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Universal Studios Hollywood turns 50

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Published: July 15, 2014 at 10:01 AM

On July 15, 1964, Universal Studios Hollywood debuted its pink and white "Glamor Trams," and welcomed visitors back on to its production lot for the first time since the silent movie era.

Glamor Tram souvenir
Some souvenirs from those early Universal tram tours

In true Hollywood fashion, Universal Studios is celebrating turning 50 by ignoring its birthday and getting a facelift instead. Construction continues on the $1 billion-plus "Evolution" plan that already has brought Transformers and Despicable Me into the park, and soon will deliver a new Fast and Furious encounter to the park's famous tram tour, a Springfield dining area next to The Simpsons Ride, and, biggest of all, the Hogsmeade village of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which will open in 2016. These days, Universal's focus appears to be on its future rather than its past.

Not that Universal isn't looking back at all. Wander down to the park's lower lot and you'll find a nice display commemorating the park's history in the Universal Experience exhibit, next to Transformers.

Bringing the world to Hollywood

More souvenirs

Props and costumes
50 years of props and costumes, as well as the park's animatronic ET (evicted by Revenge of the Mummy)

Other than that, though, there are no announced celebrations or events planned to commemorate the anniversary today. So let's wish Universal Studios Hollywood a happy birthday anyway, even if the park seems reticent to honor itself. Oh, and always, if you're in the park today, be sure to ask for Babs.

Readers' Opinions

From Manny Barron on July 15, 2014 at 12:23 PM
I love this park. Been going to it ever since the early 90's. I have many fond memories of Universal Studios Hollywood. Its geography and the fact that it's in a working movie studio make it very unique.

Yes, I still miss my dear Back to the Future, but the park has some truly great attractions and the future is very bright for this gem!

From Anon Mouse on July 15, 2014 at 12:51 PM
The tram tour felt like a real studios tour then. It now seems like an excuse to just visit the sets that saw no action for years. The movie studios don't film much in California due to tax incentives in other states and countries. Just make the tram tour into a ride, which it is.

The tour is a bit rough in my opinion with an uncomfortably bumpy ride. Very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter. Very long clocking at 1 hour. Trim it down and offer an enclosed air conditioned tram so you'll feel like a VIP. Break the ride into two segments (2 separate tours). A ride portion for the Flood, Jaws, Earthquake, King Kong, and the anticipated Fast and Furious that can be in a open air tram. A set tour in an air conditioned tram with a portion where you can visit an actual set just like what the original tours used to do.

From Robert Niles on July 15, 2014 at 1:37 PM
"The movie studios don't film much in California due to tax incentives in other states and countries."

You're kidding, right?

Southern California remains the leading place for television and film production, despite runaway deals to other locations. Production in the region is non-stop, including at the studio facilities.

However, no studio tour is going to take you to see an active production, because no active production wishes to be interrupted by a studio tour. At least Universal's tram tour provides action for you to watch, even if it is manufactured exclusively for the tour. I've been on most of the other studio tours in the LA area and, lemme tell ya, walking around darkened, silent stages and empty offices as guides steer you away from hot sets gets pretty boring pretty quickly.

If you really want to see a production in action, get yourself some free tickets to a TV show taping. The most convenient place to pick those up while visiting LA is at... yep, Universal Studios Hollywood.

From Anon Mouse on July 15, 2014 at 2:30 PM
Not kidding. Production is moving away.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/28/hollywood-filming-global_n_4512694.html

"More than 30 countries and 44 U.S. states now offer tax breaks to filmmakers."

I don't know how much they are filming in California, but for Universal to still have the same tired sets from Tom Cruises "War of the Worlds" set (2005) and the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" set (2000) as part of the tram tour is showing how tired the whole tram tour is.

I didn't say the set should be "hot", but they should show something that approximates a real set as that is what you'll expect from a studios tour.

I've been to TV show tapings. In fact, I seen The Tonight Show and other TV programs, but I'm just saying a studios tour can approximate the same effect even if artificial.

--

http://www.dailynews.com/business/20140223/hollywoods-feature-film-production-in-los-angeles-area-has-fallen-50-percent-since-1996-peak-study-says

---
http://www.deadline.com/2014/03/tv-pilot-locations-2014-new-york-los-angeles-analysis/

"LA’s drama tally went from 12 to an all-time low five this year, pushing the city to No. 2 behind New York and tied with Vancouver, which slipped from last year’s seven."

From 204.99.250.45 on July 15, 2014 at 2:26 PM
If you want to see the real sets Anon, you have to pay for it. Take the Universal VIP tour and they'll let you walk on current sets (not filming at the time of course).
From Anon Mouse on July 15, 2014 at 4:58 PM
"you have to pay for it"

Alright, so my suggestions are hand waved. No wonder Universal needs to almost give away its park, while we await Harry Potter.

From 149.142.45.180 on July 15, 2014 at 5:25 PM
Anonmouse: "don't film much" is different than a decline in filming.
From 74.202.118.163 on July 15, 2014 at 5:26 PM
I was there just last month and the crowds at Universal were the biggest - by far - of any of the other parks we had visited in the previous two weeks. Bigger than I ever remembered them in the past. By afternoon you COULD NOT MOVE through that park because of the crowds. Can't imagine why Universal would need to "give away" their park in anticipation of WWoHP in 2016 when the crowds just keep coming in droves.

By the way, we LOVED Transformers and we really enjoyed Minion Mayhem too.

From Stevo B on July 15, 2014 at 7:26 PM
No question that the backlot tour needs some help. Back in the day when the tour was split into two parts with a layover at prop plaza in between it was such a unique experience. But that was when TV production and movie making seemed like magic and it was so exciting to get a glimpse behind the curtain.
From N B on July 15, 2014 at 8:40 PM
This is right up my alley... I am hopelessly infatuated with anything movie related. Going to visit Universal Hollywood someday. I have been to LA quite a few times, but always for business. I'd love to take a day trip from Vegas on the next visit, maybe one night in LA.
From Russell Meyer on July 16, 2014 at 7:01 AM
A lot of movies and TV shows are moving productions to other destinations due to tax incentives and other production cost savings. However, Hollywood is still the epicenter of the entertainment universe. It is still typically cheaper to film in California than anywhere else in the world because all of the professionals live there and suitable working sound stages are available. Sure, many TV shows, particularly ones on cable, that use quite a bit of on-location shooting, film elsewhere (especially Vancouver, BC and New Mexico), but many still are supported by firms in Hollywood, and many still do soundstage and ADR work in California (long-established productions do build stages and recording studios near locations in many instances, but it's still pretty rare, and expensive).

Movies almost always contain location footage, but much of the soundstage work is done in Hollywood. Reason---Hollywood still has the largest array of soundstages in the world, and has the manpower to dress virtually any set for any production. While some productions are looking to lower costs by shipping some work out of California, the entertainment industry in the state is still very strong.

On the Universal Tram Tour, it's pretty cool, but I'm not a huge fan of the manufactured aspect of it. It's far more ride/show than studio tour. I much prefer the walk through a cold set in a small group with a tour guide that can answer specific questions than sitting on a tram with 200 people with a video-taped presentation. We've done Sony/Columbia, WB, and Universal, and I enjoyed the first two over the later. However, the cost for those studio tours is pretty close to a ticket to Universal Studios and the real studios don't have any other rides.

From Anon Mouse on July 16, 2014 at 3:30 PM
The movie studios don't film 'as' much in California due to tax incentives in other states and countries.

Better?

From Russell Meyer on July 17, 2014 at 8:08 AM
I probably wouldn't even go as far to say that Anon...

The number of productions filming in Hollywood has been relatively steady over the past 10 or so years. However, the percentage of total productions filming in California has probably decreased. There are simply far more shows filming now than in the past to feed the amount of content necessary to fill so many more networks than just a decade ago. The term "57 Channels and Nothing On" was apropos in the 90's when Bruce Springsteen penned it, but is nothing compared to the amount of content necessary to fill the schedules of hundreds of cable, satellite, and internet channels. There's just far more content and more productions than there were 10 years ago, meaning that Hollywood either needed to increase the number of stages and studios, or productions would need to look elsewhere. Now, the tax incentives and other perks of filming in other locations certainly has an effect, but based on the existing inventory of studios and soundstages in Southern California, it would be difficult (and expensive) to have the same percentage of productions filming in the region as there were a decade ago.

However, there's no doubt that producers are crude business people, and will do whatever it takes to shrink productions costs. SyFy actually leased a portion of the Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii to film multiple movies because it was easier and cheaper to lease the locations and film multiple movies at once rather than scout locations one at a time (Kualoa Ranch is a famous filming location for Jurassic Park, Lost, and many others). So, yes, if producers think it's going to be cheaper to shoot on location in New Mexico (Breaking Bad), Vancouver (Battlestar Galactic and many other Syfy shows), Georgia (Walking Dead), and others, they'll do it, but still for many productions, it can be cheaper and more efficient to shoot in California. Most multi-camera productions still shoot in California, along with most game shows, many reality TV shows, and a lot of late night programming.

Viewers and fans have also encouraged this push to film on location with the obsessive attention to detail and desire to see more and more diverse content. Producers can no longer fool savvy viewers with HD TVs like they could on an 80's "boob" tube. Consumers want as close to the real thing as they can get, and a set on a sound stage detailed enough to look like the real place when view on an HDTV can often be more expensive to shoot on than the real location, even with travel and other considerations (the same can go with green screen with more productions finding cheaper ways to shoot on green screen stages and insert CGI that can be as cost effective as filming on location or on a dressed set).

There are also a number of locations where producers would love to film that they can't because it is cost prohibitive, like Washington, DC (where I live). It drives me crazy to watch any movie or TV that is set in DC that obviously doesn't film here, or when they do, they only do second unit work, which is sloppily thrown into establishing shots and transitions.

From Anon Mouse on July 17, 2014 at 11:02 AM
@Russell: I hate to ask, but what proof do you have to your assertions. You certainly skipped my links above. To say filming in Hollywood is steady is nonsense. Hollywood went from number one in pilot filming to number 2 or 3, which in marketshare means less then 30%.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/15/business/la-fi-ct-filmla15-2010jan15

"On-location filming in Los Angeles sank 19% last year compared with 2008, the steepest year-over-year decline since tracking began in 1993, according to FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and parts of the county."

If you go to the FilmL.A. Inc website, download the pdf file. There is a steady decline in filming in Hollywood/LA. There was no recovery since the height of film permits in 1996 (14,000), and a slight increase in 2005(9000+) and 2013 (7000+).

http://www.filmla.com/news.php

You wrote a lot of nonsense about fans wanting film to be shot on location. Often locations shoots in Toronto is not about this Canadian town. The buildings are generic enough to substitute for any American city including Los Angeles. Hardly any movies filming in Vancouver and Toronto are actually about a movie set in that location.

If visited Universal, even a modicum of sitting in the audience, you'll know a sound stage can be filmed in any location regardless of the subject matter. The exterior shots are irrelevant and can be done cheaply. Most dramas and sitcoms are filmed on soundstages. The exception are for the shows that need plenty of outdoor scenes like the Walking Dead.

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