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LA Movie Studio Opens Door to Fans
Visit Los Angeles and you’re sure to stumble upon movies in the making, whether on the street near your hotel or at one of the many studios open for studio tours.
Today, most studios are closed to the public except when the public is needed for live performances or when the call is made for extras to fill various film scenes. But there are several that allow tours, including some where the chances are good you’ll see a real movie star.
The ancestor of movie studio tours must be Universal Studios Hollywood, which now includes its movie studio tour as a small part of a Disneyland-like theme park with elaborate rides and attractions all having something to see with the movies. Built along a hill in Universal City, the theme park has grown over the years incorporating new attractions that match some of the most popular films produced at Universal.
We first visited Universal over 30 years ago. So on our recent visit to the park, the overall experience felt much more like a full entertainment package than when the visit was just a movie studio tour with a few added attractions. We had returned to the park in the 90s but even since then this theme park has seemed to grow dramatically, regularly adding new attractions to encourage visitors to return.
Visitors to the park are now greeted with a choice of parking, low cost parking that requires some walking and premium parking closer to the park. We chose the former because we need the exercise – but alas the park has installed an elaborate system of 21st century escalators to transport visitors all over the hilly terrain of both the car park and the park themed down to the actual movie pitch.
One of the highlights of our universal tour was a discovery we made: the Front of the Line Pass. It’s a bit pricey – at $99.95, it’s about double what you’ll pay if you buy a regular pass online – but it totally changes the experience. Instead of waiting all day in long lines (typical of most Southern California theme parks), we zipped between top attractions, never standing in line for more than five minutes. We felt like we saw everything we wanted to see in a day, but we weren’t so exhausted that we could have stood in queues that each seemed to last 45 minutes to an hour.
The Front of the Line Pass is a great invention and is perfect for middle-aged people who no longer want to spend hours in theme park queues.
Most of the rides at Universal are relatively tame — not quite the kiddie-land variety, but something less than the roller coasters at Six Flags. Hydraulic rides like Back to the Future have been popular for many years, and customers also greatly appreciate the thrill rides and roller coasters in Revenge of the Mummy as well as the Jurassic Park ride, which includes an 85-foot drop.
We were particularly impressed with the Waterworld show, which apparently does much better than the movie ever did. A cast of actors and stunt performers put on a show filled with acrobatics and pyrotechnics culminating in a near-life-size plane that surprises onlookers by landing in the water right in front of their seats.
There are plenty of top notch rides, attractions, shows – all to keep you busy for more than just a day. But don’t forget to take the studio tour – the thing that started decades ago. The tour still takes place on the famous streetcars that meander through the Universal back lot. The trams were updated to offer TV commentary by stars like Whoopi Goldberg, but the experience was much the same as it was in the 70s – only the TV shows and movies changed. Longtime attractions like the original Psycho House are still there, but now the tour includes a stop on Wysteria Lane to see the Desperate Housewives. You can still see where Spartacus was filmed, but now you’re also walking through the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds. A new Fast and Furious demonstration adds another thrill with two racing cars hurtling towards the tram using the magic of hydraulics.
Universal Studios is one of the best and easiest ways to get an up-close look at filmmaking in Los Angeles, but there are plenty of other fascinating places in the city. For example, the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills has hosted productions like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, and numerous television series. And did you know you can visit an industrial area in Culver City that was once the “Forty Acre Back lot”, the former Mayberry location where all of the exterior scenes for The Andy Griffith Show were filmed?
Moreover, there are still other interesting studio tours you can do:
Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank – We enjoyed this two hour tour we took a few years ago. Visitors are escorted in groups of 12 through the Warner Brothers lot, with stops along the way at TV and film sets. All sets and props here are real and not just for the benefit of tourists. Visitors discover the costume department as well as the mill that creates the sets. Since so many productions are going on at any given time, you might have a better chance of seeing a star here – we didn’t, but it was fun to see the actual sets for shows like Friends. Phone 818-972-TOUR.
Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City – this is the birthplace of incredible Hollywood history and where they created the Wizard of Oz. This is the former MGM studios and offers a walking tour of the studio’s backyard, sets, sound stages and historic landscapes. In recent years, the studio has been where Men in Black and Spiderman have been filmed, and where shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are recorded. Phone 323-520-TOUR.
NBC TV Studio Tour, Burbank – These studios are where many live TV shows have been taped, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The guided walking tour takes you through the warehouses where costumes and props are stored, the control rooms and the tour gives you a great insight into how network television is produced. Phone 818-840-3537.
IN ONE LOOK
WHERE: Universal Studios Hollywood is located in Universal City, just north of downtown Los Angeles. The theme park is easily accessible via Highway 101 North. General parking will cost you $10, while you’ll pay double for preferred parking.
WHAT: Universal Studios Hollywood offers the most comprehensive experience of any movie studio tour – a major theme park and tour of actual Universal Studios working areas.
WHEN: All year round. Wear sunscreen and be prepared for the summer temperatures to be quite warm in the California sun.
WHY: While the Universal Studios Tour is the most slickly produced of the movie studio tours — which isn’t necessarily a plus — it offers a major theme park right next door. Any trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is as much about visiting the theme park as it is the movie studio.
HOW: For more information about Universal Studios Hollywood, call 1-800-UNIVERSAL or visit http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com.
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