What's it like to take the Warner Bros. studio tour?
Written by Robert Niles
Universal's Studio Tour isn't the only option for fans who want to see "backstage" at a working film and television studio in the Los Angeles area. While Universal's iconic tour is the most popular — and certainly the most familiar to theme park fans — other studios in the area also offer tours of their facilities to the public.
This week, my family and I took the "VIP Tour" at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, just up Barham Blvd. from Universal Studios Hollywood.
At $52 per person for a two-hour tour, it's not cheap. But the Warner Bros. tour delivers a level of backstage access that long ago disappeared from the Universal tour, as well as an opportunity to get close to some of the icons from Warner Bros.' recent history.
You'll see some of those icons represented in the merchandise for sale in the studio's VIP Tour lobby, which offers T-shirts and more from the studio's DC Comics, Looney Tunes, recent TV shows including The Big Bang Theory, and… Harry Potter.
It might be a bit of surprise for theme park fans to see this selection of Harry Potter wands, robes, scarves and other souvenirs here, given the presence of Universal Studios down the street, but let's not forget that it's from Warner Bros. that Universal's licensed the theme park rights to Harry Potter. (In fact, Warner Bros. has created an entire Harry Potter-themed attraction around its Leavesden studios in England, where the eight Potter movies were filmed.) You'll get some time with Potter on the Burbank tour, however, and not just in the studio store. (Keep reading!)
Tours leave every 15 minutes between 8am and 4pm, and you can grab a drink or a gelato at the Starbucks in the lobby while you wait for your tour time to be called. After watching a short film introducing the studio and its history, you're escorted by the ever-friendly Warner Bros. hosts onto 12-person trams (elongated golf carts, really) for your tour of the studio property, where still photography is not only allowed, but encouraged.
The tour begins with a trip around the back lot, where you'll get a wide view of scenes you typically seen in much tighter frames. This street's been everywhere from New York to Theme Park Insider's hometown of Pasadena, California (which also serves as the setting for The Big Bang Theory, in case you didn't know).
Here's the ambulance bay for ER, for those who remember that NBC hit.
And my favorite moment from the backlot, the last surviving original exterior on the lot from Warner Bros.' Casablanca, according to our tour guide.
At several points in the tour, you get to leave the trams and walk around. Here, we explore the studio's auto museum, home to several Batmobiles…
…And a Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (So which is the one from the film, this one, or the one in the Dragon Challenge queue in Orlando? I'm just going to presume that they used more than one in filming.)
Later, we got a chance to hang out for a moment on the Central Perk coffee house set, from the TV series Friends. Most of the production on the lot is of TV shows, as so much primary shooting for films is done on location these days.
The only places we couldn't take pictures were inside soundstages for current productions. So I can't bring you photos of the Ellen talk show set, or from the sets of The Big Bang Theory and Pretty Little Liars, which we got to walk through during our tour. At each stop, though, our guide offered a description of what we were seeing, an introduction to the production process and offered to answer any questions we might have. Our guide also worked as a production assistant on one of the shows, so he brought the perspective of a studio production employee to the tour, instead of simply reading a canned tour script.
We took the tour on a weekend, when there's no production on the lot, which turns out to be a good thing for site-seeing, as production rules will keep tours out of any soundstages where filming is happening. By visiting on a weekend, or during the summer when almost all TV production stops, you get access to more soundstages than you would during the height of production season. If you want to see live filming, you're better off skipping the tour and obtaining free tickets to a show taping instead. (Or, better yet, do both!)
The final stop on the tour was another no-picture zone, and unfortunately for your enjoyment of this post, it was the absolute highlight of the entire experience for me and my family.
It's the Warner Bros. Museum, where you can see costumes and props from many recent Warner Bros. productions, including my son's favorite movie, Inception, as well as the Dark Knight trilogy, this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Argo, and, occupying the entire second floor of the museum, costumes and props from the Harry Potter films.
And… it's time for the Niles Family nerdgasm. Harry's wand. Horcruxes. Dobby. A quidditch set. A life-sized wax cast of Emma Watson as Hemione Granger, frozen by the Basilisk. Costumes worn by Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Draco, Lucius, Arthur, Molly, Fred, George, Dumbledore. The list of artifacts here goes on and on and on. The 20 minutes we were allowed here vaporized like one of Snape's potions, leaving us wishing that we'd made time for that trip to Leavesden when we were in London last summer.
If two hours isn't enough to satisfy your curiosity, Warner Bros. also offers a $250 per person, five-hour "Deluxe Tour", which includes a chance to meet with working crew members as well as lunch in the studio commissary.
Have you ever been on one of the "other" studio tours in the Los Angeles area, or the Warner Bros. tour in England? If so, please share your thoughts about them in the comments.
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