Touring The Warner Bros. Studios

My third story is probably a long time coming. I have decided to change the frequency of my blog from  monthly to semiannually because I find it hard to have time to write one these days.

OK, On To This Blog Entry...

For this entry I thought it would be fun to talk about one of my all-time favorite places in Los Angeles, the Warner Brothers Studio.

I believe there are three main studios to tour if you are in the Los Angeles area.  There is Universal Studios, which is more like a theme park with a studio tour all at the same time located in Universal City. The Paramount Studio tour is a great tour that stands out from the other two because it features a lot of information about Old Hollywood to go with touring its backlot and sound stages. Paramount Studios located in Los Angeles a little Southeast of Hollywood. The last of the three main studios you can tour is Warner Bros, which is located in Burbank. Warner Bros. is what this blog will be about because it is my favorite of the three. Some time down the road I will try to talk about the other two. I have toured Warner Bros. 6 times now: in 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. By reading that you can tell I love Warner Bros. as I have only toured the other two studios just one time total. This entry I will try to combine all of my tour experiences into one by giving the highlights from each of the tours and talking about the different places on the lot you will get to visit.

My First Touring Experience:

My first tour was very different from the rest of the tours because it was free and part of a trip to Los Angeles that my mother won back in 2002. People actually do win those grand prizes you see offered on television. Just be prepared that if you win a prize like that you are required to pay the taxes for the trip. My mother learned that lesson the next tax year. I actually signed her up through Superstation TBS to try to win a trip to Los Angeles plus to get to watch a taping of the hit comedy series "Friends". It turned out to be one of the greatest long weekends I have had in my life. Part of getting to be a special guest of seeing the taping of "Friends" we got a quick tour of the backlot of Warner Bros. I had very little knowledge of Warner Bros. before that first tour and I loved every minute of it. I had no idea what we would see next but my camera was clicking the whole way.

One stop we made during that small unofficial tour was a place called Midwest Street. Each part of the backlot is identified by a street name. The man who showed us around said that it was the town they used to tape the old show "The Dukes Of Hazzard" and it was also where they filmed a show called "Gilmore Girls".  That show was in its second season when we made that tour and I had no clue what the show was about because at that time my town did not have the new television station called The WB. A few months later we finally got that television station and I just had to watch the show to see what that small town looked like on TV. I liked that show immediately and it is still my all-time favorite show. More about Midwest Street later. In case anyone cares, the "Friends" episode I saw was from season 8 called "The One With The Birthing Video" and I a great time. The whole taping experience took over 6 hours for just a 23-minute show. Some people got bored but I loved every minute of it.

What Happens Before You Get In Your Cart And Start The Official Tour:

To get to the official Warner Bros. tour parking lot (which is a paid lot) you will turn Southwest onto Warner Blvd off of Riverside Drive. From there you will drive half a block and turn left on Lima Street to reach the lot on your right. Note: There is a chance to find street parking that is free if you get real lucky but I have no problem paying the small fee to park in their lot. Once you make it past the metal detectors you will be in the area to get your tickets. Also in this area you will see the gift shop where you can buy Warner Bros. merchandise and you can also buy stuff from your favorite shows filmed at Warner. There is no need to buy anything before your tour because your tour guide will bring everyone back into the same area after your tour is completed. Usually your tour will be split into two groups and your group will have no more than 12 people in it which makes it real nice and personalized. In the summer and vacation months there will be more people so there will be more groups.

The very first thing you will do on your tour is go into a small theater and watch a short video about the history of Warner Bros. The short movie will also show memorable moments from the favorite shows and movies filmed there. It is supposed to get everyone fired up to take the tour but after having seen the video 5 times I am just ready to get things going. Being a big fan of filming locations, I enjoy visiting the backlot the most and that is what keeps me coming back as they are always making changes to it. After the video you will be introduced to your tour guide and off you will go.

Make sure you get to know the tour guide if you are real interested in seeing stuff from a certain show to let him or her know and they will try their best to show it to you. Some people hope that their tour group will be able to see something being filmed. The bad part about something being filmed during your tour is they will close off that part of the lot and you won't be able to take pictures there. I personally think it is boring to watch filming.  While I am on the subject of taking pictures you are allowed to take tons of pictures but there are certain areas where taking pictures is prohibited. Make sure you listen to your tour guide so you don't get in trouble and risk your camera being taken away. Usually if you are in a place that pictures are not allowed they will take all of the cameras and lock them up under the seat of the extended golf cart or tram as they may call it.  Don't worry, you will get the cameras back. Most of the tour guides really care about their job and they hope that everyone has a great time.

Warner Bros. motto is that no two tours are the same and I would agree. When you head out on your tour it is hard to tell where you will go to first and where you will end up so I will show each section of the Warner Bros. tour in my own order. Remember, things are always being changed on the backlot so some of the places I list may no longer be there. Don't expect to see the exact same things I have listed in the following sections. I will not be explaining much about the filming history of Warner Bros. Your tour guide will be glad to tell everyone about the history of the lot.

All Of The Different Backlot Streets:

I will start out by talking about Hennesy Street. This is one of the oldest parts of the backlot.  It has a look of being an old city street and it is made to look that way on purpose. One part of the street has store fronts where productions could put any name on it to represent a business in any city they want. Other parts of the street you will see apartment buildings with fire escapes to make the home audience believe they are really on a city street. Plus they made some alleys too in case the production wants to film in a creepy and unsafe looking area.

Usually in a scene filmed on a backlot they will only show the building they want the viewer to see because maybe in a later scene or episode they may want to use the building that is next door but the production wants the viewer to think it took place in another part of town. For a scene when they use these facade type of buildings you will see a person walk up to someone's door and then you will see the camera switch and show the rest of the scene from the perspective of who answered the door while you see the guest walk into the door. When they are walking in the door that scene most likely has changed to a sound stage somewhere else on the lot where the production people have made a set for the rest of the scene to take place. You will see that with a lot of these buildings you can walk in the front door and take a few more steps and walk out the front door of a building on the other side. They do that so they can have a lot of fronts to buildings and not take up space.

Also, when you go up to any of these brick buildings make sure you knock or tap on them as you will see that the bricks or blocks are fake. Your tour guide will bring that up too or at least they should. After you have been on a studio tour you will start to notice things while watching a show you never thought about before. A lot of people believe that all of the scenes from television shows and movies take place on location from wherever the city is being shown.

There are a few places on Hennesy Street where there is more than just a front door where they can film inside too. These are called practical sets. Studio backlots need some of these sets so they can show movement going on outside the windows by showing people walking by or cars driving by to keep the illusion that the filming is taking place on a true city street. I will talk more about sets a little later in this blog.

This street has so much variety to it that I hope you get to see this street on your tour. When you are touring this or any other street on the backlot take notice that you won't see door knobs on a lot of the doors. The reason for this is that each production may want their own type of door knob to fit the type of location. You will see spots in the sidewalk where the production can put up parking meters, street signs, street lights or stop lights. Trees can also be planted to make it match the time of year that scene requires. Movies that were filmed on this street are "Annie", "Spider-Man", "Minority Report" plus tons of other movies. You will notice some of the buildings on this street were used for shows like "Friends", "Gilmore Girls", and "ER", "Cold Case" and many others.

Recently they built a new little section to the backlot called Park Placewhich is right next to Hennesy Street. This is just a small area of modern looking city buildings to give the backlot a new look. This area obviously doesn't have much of a history yet but it will eventually. The ground floor to most of these buildings can also be used as a practical set. There is a grassy area right in the middle of these buildings.

The next street is New York Street. This street has two parts to it. One part is a nicer and newer looking city street where it could be New York, Chicago or another city that would have a more modern look to it.

The far end of the street is where they built the exterior for County General Hospital and fake elevated train tracks from the hit television show "ER" Some of the hospital stuff has since been torn down.

On the other part of the street, which is called Embassy Courtyard, which has a fake park and has doubled as New York City's Central Park. It has trees to frame the grassy area to make it look like a park or the beginning of a set of woods.

Most of the buildings on this part of the backlot look like apartment buildings that you would expect to see in the richer part of a city. Also, there are fake theaters, bars and store fronts along this street.

There is also an entrance to a fake subway but the stairs lead to nowhere.

There is even a building that looks like a courthouse near the park. That building has been seen in countless productions but the one that people seem to remember most is from the television show "Batman" as that is where Batman and Robin go running up the stairs to see Commissioner Gordon in every episode. Your tour guide will let you know they only filmed that scene one time and used it for every episode.

New York Street lost some of its fame for me after "ER" ended but something new will come along which will make the street very well known again.

My favorite street on the backlot is Midwest Street. I talked about this street earlier. It represented Stars Hollow in my favorite television show. Midwest Street is a real cool place to see as it looks like a whole small town. There is a school, church, multiple types of stores, a gas station, houses, a small apartment building, lots of grass and sidewalks and everything else a small town would have. Almost all of the places you see in this area can be used as an internal filming location too. When you see this fake town on television you think it is much bigger than it really is. Any fan of a show or a movie filmed there usually says that it looks so small in person. The most famous movie filmed on Midwest Street was "The Music Man".

When I had a chance to go into the church to take pictures it didn't look like a church inside and that is because they use that interior for many different things because it is convenient to the other locations on that street. They will make it look like a church when they want to.

The South part of Midwest Street is called Midwest Residential and that is where the houses can be seen.  There are 4 houses on the East side of the street and 2 on the West side. Some of those houses have multiple entrances to them to make it look like there are many more houses there but they share the interior.  I will show a picture of each of the houses. Most of these houses can be used for filming on the inside too, which adds to the charm of this fake town. At the far end of the street you will notice it goes nowhere as there is a sound stage placed there. Remember that when you are watching TV and you see a car driving down that street.

Also, some of these houses you can walk in the house and continue walking a few more steps and walk out the front door of the house on the other side. That would make for an interesting living situation in real life.

The street that is next to Midwest Street on the West is called French Street. This is just a short street that also has a look of a small town. The street has more places to put fake businesses like a video store, a bakery or a diner. French Street may have been made for the classic movie "Casablanca". The Northwest part of French Street is home to another small park area.

If you continue going North on French Street you run into New York Street. That causes a problem for productions for anything filmed on French Street or Midwest Street as it would mess up the illusion that you are in a small town. To make sure New York Street and its buildings are not seen they will put up fake trees on that border to block it out. At the same time any filming being done on that part of New York Street they will roll out some fake buildings to frame out the street so you don't see the tranquility that Midwest Street shows.

The next street is called Brownstone Street. This street just has brownstone buildings for fake housing on one side of the street. Overall this whole street does not get much attention on the tours because all of the brownstone houses look the same beside their individual style and colors. On a couple of my tours that I took during the month of May this street was totally closed off as this is where Ellen DeGeneres would host her wrap party each year for her crew.

The other side of the street is the Warner Theater.

Down at the end of this street is where the commissary building is located. This is where the stars eat if they are having a meal on the lot. Usually the commissary area is off limits but you are guaranteed to go and have lunch there if you decide to take the very long deluxe tour.

The final backlot street is called Warner Village. This is just a street with modern housing that looks like it could be from the northeast part of the country.  The main purpose of this street is to make each house double as a production office for shows currently filming at Warner Bros. You may recognize a lot of these houses from your recent favorite shows. This street was totally different for a lot of years as this is the area where all of the old western sets stood. It was called Laramie Street back then. I assume there are a lot of people that miss the western sets. I never got to see them on my tours as they were already torn down by then.

One last main backlot location is simply called The Jungle. This the most unique backlot location as it is like being in a forest.

There is a pond or lagoon that can be filled up when needed but usually is kept empty. I have not been lucky enough to catch the pond full on any of my tours.

There is a small building that sits next to the pond plus other buildings you will see in the woods including a house. Some of those places are used for the show "True Blood".

A couple of other places of note you will see on the tour are real office buildings for Warner Bros. workers. The main one is called The Bridge Building. Lots of productions use this building and I bet you will recognize it from my pictures.

Here are some other miscellaneous pictures of places you will see as you transition from one part of the backlot to the other. As you can see they even have their own gas station which is real. All of these places can be used as a filming location too.

You can see more about the Warner Bros. Exterior Sets by clicking here

Interior Sets and Soundstages:

The average person on tour seems to love going in the soundstages. On a normal tour they will take everyone inside a soundstage for both a situation comedy and of a drama series. Each type is totally different. You will not be allowed to have your camera when visiting the soundstages. The comedy soundstage has seating to host a studio audience.  You will learn a little bit about how a situation comedy is made. The one I saw a couple of times was from the show "Two And A Half Men". Usually these sets remain the same all the time but if needed they will build a small one off to the side for a motel room or the set of a doctor's office etc. We didn't get to go on the stage itself. On my last tour I got to go in the studio where they film "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and that was a pretty fun experience. If you want to attend a taping of a comedy you should know the tickets are free but if the show is real popular it is very hard to get tickets. Try to plan way in advance. On the outside of the soundstage you will see a red light and if it is turned on that tells everyone that they are currently filming inside and usually want that door to stay shut until that light goes off. Also, on the outside of their soundstages you will see name plates on them. These display the well- known shows that filmed at the stages in the past. Each soundstage has a number to identify it.

The soundstage for a drama is a little different. Since there is no audience they will build sets all over the place in that soundstage. You get to walk right on the sets which could be someone's apartment and even see the bedroom or living room up close. After I first saw a set I always wonder while watching TV if the thing I am watching is a set or a real location and the quickest way to know is usually on a set you won't see a ceiling. Take notice that a set will have the wall color go up so far and then the color will change to represent where the ceiling will start. This is to show the camera person not to point any higher on recording the scene. Most of the sets will have movable walls that they can take out if needed to get the right angle to capture the scene properly. The windows can be made to tilt slightly so they don't show a reflection in the background.

Take a good look around as you enter a soundstage and you will see a lot of padding along the outer walls to keep the sound in the building and more importantly to keep the outside sound out of the soundstage.  The reason the sets don't have a ceiling is so the lighting can be perfect to film a scene. Sometimes the production will put just an edge of a ceiling up if they need to film a scene that has an extended view like a hallway scene or something like that. You may get to hear stories about cats living inside the soundstages. They have a reason to be there and I bet you can guess why. Also, take notice on what it smells like in a soundstage. You won't forget that unique smell.

Warner Bros. has the largest soundstage around and it is called the tank. This a real neat place to see as its main purpose is to be able to fill up with water to film scenes on the ocean using green screens and the production will not need to leave the studio. This soundstage is almost 100 foot tall.

Other Neat Things The Tour Has To Offer:

One of the places that a lot of people find real interesting is when you get to see a lot of the cars used in famous past productions. Through all of my tours I have seen numerous vehicles like the car from "Harry Potter", "Austin Powers", The Mystery Machine from "Scooby-Doo", The General Lee from "The Dukes Of Hazzard" and many others. One of the things you will always do on this part of the tour is get a picture taken while you are in front of a green screen with a famous movie scene in the background. After the tour you will get to pick up that picture at the desk and you can purchase more if you want. On my 2006 tour it seemed like everything that could go wrong did including getting my picture taken there. While they were taking the picture of my sister and I the camera broke. We waited over half an hour for them to fix the camera and you would have thought that our tour time would be extended but it wasn't. I was not a happy camper about that. I always said it was my sister who broke the camera but it was probably me.  lol

Click here to view the rest of my pictures of the vehicles.

After the show "Friends" wrapped, they made a shrine of Central Perk that you will visit and take all of the pictures you want. My first year I was allowed to sit on the couch and get my picture taken but the last few times we were not allowed to go on the carpet of that set. Such a bummer for people but it is still fun to see it up close. I hope it will stay that way for years to come. Check out that guy standing in for Gunther.

While you are in that soundstage you will also get to see some of the movie and TV show props, furniture and light fixtures used through the years. They usually don't advertise it but you are allowed to take pictures of these things too.

Click here to view the rest of my props, light fixtures and furniture pictures.

Usually the final stop of the tour will take you into the Warner Museum. I am not a fan of this part of the tour. It is kind of like the film at the beginning of the tour as after you have been there once it just becomes boring after that. Plus you are not allowed to bring your camera inside. The security people in there are real strict and grumpy and they give this mean lecture about no cameras, no touching of the stuff etc. I feel that if they have all of these rules then maybe they should not have it as part of the tour. It should be located on the outskirts of the lot and a special admission should be required to go there instead of making it part of the tour.

By the way, the normal VIP Tour will last almost 2 and 1/2 hours and the time always goes too fast. The much longer Deluxe tour lasts for 5 hours, which includes that lunch I mentioned earlier. That tour will take you into some different places on the lot not shown for the normal tour and will give people more behind the scenes of how movies are made. Be prepared as the deluxe tour is real expensive and only given one time a day.

I hope you enjoyed this write up about one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. If you have any questions let me know at the bottom.

You can check out three different write-ups about touring Warner Brothers that my friend Lindsay experienced for her I Am Not A Stalker Blog by clicking  HereHere and again Here.

You can check out my friend Gary's write-up on Warner Brothers from several years ago from his Seeing-Stars Website by clicking Here.

6 comments:

  1. Great blog on the Warner Bros. Lot. Having been on the lot many years ago on Bret Maverick, I mourned the loss of the "Laramie Street" set and find no charm in the new "residents" where James Garner, Clint Walker, Gary Cooper and others once rode. The jungle set incidentally also use to be known as "Waltons Flats" as the general store and the Waltons house set were built back there. I believe the house was relocated on the Warner Ranch lot off Hollywood Way. Thanks so much for the page.

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  2. Thanks so much for the Warner's Blog Chas. We used to have great times on that lot in the 1970's when my then-husband worked for Lorimar Productions before the company moved to the old MGM (now Sony) lot in Culver City. We used to picnic in the front yards of the houses on the old Midwest Residential Street (I believe most of the houses there have been rebuilt now). It really looked so real that sometimes I used to worry that the "owners" would come out and shoo us off of their lawns!

    One evening I brought take out and we had dinner on the porch of the "Waltons" house (it didn't have an interior, that was on a sound stage) which backed against the north side of the Hollywood Hills deep in the "jungle". We sat, feet up on the porch railing, and watched the sun go down, only realizing, too late, that it was pitch black out there after dark! What a time we had stumbling though the darkness, tripping over stay cables left on the ground from filming, before we got back to "civilization"! We were covered in scratches from the trees and bushes and laughing so hard at our own foolishness.

    Another night I came for a screening and left my car just off New York Street. When I went to fetch it later I couldn't get anywhere near it as it had been "dressed" by the Art Dept to camouflage it as they were filming the climatic night scene for "1942" that evening on New York Street. The joke was on me. I had to leave it there overnight.

    My then-husband had a reserved parking spot on the lot right next to the building where he worked which was very convenient for him. One morning he arrived to find that an 8-foot, razorwire-topped, chainlink fence had been erected between the parking area and his building. He had to walk the better part of a block to get around it which left him hopping mad. He angrily called the lot management office and felt very foolish when they assured him it was only part of a temporary film set. Sometimes even industry-types get fooled by industy artifice :-)

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  3. That was such a nice read, almost like a virtual tour ;) I've never been there, but, after reading this post, I'm really excited to visit this place.

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  4. The forest area you pictured was formally known as "Walton's Flats." It started at the north end of the Laramie Street, continuing to the set of "Godsey's Store" with the "Walton" house behind it.

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  5. Guess what? You can now take pictures in the museum!

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