Thursday, 20 June 2013

Three days in Santa Monica – smoke and mirrors

Warner Tour Sign

Although we are in Santa Monica which is some distance from the film studios, that does not mean that we cannot visit some of the film / tv studios because there are coach tours offered to Universal or Warner Studios. We chose to go to the Warner Studios because the reviews said that it focused on the industry and its shows rather than the more theme park offering at Universal Studios.

The two hour tour is called the VIP tour although this is pure marketing. It starts with a short film about Warner Brothers and shows some of the most famous parts of their history and then you get into a 12 seat electric open car for a tour of the studio lot.

Warner Brothers Water Tower

The first sight you see from outside of the gates is the famous water tower with its WB sign and then it is a quick drive around the “Jungle area”


with some moveable jungle on a trailer which forms a backdrop when they need to hide something

Outside Lot House

and then past a couple of houses set in the jungle.

Outside Lot House-1

the houses are very empty inside and are fitted out for each filming event.

Outside Lot Street

The houses in a nearby street double up as offices for various productions – we were told that everywhere on the site was considered a filming location.

Outside Lot City Square-1

Main Square USA (the above pavement is that along which parking meters were destroyed in “Cool Hand Luke”) is a

Outside Lot City Square-4

remarkable lot in that

Outside Lot City Square

all of the buildings are false, brickwork is either painted on or is plastic sheeting, the walls are all hollow

Outside Lot City Square-2

the church is empty inside

Outside Lot City Square-3

and these buildings are simply facades.

Outside Lot 

Sometimes the buildings rely on trompe d’oeil to create a 3-d effect (everything other than the balcony is really flat)


and this side view shows that there is no thickness at all to some of the buildings

Outside Lot City Street

Streets look like streets in an old fashioned US city

Outside Lot City Street James Dean

(this house and the one below  featured in a James Dean film)

 Outside Lot James Dean House

In general, houses have two different fronts, one on each side of the house so there is no back because films rarely use back

Outside Lot House Front

gardens. So above is the street side front

Outside Lot House Back

and above is the back garden side front of the same house.

Outside Lot House Door 

The doors have no handles on them because handles always indicate a period in time and they put handles on the doors when they are fitting out the house for a particular film

Outside Lot House Inside

and the rooms have no ceilings because cameras never point at ceilings and the ceilings are used to support filming lights.

We had a tour of part of the enormous props store

Props West Wing

here some of the seals used in West Wing which have been kept

Props West Wing-1

hanging on the wall for the next film


and area full of different light fittings

Props-2 Props-1

and false arms and skeletons,

Props Moving Eyes

a painting used in horror films (note the two eye holes for the eyes which follow someone in a room)

Props Bridges of Maddison County 

Some old props are kept for sentimental reasons such as the mail box used in “The Bridges of Madison County”

Studio Parking Space

as has been this parking reservation sign.


This prop is too well known to need an explanation.

Props Batman

In the vehicle store are a number of the cars used in various Batman films

Props Batman-1 Props Batman-3

Props Batman-2

plus a larger than life statue

Props Harry Potter Ford Anglia

and the Ford Anglia used in a Harry Potter film

Props Scobby Doo and Friend

and for some reason, a large model of Scooby Doo.

Although Friends was filmed on the east coast,

Studio Friends-2 

the entire studio set was shipped over to the props store

Studio Friends Studio Friends-1

So that people like us could sit on the famous settee and have our pictures taken. We also went around the inside of a Sound Studio to see how the studio was used to film a programme and visited the clothes store but no cameras were allowed into those buildings.

The two hour tour was very informative and a good way to see how the studios worked.

A couple of days later, we went up into the hills above Malibu to see the Paramount Ranch. This used to be a film set where a lot of Westerns were filmed (and many non westerns) but with the drop in demand for western films, the lot was handed back to the National Parks Service who have preserved it for visitors.


Immediately on entering the town, there was a desperado (female variety) with her guns drawn

 PR Annie Oakleigh PR-5

there is an old wagon trailer which looks like it has been there for ever




the town main street


the town store


a boarding house


and the sheriffs office which has a cell with bars inside

PR Cells

of course in true Hollywood tradition, all of the above pictures

PR Smoke and Mirrors

are smoke and mirrors because tucked away around the back of the western town is a music festival – it is amazing what you can do with the right camera angles! And you can use the same set for westerns as well as films which have no relationship to cowboys at all – you just change the facades of the buildings slightly.

Amongst the films made here are:

The Last Outlaw with Gary Cooper 1927
The Four Feathers 1929
A Farewell to Arms 1932
The Texas Rangers 1936
Its a Great Life 1936
Adventures of Marco Polo 1938

and the list goes on and on until 2006 when it closed as a film set.

No comments:

Post a Comment