier.

We've already learned that 12 hours of daily TV shooting customarily yields between seven to nine minutes of film, and we walk over cables, around partitions, behind the light fixtures to a vantage point. We watch the stars, Dean Kane and Terry Hatcher, looking glamorous as they are combed and groomed for a party scene in the office of the Daily Planet.

There is a buzz of conversation for the scene. Then there are bright lights, the clap of the scene marker, and the director's voice calling "Action!"

We watch and listen to the newspaper boss make an announcement that brings cheers from the Daily Planet staff, then hurry out. We've seen maybe 20 seconds of film completed out of the day's schedule, and we go back onto the streets of the lot. There's still time to visit the company store.

3:45 p.m.: We browse the T-shirts, souvenir photos, toys, stuffed furry creatures, dolls, videocassettes and CDs. We admire a souvenir cup from "Casablanca," the movie in which no one ever said (go on, look it up) "Play it again, Sam" but in which Humphrey Bogart, as Rick, did make the classic remark "I was misinformed."

James spends $5 on a souvenir block of Kryptonite--the element that paralyzes Superman.

"You just missed him," the clerk tells us. Christopher Reeve "was just in here about 15 minutes ago."

This is Hollywood, after all. Reluctantly, we surrender our passes at Gate 4, and drive back out onto the streets of the real world, to do lunch of course.

4-4:45 p.m: The nearby Dalts Grill, 3500 W. Olive Ave., is a '40s-style diner that offers a basic American cheeseburger, with hand-cut french fries and ranch beans for $5.75. Ribs, baby-back, marinated, charbroiled, are $6.95 for a half-order, $10.95 for a whole order. Finish off lunch with the homemade cheesecake desserts.

WHERE TO GO

* What: Warner Bros. Studios VIP Tours, in groups of no more than 12.

* Hours: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

* Price: $25 per person, Visa/MasterCard accepted. No children younger than 10. No cameras.

* Call: (818) 954-1744; reservations suggested.

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