February 11, 2016

Photo Essay: The Last Major Movie Studio in Hollywood

When you say "Hollywood," what does it mean?

Hollywood Boulevard? The Hollywood Hills? The Hollywood Sign?

Or is it the culture—perhaps even the attitude—that's come to be known as "so Hollywood"?

At some point, Hollywood ceased to be where movies and dreams are made.

You see, most of our movies (and TV shows) now are actually not shot in Hollywood, but somewhere else within the 30-mile studio zone—be it at one of the remaining movie ranches in the San Fernando or Santa Clarita Valleys, Universal City (Universal Studios), Burbank (Warner), Rancho Park (Fox), or Culver City (Sony).

There's just one major Hollywood studio that's actually in Hollywood, and on the same property where it originally opened: Paramount Studios.

The main gate of Paramount is an iconic fixture in both the neighborhood and movies like Sunset Boulevard.

Back then, it used to be accessible directly from a public street (Marathon Street)—until the 1990s, when Paramount bought up a bunch of the surrounding property...

...including a costume shop across the street that they converted into their own screening room, a tribute to the original Paramount Theatre on Broadway in New York's Times Square.

Not all of what exists now on the current lot is original to Paramount. It also includes the soundstages, structures, and water tower from the former RKO Pictures (one of the original Big 5), which later housed Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's Desilu Productions until 1967.

The campus is still very much a working movie studio facility, but plenty of tributes to its past are scattered about, including a bench from Forrest Gump.

Their prop house contains a hodgepodge of various items and costumes...

...from productions of the past, present, and future...

...including the Transformers franchise.

If you visited on an unseasonably hot February day this year, you might've been able to catch a glimpse of Optimus Prime.

Also parked inside are Jimmy "Thunder" Early's car from Dreamgirls...

...Greased Lightnin' from the Grease Live TV production...

...and a Pink Ladies jacket.

There's a real art to this movie magic, but you don't always get a true sense of until you're really up close to a prop like the corpse from Bad Grandpa.

In real life, it's so realistic that during the filmed prank, bystanders panicked that an actual elderly woman was being abused.

The details are so minute, right down to the wrinkles, veins, fingernails, and hair.

Propmasters even have developed multiple different types of fake snow—from the kind that's just sitting in the ground to the ultra-fine "bio-snow," which can realistically fall from the sky like real snowflakes, and not like the pieces of plastic that they are.

Between the original lot (which was 29 acres) and the later acquired RKO / Desilu studios (making a total of 65 acres), Paramount now has a total of 29 soundstages—even though their numbers go up to 32. One of the stages was bought by Technicolor. One of the numbers—unlucky "13"—was intentionally skipped for superstition. And one of the numbers (22) was merely forgotten by the guy that was numbering them.

At Stage 17, Paramount employees and guests can receive medical treatment in the beach house from Top Gun.

And at Stage 30, you can get an uninterrupted view of the Hollywood Sign...

...before you take in a taping of The Doctors—in the same exact spot where The Godfather and Little House on the Prairie were filmed.

Is there anything more Hollywood than a four-foot deep blue water tank that's used for parking when it's not standing in as the ocean on camera?

While you're enjoying your time in Hollywood, you can also visit Milwaukee...

...on the street where Laverne and Shirley skipped down the sidewalk, chanting,"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"

I myself was happy to pay a visit to the SoHo loft where Sam and Molly lived in Ghost...

...and "Murder Alley," where God-knows-what has happened.

The studio's approximation of New York neighborhoods feels a bit like the Old West movie towns whose saloons and sheriff stations were merely facades.

As unconvincing as it may be in person...'s done a good job of convincing the world it really was New York...

...for Breakfast at Tiffany's, episodes of Seinfeld and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and countless other Hollywood creations.

Of course, whether the streets are supposed to be New York or Chicago or Boston or Colorado...

...production crews have to work some more movie magic to make it rain (which is only convincing if you shoot the water upwards and let it fall naturally) or snow or basically any weather event other than warm and sunny with clear, blue skies.

Back in the "Golden Age" of cinema, Paramount used to crank out maybe 50 or 60 films in one year, but their blockbuster franchises have gotten so big, now they can really only handle about a dozen of their own per year.

So they rent the rest of their equipment, soundstages, and other facilities to other production companies and movie studios that want to take advantage of some of Paramount's specialties (which apparently include fake bricks, of all things).

But anybody who works on or even just visits the Paramount lot gets to experience some smidgen of its incredible 100-year history.

For me, the highlights include the Elvis Presley movies, Happy Days, Mork and MindyThe Brady Bunch, and Grease. For others, it might be Charmed or Star Trek or Titanic or Indiana Jones.

Sure, crews strike the sets, change the lights, and paint the floors when they're all done. But these actors, costumers, setbuilders, and others all leave a little magic behind with each completed production.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ghosts of Film and TV Past
Photo Essay: Melody Ranch Movie Ranch, Closed to Public (Except this Once)
A Birthday Visit to the Heart of Screenland
Photo Essay: The Treasures of an LA Tourist Trap, Universal Studios

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