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Today we started off with the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. We had this booked well in advance of our trip, to make sure we could book a day/time slot that wouldn’t interfere with days in the libraries and archives. With my own research interests being pre-1940s cinema, the majority of this tour was more suited to the other student’s areas of research; particularly those who are looking at much more contemporary cinema. However, my own love for the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts… franchises, as well as Friends, meant that there was still PLENTY to keep me thoroughly interested.

The tour consisted of a guided cart tour, stopping at various locations and getting out to explore the sets. It was really interesting to see how the different backlots are built to represent different cities/states within the US, and to see which features are considered ‘set dressing’ (such as door handles, signs, streetlights), and are therefore added details which differ from production to production, according to time period/location. We also got to see inside some of the sets on the backlots, and the tour guide talked us through how the lights are rigged, how the ceilings are “faked”, and how the floors are designed to limit distracting noises while shooting.

Exciting backlot sets:

  • Annie (1982)
  • Jurassic Park (1993)
  • Friends (1994-2004)
  • Gilmore Girls (2000-2007, 2016)

We also got to go inside one of the sound stages; the one where they film The Big Bang Theory. What was most striking about the set, was how much smaller it seemed in reality. The tourguide explained to us that this is often the case, and that “camera trickery”, such as forced perspective, is what makes the character’s apartments seem much larger on screen.

The tour ended in the ‘interactive tour’ section of the studio. This was very similar to the set up of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour The Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden, with displays and interactive screens/activities and sets – including riding a broomstick, designing your own Batmobile, the set from Friends, and a collection of film awards. We also went to the ‘Art of Sound’ presentation, which was a short demonstration and talk about how dialogue, sound effects, and musical scores are mixed together for feature films, using Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) as an example.

One of the most interesting aspects of the tour, was getting to see props and costumes from films such as Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, Wonderwoman, and Batman. We also got to see inside a temporary exhibition of their collection of Batmobiles from a number of the Batman films; which was a really great treat!

After lunch, we headed over to the Paramount Pictures Studios for our second tour of the day. Paramount was the studio to which many the actresses featured in my case studies were contracted during the 1920s; including my absolute favourite actress Clara Bow, who starred in Wings (1927), which won Best Picture at the first ever Academy Awards. Unlike the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, which centred around the studio’s contemporary projects, the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour was built around the history of the studio, and its historically significant productions. The focus on Paramount’s much earlier works was perfect for me and my research interests, and it was great to see images of early film stars such as Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, as well as hear stories about early television icons, such as Lucille Ball.  

During the tour, we were taken around the studio’s backlots and soundstages on a cart, and were given the opportunity to get out, walk around and take pictures in certain spots. Another highlight of the whole trip was being able to have my photo taken underneath the iconic ‘Paramount Pictures’ Bronson Gate!

 Exciting locations on the Paramount tour:

  • Bronson Gate
  • Offices for the contracted stars (where Clara Bow would have frequented!)
  • Lucille Ball’s office
  • Lucille Ball’s dressing room
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s office

Another key interesting location we visited was a sunken parking lot, that can be filled with water and used during productions for filming scenes featuring seas/oceans/large expanses of water. The tour guide explained to us how it was used for one of the most iconic “special effects” scenes in the biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1956), showing us footage on his iPad. It revealed that the Parting of the Red Sea scene, was made by filming the water being poured into a trench which had been dug along the bottom of the parking lot, and then played in reverse, to look like the water was rising up the sides.  

The tour ended with a chance to look around a holding space for props. This included the Cadillac from Dreamgirls (2006), a publicity model of Bumblebee from Transformers (2017), the airlock door from Interstellar (2014), and various stone sculptures from Gladiator (2000).

Both tours were an amazing opportunity to see first-hand how films are set up and produced, from set dressing to sound mixing, as well as getting to learn about fascinating backstage details about industry figures, past and present. 


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