I mentioned during this month’s Lake Update I’d been invited to take a tour of the Warner Brothers Studio. Having only done the Universal Studios tour in the past, I was excited to visit a working studio independent of gimmickry and theme park rides. Joining me was the fantastic Elise of Elise’s Ramblings, Kimberly of GlamAmor, and Lara of Backlots. Let’s take a lot at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
The studio itself may be celebrating 90 years in film, bu the facilities look brand-spankin’ new. You start off in the Studio store where you’ll want to buy a ton of merchandise right out the gate (but it’s recommended you wait till after the tour so you’re not lugging bags around). They have a mini-Harry Potter exhibit within the store which sets you on the right path. Once your tickets are purchased you go in to watch a brief video detailing the history of the studio and the films which have nabbed them Oscars. From there you’ll meet your tour guides. We got John, who was extremely knowledgeable and seemed really happy in his guiding duties. He explained each guide is versed in specific areas, and if they don’t know something they’ll find another guide who specializes in that area to provide an answer. Lara had a question about Barbara Stanwyck pre-Codes and while John didn’t know the answer, he was quick to find someone who did.
Compared to the Universal Studios tour, Warners provides a more intimate experience. Each tram holds about twelve people, so you’re able to ask questions to your guide easier than if you’re in a tram filled with forty people spread over three joined trains. John was personable and quick to drop jokes (and sing the Ninja Turtles theme song). Since the studio isn’t supplemented with a theme park, there’s nothing separating you from the real machinations of a working studio. If a project is filming on the lot, you’ll be told to quiet down and wait till filming stops before moving on to the next area. We were lucky to see filming from The Mentalist and watch the stars actually working. It’s also comical to see how they try to convey to audiences they aren’t on the lot. John revealed the scene the show was filming takes place on a marina, yet it’s filming in a parking lot via blue screen. Movie magic, everyone!
As we entered into the actual backlot John catered his trivia to what we were interested in, so if you’re interested in modern films or technical stuff just tell the tour guide and they’ll try to enhance the trivia to fit you! We saw various sound stages where classic movies were filmed, and each stage has a plaque listing the various productions filmed there. There are also a copious amount of standing sets and front stoops where various films, both modern and classic have been shot. There’s a fair bit of walking so you’ll get up-close to various props and sets, enhancing the intimate nature of the tour.
We were given a combination VIP/Deluxe tour, with an additional element denied to both: the costume department. Sadly, you can’t visit the costume department on either tour, but we were lucky to get a sneak peek in the most heavily trafficked area on the lot (sadly, no celebrities stopped by to say hi). We spoke to the lovely Elaine who organizes the costumes and who took time out to show us the cavernous costume warehouse. To say I could get lost in this place is an understatement. High above your heads, next to you, and behind you are racks covered by clothes and shoes. Each area is divided into categories, whether it’s contemporary or period, black and white to bright colors, drab to evening wear. There’s additional space given to high heels, rows of hats, and ties from every period of time imaginable. Elaine had a lot of interesting information and even took us to the special refrigerated area where the furs and various costumes from the recent Great Gatsby adaptation are kept.
Sadly, we couldn’t spend all day in the costume department and moved on to the prop warehouse where we briefly saw large props from movies like Argo and a piano from Casablanca (the original is housed in their museum and sadly unavailable for photographs). After spending a fair amount of time traversing the backlot we moved on to the WB Museum which is a goldmine for costumes and props, both contemporary and classic. Before that, a special guest stopped by: Cass Warner, granddaughter to founding brother, Harry! Cass was amazing and in the few minutes she was there, she lit up the room. She mentioned her production company, cheekily called Warner Sisters, is filming an upcoming documentary on Dennis Hopper. Her role within the family is that of detective, tracking down history and setting the record straight on her grandfather and the Warner legacy. Her book and documentary, entitled The Brothers Warner, is available for purchase. Cass was kind enough to take pictures with us before she left. It was a definite treat to see her.
Within the museum, there are fantastic costumes; various dresses worn by Elizabeth Taylor, costumes from My Fair Lady, and more from The Great Gatsby are on display. There are also props, such as the giant portrait of John Garfield in Humoresque, John Wayne‘s rifle, and, for modern fans with an eye towards classic homage, the gigantic Annabell doll from The Conjuring (an item scarier in person if that’s possible). As mentioned previously, the piano used in Casablanca is on-display although it’s unavailable to pictures. In fact, the Museum itself is off-limits to cameras and thankfully the fine folks at Warners allowed us to snap photos.
From there we went to the WB Commissary which is still the place to be seen if you’re a Hollywood heavy-hitter. Various executives were holding meetings within the area, and by the time we were done the place was packed. The food is excellent, especially the dessert platter which I wanted to devour (or at least find a way to take the remaining snacks with me) and everything appeared to be cooked in-house. Lara, Kimberly, Elise, and I chatted about blogging, our favorite classic film stars, and unsubstantiated classic gossip. It had me thinking this was how our favorite stars probably talked back in the day!
After all that it was time to leave the studios, a bittersweet end to a fantastic day. I love Universal Studios, but Warner Brothers certainly has a tour to exceed them. The intimate quality and smaller groups make you feel as if you’re really part of the action. Since there’s no gimmicks to the tour, there’s not a lot to distance you from the stars and the filming going on daily at the studios. As a disabled traveler, Warner Brothers is exceedingly friendly to the handicapped. They provided a tram able to carry my wheelchair on the back and still allow me to sit in the seat with the group (although you are welcome to remain in your wheelchair at the back of the tram). If you have trouble transferring in and out of your chair, you might want to consider bringing a travel buddy. There is a fair bit of walking, so if you have difficulties on your feet for long periods of time you may want to rethink the tour or rent a wheelchair (the studio can provide accommodations if necessary). All the tour guides and ticket personnel were happy to work with me and find necessary accommodations, so don’t hesitate to ask them if you need special tweaks. I had the best time on the WB Studios Tour. I would certainly go back and do one of them again! If you get the chance to go let me know what you think!
If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Warner Brothers Studios there’s two tours available:
The VIP Tour
Departs: Mon-Sat 8:15am-4pm and Sundays (limited availability)
Duration: 2hrs 15 min
Children 8yrs + are welcome
This tour includes almost all the areas we went to (including the movie car section, which I saw), the Museum and Stage 16 – the tallest studio in the world.
The Deluxe Tour
Departs Mon-Fri 10:15 am
Duration: 5 hrs.
This one includes stops at various production departments (subject to availability) where you can talk with real personnel. It also includes lunch in the commissary.
Both tours recommend advance tickets, although you can purchase day-of tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. Adults are required to bring valid government-issued ID.
As part of their 90th anniversary, the studio is doing a speaker series with Cass Warner. Every Thursday on the Deluxe Tour you can have lunch with Cass and ask about her famous family. The studio is also doing special tours in French throughout November only, Monday and Wednesdays at 3:45pm.
You can get tickets now via the Studio Tour Website, or by calling 877-4WB-Tour
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.