What started out as a gimmick in true Hollywood fashion has flourished into one of Los Angeles ‘ most exciting attractions:
The movie studio tour. These fortresses, once reserved for Hollywood insiders, are now being applauded by throngs of visitors as studio moguls roll out the red carpet for the general public.
Receiving top billing is Universal Studios Hollywood, the birthplace of the studio tour.
This is by far the world’s largest movie studio offering an extensive Backlot Tram Tour that transports guests to the land of make- believe, giving each a front row seat and an insider’s edge to Filmmaking. As the tram maneuvers about the building facades and fabricated cityscapes, guests can view state of the art LCD flat screen video monitors from inside the tram which display where many movies and television scenes were shot. Celebrity narrators, such as Ron Howard and Jason Alexander, add a bit of anecdotal verve.
In fact, Alexander narrates an entertaining film montage titled Before They Were Stars, a look bona fide celebrities prior to their making a splash in Hollywood. Blurring the line of reality are 11 location sets, from Courthouse Square, one of Hollywood ‘s most frequently used backdrops, to six Point Texas, the oldest backlot set and site of the first studio tour. No trip is complete, however, without a glipse at the Psycho House and neighboring Bates Motel.
Built for director Alfred Hitchcock for his 1960 thriller Psycho, the set was used again in the Gus Van Sant remake starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. The house was built to a three-quarters scale atop a knoll to give the illusion of greater distance when viewed from Bates Motel, which is actually located just a dagger- toss away at the bottom of the hill. Enhancing the tour is the Movie Making Special Effects, a series of smoke and mirror attractions created to simulate the making of many Hollywood special effects.
This component of the tour exposes guests to every conceivable natural disaster, from blustery snowstorms and flash floods to a jolting earthquake. King Kong, the Staggering 30- foot, 6.5- ton gorilla, resides in one of the world’s largest soundstages disguised as The Big Apple.
The tram also attempts to cross a rickety bridge on the verge of collapsing and makes an ominous stop to the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Guests also enjoy an outing to Cabot Cove, the idyllic town where Jessica Fletcher lived in the television series Murder She Wrote.
This set was originally constructed for Steven Spielberg’s classic horror film Jaws, and is still home to an animatronic, man- eating shark who continues to lurk just below the water’s surface. The illusion and excitement continues long after the tram tour has come to halt.
Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
Situated in the shadow of the famed Hollywood sign is Paramount Studios. Because filming is going on throughout the lot, the two- hour guided walking tour feels like it’s own production as visitors wander behind- the- scenes to get a look at the day- to- day operations.
The tour begins at the Bronson Gate Entrance, one of the most photographed studio entrances and where many movie stars took their first steps toward fame.
Once inside this landmark fortress, guests visit a myriad of landscapes including one flanked with the original park bench from the movie Forrest Gump. Many of television’s top rated shows are produced on the premises including Frasier.
And, as with any studio tour, you never know what famous face you may encounter while making the rounds.
Just ask former UCLA student Laura Louie who not only landed a job a Woody Harrelson’s assistant while taking a class tour, but ended up becoming his wife. Sounds like the ideal part for a Hollywood love story.
Web: Paramount Pictures
Address: Paramount Pictures Studio Tour Entrance, 5515 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90038
Burbank: Warner Bros. Studios
Another star among the studio tours is the Warner Bros, Studio VIP Tour. This intimate two- hour trek, conducted from the confines of a golf cart, features knowledgeable guides who deliver a candid history of movies and television.
Because this is a working studio, no two tours are alike as visitors get a sneak peek at the prop shop, sound department and wardrobe area where more than a million costumes are stored.
Chances are you might br ushered into Stage 16, which is among the world’s tallest stages boasting a concealed tank with the capability to hold two million gallons of water.
This Hollywood marvel was most recently used for the action- packed sea adventure scenes in the blockbuster film The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney. Many of America’s favorite television shows are also filmed on the lot, and it’s anyone’s guess as to which celebrity might make an impromptu appearance: Jennifer Aniston, Drew Carey, Ray Romano or someone from the cast of E.R.
Parking for Studio Tour guests is located at:
3400 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505
Follow signs for Tour Parking on the Southside of Warner Blvd. — Parking Fee: YES
Web (London (UK) Studio Tour): Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter (wbstudiotour.co.uk)
Guests can travel somewhere over the rainbow with a tour of Sony Pictures, once home to the legendary MGM Studios where studio head Louis B. Mayer was one of the most feared men in Hollywood.
Billed as the original “Heart of Screenland,” the Studio served as the backdrop for the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz.
These days Columbia Pictures and Columbia Tri Star television are churning out the hits, with such big screen hits as Stuart Little and Men in Black, as well as small screen Favorites like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!
The two- hour tour travels to the actual inter- working of the studio, places such as the Wardrobe Department, where 350 different pirate costumes were designed for the movie Hook.
Other stops include a visit to the studio’s archival museum, and guests are treated to a private screening chronicling the studio’s history accompanied by a reel of memorable movie outtakes.
SONY PICTURES STUDIOS, 10202 West Washington Blvd, Culver City, California 90232
Parking is provided off of Overland in the Overland Parking structure.