January 06, 2013

Photo Essay: The Ghosts of Film and TV Past

When Michelle was visiting me for New Year's, we had one full day together in LA of no travel and no work. We had to figure out how to spend it wisely.

"Do you...want to do a studio tour?" I asked sheepishly. I've wanted to do one since before moving here, when I started to visit LA more regularly.

"Yeah!" she said, much to my surprise and glee. Now we just had to figure out which one.

We really only chose Warner Brothers Studio because it was actually open on New Year's Eve and wasn't sold out.

But WB turned out to be a great option because, although open to the public, they considered New Year's Eve a holiday, and had ceased production on all of their movies and TV shows utilizing their soundstages and outdoor sets.

It was, more or less, a ghost town, giving us full access to see everything, uninterrupted, uninterrupting.

The streets of New York, Chicago, London, and Paris were empty.

The cafes were closed.

No townspeople littered the town square...

...which has been used and reused for numerous film and television productions from The Waltons to Hart of Dixie.

The trees are shedding their colored leaves, but when it needs to be winter, the leaves are painstakingly picked off to reveal the bare branches underneath.

In this fantasy town, a municipal building is at once a courthouse, city hall, police station, and jail.

Some of its houses have been standing there for decades...

...vacated by any number of families and residents...

...who leave nothing behind but the cameras that capture their movements...

...and the lights that illuminate their faces.

Whether it's a Gilmore Girl, a Seaver, or a Gremlin that once frequented there...

...the structures are strong and silent, sometimes changing colors, or swapping out porch furniture or landscaping.

Cool Hand Luke once got arrested taking the heads off parking meters along this street...

...whose brick pattern is merely painted on.

All the businesses are closed. The roads lead to nowhere.

But we'll always have Paris.

And the movies will always need a movie theater...

...and a subway station in which the extras await their cues.

On the studio tour, you can also visit WB's massive property house...

...where set designers and property masters go shopping for furniture and hand props...

...and tourists like me can visit the surprisingly tiny set of the coffeehouse from Friends.

Central Perk's on-camera size is an optical illusion created by large items in the foreground (e.g. giant latte cups)...

...contrasted by tiny tables and barstools in the background.

The drink menu from the series finale has been preserved on the chalkboard... have many cars from a variety of productions, including the Sunbeam Tiger from Get Smart...

...the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard...

...and the Shaguar from Austin Powers.

Other highlights included one of James Dean's costumes from East of Eden, one of the pianos from Casablanca, and Stage 25, where some scenes from Bonnie and Clyde were shot.

The tour guide focused a lot on current and recent TV show trivia, but since I don't have a TV anymore, I couldn't get enough factoids about the classics. Then again, I can't seem to get enough historical information about the building of Los Angeles in the 1920s through the 1940s.

Even the fantasy villages that were built as microcosms inside LA for transient communities of actors and crewpeople.


  1. Love this. There's something strange and wonderful about the deserted street sets. Almost like maybe there was something to 12/21/12 after all, and there you were, the last people on earth in an empty fantasy town. Haha, sounds like a Twilight Zone episode.

    I agree the 20s - 40s LA stuff is infinitely fascinating. I can't believe I haven't taken this tour yet, but at least you gave me a virtual glimpse :)