As part of a special offer from TCM Backlot, I was able to be on one of the inaugural “Classics Made Here” tours now offered as part of the Warner Bros. Studios series of guided tours. You might remember a few years ago I took a combination of Warner’s basic and VIP studio tour which was worth every penny! Their “Classics Made Here” tour certainly holds up better than TCM’s bus tour, but it remains doubtful that die-hard classic fans will find anything particularly astounding other than getting to walk on some fantastic backlots. There’s room for improvement if they can hone things a bit more and could make “Classics Made Here” a crown jewel in Warner’s cap.
Warner’s is one of the few studios to actively celebrate its classic film roots. Sure, Universal trots out their classic film characters to give you an opportunity to take a photo with Frankenstein’s monster or Marilyn, but there’s little desire to do anything more than sell their next hit movie. Because Warner’s isn’t a theme park, they can afford to find more active ways of discussing their place in film history, and why shouldn’t they? They’re one of the few remaining studios with several of their original backlot buildings still standing. The reverence for classic films is apparent from the minute you enter their visitor’s center and see the massive timeline of hits they’ve churned out.
After checking in at the front for your tour, feel free to grab a Starbucks and wait for your guide. Joe was the one giving us the tour, and before we went in to watch the standard Warner Studio Tour film – which, aside from updating some film clips, was exactly the same film as when I saw it during my first tour – he asked us what types of classic films we were interested in. My tour was comprised of about six people and what I love about Warner’s is their personalization and intimacy. They keep the groups small and shape the tour around things you want to talk about. We all gave the stuff we were interested in and then watched a ten-minute film giving an overview of the studio and some of the films that have been shot there. From there you get on the bus and if you’re a wheelchair user you’re in luck because the buses are very easy to get in and off of while staying in your chair. Just be sure to send them an email a few weeks before your trip to confirm the right vehicle is in use.
The tour follows the general outline of the standard studio tour, making stops along the backlot to point out where films like A Star is Born (1954) and La La Land (2017) were filmed. The various named streets like Brownstone and New York Streets are also highlighted. But all of this takes on an added cache when you’re allowed to get off the bus in various places and actual walk around these sets. Joe showed us where The Waltons filmed, near their jungle/lagoon set of all places; we were given a chance to look at an actual facade house, walking through it to the back where the various rigging for lights and cameras were still there. (Please note, these backlots don’t think with handicap accessibility in mind so ramps and smooth terrain can be difficult to find once you’re off the bus.) I did get to stand right in front of the schoolhouse where Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) showed off his boys’ band in The Music Man (1962), as well as the exterior shop where he performed “You Got Trouble” which was fantastic as I’d just watched that film and had the locations fresh in my mind. The truly gasp-worthy moment is seeing the one remaining set from Casablanca (1942). It’s a very small shopfront but just knowing it’s still there, and that Bogie and Bergman stood there, has such power.
There are also brief stops inside a massive soundstage as well as a “dressed” set. My travel buddy was incredibly happy we got to walk on the set of the TV show Lucifer – though, sadly, it was soon announced the show was canceled. Joe provided details on several of the standing sets, discussing how the elevated train tracks used for the set of ER and other urban areas was made out of a Styrofoam and other less sturdy materials. He also pointed out how fake rock and brickwork were created, as well as the few instances of painted backgrounds that still remain on the backlot. We also made a brief bathroom stop in the Warner Museum which has costumes on-display from various DC movies including Justice League and Wonder Woman (both 2017). This isn’t a stop on the “Classics Made Here” tour for obvious reasons, but it is a great display of costumes if you’re into that. I loved being able to get close to the costumes and actually look at the detailing.
Unfortunately there’s no stop at the costume warehouse on this tour – that’s reserved for the VIP tour and I recommend upgrading for that benefit alone. We did, however, stop at the prop department which is awe-inspiring. Joe walked with us, pointing out famous artifacts like the large lighting fixture and the piano used in Casablanca. I’d have preferred being able to wander more on my own here (which I recall doing the last time I took the tour). It’s not that we were rushed through the area, but since the main group stuck with him it did seem like going off on our own was prohibited.
The final stop on the tour is the new (to me at least) Warner interactive center with gift shop. I don’t recall this purely because I remember the Friends set being on a separate soundstage. Here you can get a snack, take pictures on the aforementioned set of Central Perk as well as take pictures on a forced perspective set from Harry Potter. There are sections devoted to looking at various stages of post-production. The whole section feels like something you’d expect from Disneyland or Universal Studios, to be honest. I had no interest in these sections because they were fairly generic. The main reason this section is advertised so heavily as part of the “Classics Made Here” tour is their new section devoted to classic costumes. You aren’t able to get as close to these as the DC costumes, but they are breathtaking. Costumes on-display include the outfits from My Fair Lady (1964), select clothes from Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and various famous costumes from actresses of the era. You’ll also be able to see, in a separate room, Errol Flynn’s swords and various Oscars won by the studio for several classic films.
I definitely think Warner’s “Classics Made Here” tour could benefit from some streamlining specifically for the fans paying to take this. Go straight to the classic-related objects in the visitor’s center, include stops at the costume department (maybe have some costumes out that people can get up-close to), As it stands right now, the “Classics Made Here” tour will certainly give people a solid beginning for classics, but considering the guides ask you what you’re into ahead of time, there’s little distinction here between this and the standard Warners tour. Your best bet is to spring for the VIP tour, which includes costumes and lunch at the commissary, and asking your tour guide to gear the tour towards what you want.
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.