Friday 14 March 2014

California: Day Eleven - Warner Brothers Studio, Santa Barbara, Pacific Coast, Monterey

One of the things I had booked in advance of this trip was a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. I had wanted to do a studio tour, and there were a few to chose from – Paramount, Warner Brothers and Universal. I had heard mixed things about Paramount, and in order to get into Universal you needed to buy a pass to the theme park. Plus, last year Uncle Beau and Connor did the WB one and loved it, so that was the one I picked.


Our tour time was 9:30 but we checked out of the hotel by 8:00am since Chris had warned us traffic could be a nightmare. Fortunately, it was only a 15-minute drive and traffic was non-existent so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. That worked to our favor as we spent 45+ minutes driving around trying to find a coffee shop. The GPS was telling us there were Starbucks and Peets around, but they seemed to be inside studio buildings that we couldn’t get to. We drove around in circles, before we managed to find a small independent café where we had a quick breakfast to go. Of course, as luck would have it as soon as we entered the main WB building, there was a Starbucks right inside!


The entrance to the tour was off to one side of the WB offices, and in addition to the Starbucks included a gift shop, theater and some artifacts and costumes from the Harry Potter movies. We spent a few minutes looking around before our group was called. They keep the groups small, so there were only about 9 of us all together, and our first stop was the theater. It explained a bit about the Warner Brothers (who were actually brothers!) and how they came to Hollywood with the dream of opening a studio. It was about 15 minutes long, and showed a bunch of clips from the various TV Shows and Movies that had been filmed there. Afterward we met our guide, who was amazing! I forget his name, but he was very knowledgeable and personable, and made the tour a lot of fun.



We boarded a large golf-cart/trolley thing and drove across the street into the Studios. The tour started by going down the “big city” streets. These are the outdoor sets of a city such as NYC or Chicago. They include storefronts of shops and restaurants, apartments, theaters, parks, and subway entrances. Our guide explained how these sets are decorated and set-up for the movies and TV shows that need them. As we drove along he pointed out areas that had been used for shows like Friends, The Big Bang, Pretty Little Liars and ER.  





There was a set of train tracks off to the side, which had been built especially for ER. We also got to see the small alleyway that had been made famous by the Spiderman/Mary-Jane upside down kiss in Spiderman 2. Interesting fact, that scene was filmed with rain effects and since the actor was upside down for it, the water kept piling up in his mask choking him. They finally had to put rolled up gauze inside his nose so he wouldn’t breathe in the water, and then use the computer to add in his lines afterward since the gauze prevented him from speaking normally.

Train tracks from ER

Spiderman Kiss Alley
When shows and movies need the sets, their team of set-decorators etc. will come in and spent a day or two setting it up. This includes adding store names and items, setting up cafes and restaurants, and often painting the exterior different colors. Because they want the city to look older and authentic, they brought in actual older fire escapes from NYC to put on the buildings. But because they were dangerous, they had to repair them and then re-paint them to make them appear older. It’s all about making things look real, and ensuring the set is believable of the city is it supposed to be.


We drove down to an area where they have the larger buildings that are been used as museums, theaters, and city halls. We also got to see a subway entrance that holds about 30 people inside. Apparently, it gets pretty claustrophobic down there when they are shooting a scene that involves a bunch of people spilling out of the subway tunnel!




This is often used as a park set - and has been Central Park in NYC a bunch of times.  In Friends it was in the scene with Rachel and Pheobe running crazily though the park. 




Our first stop was a costume and prop museum and it was awesome. The entire second floor is devoted to items from the Harry Potter films. They include costumes from many of the cast, as well as props like the sorting hat, beds from the hospital, and an incredible prop that was used in the second movie when Hermonie was petrified. It took them months to make this prop, and everything was modeled after the actress. They even put the strands of hair in individually as to make it look believable.






They had a fun area where you could be “sorted” like in the movie and I am happy to report I was sorted into Gryffindor. Brian however was sorted into Ravenclaw.


The second level includes items from an assortment of movies and TV shows. There were costumes from Friends, Smallville, Pretty Little Liars, Casablanca, My Fair Lady, The Dark Knight and many more. It also had the piano from Casablanca, and some stationary and props from Gilmore Girls.



From My Fair Lady


The Hangover 


Casablanca 



Friends 
One thing that amazed me was how tiny the actor/actresses clothing is. While they appear thin and fit on screen and in magazines, the clothing is even smaller then you would imagine – even with the men’s costumes.

Our next stop was to the Two and a Half Men set, where we were unable to take any photos. It was interesting to see how the indoor sets was laid out, and it was a cool experience to see one of a show I was familiar with. Our guide explained how the sets are kept up for the duration of a show, and how things like cleaning and staging are done. For cleaning, they actually have a crew that comes in and vacuums and dusts every week. For staging, they include masking tape on the floor to show the actors where their “marks are”. Often actors invent ways of checking their marks that get incorporated into their character. In Friends, when Rachel was always checking to make sure her shoes matched, it was the actress double-checking her mark. The most interesting story was that of the show Colombo, as the actor had a glass eye that would reflect light whenever he looked down at the floor. In order to deal with that, the actor shielded his face when he looked down, and that move became the characters trademark action of putting his hand to his face and looking down whenever he was thinking about something.

Our guide explained the process of scripts, and how script changes occur up until the last second. In order to ensure actors have the most up-to-date scripts they use colored paper whenever they re-print them. He also explained the large role advertising plays in the writing. Scripts are often re-written and changed based on the advertisers that have bought airtime – and sometimes these changes are over the silliest things. The example he used was a pizza company. If a pizza company is being advertised on that show, and the show mentions pizza at all – it may be changed. Even a small thing of a pizza being delivered late, or a character not liking the pizza toppings will be changed because they don’t want to take the risk of offending the advertiser. This is why a lot of shows include food delivery places that don’t tend to advertise.

After leaving the set, we went into a transportation warehouse that holds a bunch of the famous cars from TV shows and movies. It had the Austin Powers cars, 4 of the Batmobile’s, the flying car from Harry Potter and a bunch of others. They were all roped off, but it was cool to walk around and see what they actually look like.





This building also had a green screen to demonstrate the process that most movies now use. Instead of acting in an actual set, most of it is computer generated – especially for action movies. The actors act in front of a green screen, and then the scenery and set is generated around them. We got to take a picture demonstrating this, so Brian and I were posed in front of the green screen in a certain way. Then the background of the Hogwarts express was generated in before the photo was printed. It was incredible how real it all looks.


Our guide drove us past the trailers that they take out on location sets, and past the set mechanic and gas station. Both of these are actual, real areas that are used daily but can also double as sets when needed. He explained a number of directors that often use WB to film, and one was Clint Eastwood. Eastwood seems to have a lot of clout there, as the guide demonstrated in the following story. When George Clooney was filming ER on the lot, he wasn’t as famous as he now is. For whatever reason, he really wanted a basketball court on the lot. He bugged the WB people about this constantly, and was finally told if he got a large number of signatures within a day or two, they would talk. Clooney came back the next day with only one signature – Clint Eastwoods’ – and the basketball court was built.



Something else that surprised me was learning that WB rents out space to other studios. This is why other shows and movies unassociated with the studio are sometimes filmed there. This started happening a few years ago when Universal had a fire and needed studio space to relocate to.

One of the coolest parts of the tour was getting to go into the re-created Central Perk set from Friends. It looks exactly as it does on TV, and Brian and I got to get a photo sitting on the actual couch. As a Friends fan, that was awesome!








From there we walked down into a few sections of prop warehouse, which blew my mind. It is this massive warehouse where anything you could ever imagine set-wise is stored – furniture, books, frames, lighting fixtures, drapery, tableware, clocks, knick-knacks, food, everything! Apparently when a show/movie needs something they come here and rent it out. They also rent out to other studios as there were pieces marked “Castle”, “Greys Anatomy” and other shows that film outside the lot.







Our guide explained this is another area where advertising comes into play, as they cannot use any item with the name of a product unless they have permission/are paying to do so. The funny thing is, that only doesn’t only apply to the product type but the actual name. For example, if they used laundry detergent with the “Pepsi” name, that would count as using Pepsi. Strangely enough, it doesn’t apply to the actual logo, which is why you see different brand names on well-known logos from time to time.


For the last part of the tour, we drove into the “small town” exterior set, where shows like Gilmore Girls and Pretty Little Liars were done. We drove past sets that were familiar to me from these shows, including the town square and the exterior of characters houses. I loved this part, as I could recognize these places and that was really fun! They were setting up to film Pretty Little Liars, so the school and town hall buildings had Rosewood High School and Rosewood City Hall on them. It is amazing to realize just how much time and effort goes into setting these places up for all these shows and movies. They must have their schedule down to a tee, as they only have a certain amount of time before another show/movie uses the outdoor sets.















Our tour ended at the gift shop, where I was able to buy the Luke’s shirt I had seen earlier. (Luke’s was the diner in Gilmore Girls – my favorite show!). I was going to buy a Central Perk mug, but didn’t want the hassle of getting yet another item home. Brian bought a Harry Potter tee shirt that had the words “I solemnly swear I am up to no good” on it. 



We grabbed some Starbucks before leaving the studio, and began our drive back up the coast to Monteray. We chose to drive the coastal route for some of it, which was really beautiful. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch at this place that had been on the show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It was a cute little café, but massively overpriced as for two sandwiches, two salads and two drinks cost almost $50.00! We drove through a bit of Santa Barbara, but had such a long drive ahead that we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked to.

Our Lunch stop


This must be where Santa vacations in the off season!
The sun was just starting to set when we reached start of the Pacific Highway – the highway that is on the side of a cliff! I knew this wasn’t a route I wanted to take going down (as going south you are in the lane closest to the edge) but I thought going up would be fine. It wasn’t – it was terrifying! I think part of that fact had to do with the time – about 30 minutes in we lost the light and it was pitch black. The roads are very narrow, and the drops insanely steep. It was a stressful few hours – especially when we saw a guy pulled off to the side of the road as he had taken the turn to quickly. I am sure that the views are amazing, and it’s a wonderful experience to have, but I have no desire to ever drive that road again!






Signs of the Water Shortage - This was common as we got further north on the highway
It was almost 10pm when we arrived at our hotel in Monteray and we were both hungry and exhausted. We decided to walk across the road to a little Irish pub, not realizing that it was the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day. Instead of a quick and quiet dinner, we were in the middle of all the festivities, which turned out to be fun. The pub’s food was actually amazing – surprisingly they had the best clam chowder both of us had ever tasted. It’s funny how some of the strangest places turn out to be awesome, and far better then you ever imagined!

Our hotel was the Marriott and right in the center of town. It had also been booked on points, and was the best hotel we stayed in. Amazing rooms, helpful staff and an incredible location that allowed us to walk to most places. If you are ever in Monteray, the Marriott is the hotel to stay at. 

  

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