Warner Bros Goes After the Studio Tour Market Universal Left Behind

July 14, 2015, 11:21 PM · For more than a generation, Universal Studios was the place to go in the Los Angeles area when fans wanted to visit a movie studio. Universal's "Glamor Trams" took thousands of visitors a day through the studio's back lot, where they could see and learn how movies and television shows were made.

Over the years, though, movie fans have found other places to learn about the art and craft of filmmaking, including through DVD extras, cable television shows, and now, countless YouTube videos. At the same time, Universal discovered that there was more money to be made as a full-fledged theme park, where people could lose themselves in immersive stories and settings, rather than simply visiting the workplace where those stories were made. Universal still offers its Studio Tour, though with additions such as the recent Fast & Furious - Supercharged finale, it has become more about reconstructing iconic movie moments than deconstructing them.

So where can movie fans go now to get their authentic look behind the scenes at the movie making process?

Warner Bros is hoping that visitors will find their answer by driving about a mile up the street. Tonight, the studio unveiled "Stage 48: Script to Screen," an expansion of its rebranded Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood.

Stage 48: Script to Screen

Warner Bros. has enjoyed amazing success over the past couple years with its Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden, England. Now, the studio again has called upon the design team at Thinkwell, which created the Potter studio experience, to expand the Hollywood tour. Stage 48 takes visitors through the process of making a movie, from screenwriting, casting, design, filming and post-production.

"Hey, it's your agent calling. I've got good news - Warner Bros. bought your script! ...What are they going to do with it? Well, lots of tourists will get to see it everyday!"

Since this is a walk-through, you can take it at your own pace, choosing to stop and look at the details of The Matrix storyboards, or just breezing past to the next photo op...


...such as the alien from Mars Attacks!, in the set design section.

Mars Attacks alien

Warner Bros has relocated two famous TV sitcom sets to Stage 48, including the Central Perk set from Friends,

Central Perk

And the living room from Two and a Half Men, complete with the backstage growth chart for star Angus T. Jones.

Two and a Half Men

Thinkwell and Warner Bros have done commendable work to showcase the latest in cinematic arts technology, including the Light Box from Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity, an innovative way to ensure that the camera recorded convincing light and shadow on its actors during that movie's space scenes.

Light Box

Among the photo opps in Stage 48 is a "Forced Perspective Table," where one person can be Gandalf-sized while the other appears to be the size of a Hobbit.

Forced Perspective Table

The exhibit illustrates how the right angle totally changes the shot, as seen when you take a step to one side and look at the scene again.

A different perspective

In the post-production exhibits, you can turn knobs under video screens to step through the process of layering videography with computer animation and special effects lighting to create scenes from films such as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Matrix.

Visual Effects

Or you can step onto one of half a dozen green screen sets for a take on a Harry Potter broomstick, a Bat Cycle, or in one of the astronaut suits from Gravity. (This is the tour's upsell opportunity, should you wish to buy a photo or video of your scene.)

Green screens

The final exhibit is an eight-minute show that breaks down the process of sound editing and mixing for Gravity, which won multiple Academy Awards in these categories.

The Art of Sound

Of course, with this being a VIP preview night, you could find some very important very important people on hand, including legendary Hollywood star and director Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood

Two and Half Men Star Jon Cryer joined Warner Bros executives in dedicating the Stage 48 expansion, which opens to the public on Thursday. Cryer poked fun at rival Universal during his remarks, noting that this wasn't a tour "that would have you believe that part of the movie-making process is being attacked by a shark." Pausing, he continued, "well... actually that does happen on some productions."

Jon Cryer

The Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood costs $62 per person, and includes a backlot tram tour in addition to the Stage 48 walk-through. Reservations must be made in advance on its website.

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Replies (15)

July 15, 2015 at 8:21 AM

I just remembered this... the one show that USH has that still details the movie-making process - Special Effects Stage - also was produced by Thinkwell.

July 15, 2015 at 8:37 AM

That Forced Perspective table is pretty amazing! I'd love to see Warner Bros. really throw their hat in the ring, and this tour looks like a great start.

July 15, 2015 at 9:28 AM

Want to see it for free? Get tickets to free audience screenings for game and talk shows. Many years ago, I saw the Tonight Show and some game shows for free. I even saw some sitcoms that never made it on the air. It was fun to see the celebrities in person even if they are far away.

Write letters to the companies doing these free shows (check online). Arrive early to get a seat (2 hours earlier minimum) because they always overbook or give away extra tickets. They always reserve seats for VIPs or other guests so you'll never sit in the front rows.

July 15, 2015 at 10:37 AM

They should have added something from Men of Steel and future DC comics, and more Batman. And Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit, and Lord of the rings should be in London Studio Tour with Harry Potter.

July 15, 2015 at 11:13 AM

Anon, sitting in the studio audience of a show taping is not the same as a studio tour. It's true that studio audiences can see the behind the scenes of a production for free, but they can be a huge time sink (3+ hours). All of the studio tours I've done included a walk through of a TV set in current production, but the tours also include movie sound stages, props houses, backlots, and so much more. We've seen many tapings while on vacation in LA (Jimmy Kimmel, Price is Right, and others -- saw Letterman 3 times in NYC, but keep striking out on SNL), and none offered the same insight as a guided studio tour.

The only major studio we haven't done is Paramount, and by far we thought WB was the best. The improvements noted in this story seem to make it even better, particularly that LOTR forced perspective set. The WB studio is used for a lot more than people realize (many many TV shows across all networks and more commercials than you can shake a stick at).

The easiest places to score studio audience tickets is either through the individual show websites or on the street. There are almost always interns set up at Hollywood and Vine handing out passes for show tapings. They also hand out passes inside USH and at CityWalk, and sometimes do test screenings of new shows where you can actually get paid to provide opinions about the show (they used to do this occasionally at USF also). Occasionally studio tour guests are offered passes for upcoming tapings at the end of the tour.

It is true that they always hand out more passes then there are seats in the studio, so arriving early is a must. However, how early to arrive is usually dependent upon the popularity of the show (TPIR, Jeopardy, and Wheel require more time than Conan, Kimmel, or a show that has yet to debut). As many of the shows have moved to online booking systems, the number of extra passes has gone down, so when you used to have to show up at 5 AM for an 11 AM taping of TPIR, you can now show up at 9-10. For shows where the audience is on camera (game shows) it's either first come first served for those front row seats or they put "pretty" people in the front rows depending upon the show.

Also, remember that many shows do not allow children at tapings, but kids are allowed on most studio tours (depending on the level). We had made it a tradition to do TPIR every time we've gone to LA (one day we'll make it to contestant's row), but we were unable during our most recent trip 2 years ago because we had our 3-year old son with us.

July 15, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Not the same, but free. The studios tour is the luxury tour. It requires no effort, but there are alternatives.

How about the third option? Get hired as an extra. I almost done it. A production was looking for extras. I went to the on-site location. Waited around for hours. Nothing happened. I didn't get paid either. Oh well. That happens. I did talk with an eager actor who mentioned all the shows he was on that I didn't see.

July 15, 2015 at 12:26 PM

If you want to be an extra, you are better off getting a SAG/AFTRA card and going to calls outside of LA and NY (everyone in LA has a SAG/AFTRA card and are given preference over non-members). Most production companies post set calls online and through booking agencies, and if you're following the business closely, you can find the more remote locations where numerous extras are needed and it's easier to earn your SAG/AFTRA card to be privy to more call-backs. My sister in law has been an extra in a few movies that filmed in Baltimore (Live Free or Die Hard - her scene was cut, Head of State - she was front and center for nearly 4 seconds, and some others I don't recall). But as you say, it's a very time consuming process that has little payoff, if any at all. You have to expect to donate a full day of time to the production, and there's no guarantee that you'll even be needed or if the scene that's filmed will ever make the final cut. Also so many scenes requiring extras are second unit shoots where the lead actors are rarely present, so the potential to brush with the stars is about as likely as on a studio tour or walking down Hollywood Blvd.

It frustrates me, because I live in the DC area where many movies and TV shows are set, but very few are actually filmed here (and when they do, they inaccurately depict the region - don't even get me started on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Most of what is filmed here is b-roll and occasional 2nd unit stuff. Most of the Sunday polititalk shows film in tiny studios on The Hill, and ESPN films Around the Horn and PTI in DC, all with no studio audiences.

July 15, 2015 at 2:20 PM

Many movies set in LA are actually filmed in Vancouver. Even I don't know that and I live here. The truth is I hardly ever visit the areas featured. The many gang banger movies are set in high crime areas. It was bad enough that I was forced to go to the Compton court building to meet my jury duty obligations. I didn't stray very far.

You find downtown LA in many movies. The new Walking Dead series is featured there. The location is unimportant. It is just a place to blow things up. I should see the new Terminator movie or San Andreas. LA goes to ruin and it sort of is how it is right now.

July 15, 2015 at 10:14 PM

I've worked as a background actor (that's the PC term for "extra") on three series and several un-aired pilots. It's a job...not a fun vacation experience like attending a TV taping. On one show I worked, my shortest day was 13.5 hours. My longest day was just shy of 18 hours.

July 15, 2015 at 11:36 PM

There is a stop at the warner bros museum that is included on the tour where you see additional harry potter and batman props and costumes. This tour also includes bat mobiles displayed in their transportation area.

July 16, 2015 at 8:19 AM

This is a great tour if anyone ever does get the chance to experience it. It's a very intimate and detailed experience that most people I feel would enjoy.

July 16, 2015 at 10:03 AM

"Many movies set in LA are actually filmed in Vancouver."

Yup, Vancouver has become the new Prague when it comes to urban filming. Prague is a rather generic looking city (at street level) that it can be easily dressed to look like virtually any European city and many American cities (unless you've actually been to Prague to know what makes it unique to all other cities - look at the sidewalks). Vancouver has started to take over because it's even cheaper to film there and has built a number of sound stages where productions can do all of their shooting in one city instead of flying crew between locations in one city and sound stages in LA or elsewhere.

Vancouver and its vicinity are used for virtually every science fiction/comic TV show in production today (Falling Skies, The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Defiance - and pretty much everything on SyFy not filmed in Hawaii or Toronto, and many others). Vancouver has become a very popular filming location because of it's myriad of diverse locations and the low cost of filming there (major city/airport and tax benefits). Battlestar Galactica (the Ronald Moore version, not the 70's version) put filming in Vancouver back on the map, and some of the sound stages used today were built exclusively for the BSG production by SyFy/NBC/Universal. Vancouver is no LA or NY, but in terms of current TV productions, it's a strong third (ahead of Chicago, Toronto, and Atlanta). BTW Anon, Fear the Walking Dead is doing principal photography in Vancouver as well, standing in for LA (not sure if that's what you meant to say or not). The Walking Dead itself films in Georgia.

July 16, 2015 at 2:23 PM

As cool as it is watching behind the scenes extras on DVDs and on YouTube, (especially for animation) it's nothing compared to physically being on set or physically seeing the actual props. I applaud Warner Bros for making this move now that USH, USF and DSH have abandoned the whole studio idea.

July 17, 2015 at 9:28 AM

@Russell: I didn't know "Fear the Walking Dead" was filming in Vancouver. I thought it might film in LA, but runaway production is a big deal here. So a comprehensive studios tour in LA makes less sense in the future. Perhaps that's why Universal Studios Hollywood is converting more of its production warehouses to the theme park on the lower lot. I would be happy if they do Diagon Alley on the lower lot. Guests would take the Hogwarts express to the bottom to avoid the steep escalator.

I went to Vancouver for two nights to begin my Disney cruise. I took a tour around the city. It is quite nice. I highly recommend a visit, but the exchange rate isn't so good.

July 17, 2015 at 10:44 AM

I think studio tours in LA are still a big deal. Universal is de-emphasizing it because they understand that land for theme park attractions is precious, and they still want to maintain the working portions of the studio. Studios and sound stages will always exist in LA even as productions find cheaper and more efficient places to film. The role of the central studio with its infrastructure will always play a part in the entertainment industry, and providing guests a behind the scenes look at the workings of a studio is still a marketable attraction.

The USD/CAD exchange rate is only bad if you choose to pay with USD in Canadian cities. Many merchants in Canadian cities near the border will take either USD or CAD, but the price is typically the same in either currency, meaning if you use USD (averaging about 1.03-1.08 CAD), you're paying more.

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