Friday, February 21, 2014

The stuff that dreams are made of

Pomona, CA – Humphrey Bogart uses that phrase in The Maltese Falcon, but his words could apply to motion pictures, where illusions become reality on the silver screen.  Today we got a glimpse into the many ways that this happens at two different movie studios.

Our tours of the Warner Brothers Studios and Sony Pictures Studios complemented each other really well.  Both were led by young men with lots of enthusiasm for the craft and a wealth of anecdotes about what we were seeing.

One studio was in Burbank and the other in Culver City, so we left the RV park with a very generous cushion of time, just to be sure. We arrived at the WB studio in such good time that they let us in to the 9:45 tour instead of our scheduled 10:45 tour.

Ryan, our guide, drove us through the back lots of the Warner Brothers Studios, pointing out the stages where they had filmed Casablanca and My Fair Lady. We filed in to the studio where the TV talk show Ellen DeGeneris is taped and saw all the off-screen equipment, including the audience mikes that the sound engineers can mute if someone has an obnoxious laugh, for example, so it won’t be a distraction.

A museum of famous vehicles included Batman’s collection of Batmobiles, as well as Mike Myers’ Union Jack roadster and other unique models.  Costumes were on display in another area, where we saw the peach coloured outfit Audrey Hepburn wore as Eliza Doolittle, and Harry Potter’s school uniform.  They also had the original piano where Sam played “As Time Goes By” in Casablanca.

Green screen effects were demonstrated using segments from adventure movies, showing the actors in front of a green background, and then the final picture where explosions or monsters were incorporated seamlessly into the scene.

Outside each stage building was a plaque with the films and TV shows that had been recorded in them, dating back into the 1930s. We also drove through streetscapes with stores and offices that crews could dress up to fit any scenario.  Huge warehouses stored light fixtures, props and furniture of every style and description.

After our morning tour and lunch, we headed for the Sony Studios, only a short distance away.  Despite the traffic, we made it just in time, and were glad of the valet parking offered on our arrival.

At a sound stage, one tour participant belted out a couple of lines from “Somewhere over the Rainbow” for us, and we saw the special recording room built for Barbra Streisand’s exclusive use.  We also saw a room full of junk that sound effects technicians use to simulate rustling leaves or dishes breaking, and a huge stage with a removable floor that covered an enormous tank of water for scenes such as those in A Perfect Storm.

We even had a star sighting, when Jack Black walked past with a smile and a quick wave. And, in the Jeopardy stage, we saw Alex Trebec’s own Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey on display next to a case full of Golden Globe awards. For this pair of movie lovers, it was a most rewarding day.

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