I love TV. I have one of those brains that has a hard time relaxing. One of the few ways I can get a break is to watch a show…or two. My favorites over the years have ranged from Cheers & Seinfeld to Breaking Bad & Survivor to current favorites like Ted Lasso & Fauda. So, when I was tripping activities in the LA area for our recent Rose Bowl trip, and came across the Warner Bros Studio Tour, it seemed like a no-brainer. A chance to see where and how TV and movies are made? Sign me up!
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First, a Little History
The Warner Bros Hollywood Studio is located in Burbank, about 15 minutes north of downtown LA. The studio was established all the way back in 1926. Films – and then TV – have been made there for almost 100 years! The studio sits on 62 acres and is made up of outdoor movie sets, multiple sound stages, and buildings dedicated to all facets of movie & television production. Well-known films made here include Casablanca, My Fair Lady, Goonies, and several of the Batman movies. Well-known TV series include Friends and The Big Bang Theory.
The Warner Bros Studio Tour is a great way to see and understand the process that goes into making film and TV. And I will say right off the bat that the tour exceeded my expectations. In my research, I discovered that the tour is one of the highest-rated area activities on TripAdvisor. But still, I thought our access to a busy working studio might be somewhat diluted. Not the case! It was an in-depth tour with a great deal of insight and access to what seemed like a big portion of the studio. Plus, it featured a lot of really impressive interactive displays. Let me show you….
Warner Bros Studio offers a few different kinds of tours. We went on the most popular – The Studio Tour. This tour starts every 30 minutes between 8:30am and 3:30pm, 5-7 days weekly (depending on the time of year). The Studio recommends that you buy your tickets online ahead of time, though limited walkup tickets may be available depending on demand. The guided portion of the tour lasts about an hour. Self-guided touring through various displays can take another 1-3 hours depending on how long you want to linger. We spent 2 hours on the lot.
Our tour started in a screening room where we watched a short 5-minute movie quickly covering the Studio’s history.
We were then directed outside where we divided up into smaller groups. Each group was assigned a guide and a tour cart. Our guide’s name was Maxx.
The Backlot – You Might Recognize Some of This
First we drove through and explored the Backlot – a series of outdoor sets that have been constructed over the years, and have been used in countless movies and TV shows. Many of these sets date to the 1930s and all are still in use today. As Maxx took us down one street after the other, we jumped from small town Midwest to downtown New York, from tree-lined residential streets to seedy back alleys.
And we didn’t just stay in the cart. We got out and walked up and down these empty streets. We were even allowed enter a few of the buildings. Some are just empty shells like the photo below….
While others are called “Practicals” and are used for their interiors as well. In the photo below, Maxx explains how the decor of the room is changed constantly depending on what’s needed for the production, and how the open ceilings are used for gear.
Maxx also explained how even the exteriors can be adjusted. The bricks aren’t bricks. They are made of styrene and can easily be replaced in en masse for a different look. All the buildings also lack exterior features like door handles and lights, as you can see in the picture below. These are added at the time of filming, based on each production’s needs.
As we walked from location to location, Maxx would point out the storied filming history of individual streets, storefronts, and buildings. Memorable scenes like the alley for Spiderman’s upside-side down kiss, the cafe in Casablanca, the street outside Annie’s orphanage, the last shot of the Seinfeld series, and many many more.
Once back in the cart after each set, a short video would then show us each set’s transformation from one movie to another over the decades – very cool!
The Front Lot and Stage 16
Next up on the Warner Bros Studio Tour was the Front Lot. This is its collection of 30 sound stages where the interior production of films and TV takes place. Inside these huge soundproof buildings, elaborate sets are built, specific to each production.
We stopped at Stage 16. At 65 feet tall, it’s the largest on the lot and one of the tallest in the world. It also has a 2 million gallon water tank under its floor, extending another 30 feet below ground, allowing films like The Perfect Storm and Poseidon to be filmed inside.
At the time of our tour, the soundstage wasn’t in use. So we were able to walk inside and take in its cavernous enormity.
Each soundstage has a plaque on the outside listing its production history. Take a close look and you can see plenty of classics on Stage 16’s list including Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park.
We also had the chance to drive directly through The Mill. This is the construction department where the interior sets are created.
We also drove past the large building that houses the property department. This is where all the furniture and fixtures required to dress a set are kept. We weren’t able to enter, but could see stacks of lamps and other fixtures through the windows. Maxx described the intricate cataloguing and ordering system that the Studio has set up as we passed.
After this, the guided portion of the tour ended, and Maxx dropped us off at a building called Stage 48.
Stage 48 – Friendstravaganza
Stage 48 is the first of two interactive experiences on the Warner Bros Studio Tour. And there was lots going on in this building. Most popular is the coffee shop set from the TV series Friends. I personally never watched much of Friends, but this seemed to be the highlight for a great percentage of tour participants. Here, fans can line up and get a photo on the couch. I had to act fast to get the shot below in between groups of giddy fans.
There is also a Friend’s-themed fully-functioning coffee shop inside the building. Plus, a large gift shop mostly dedicated to Friend’s paraphernalia. Important note to those who need to eat midday like I do – the coffee shop has what looked to be a decent food menu, too.
Stage 48 also features the living room set from The Big Bang Theory where fans can also pose for photos.
In addition to the sets from those two popular TV shows, Stage 48 also offers an immersive experience called Script to Screen. As we walked from room to room, we were learned about the many sequential steps involved in film and TV production. It was all very interesting, especially all the costume displays. And I finally know what a foley artist does (creates the every day sound effects that are added post-production).
To Couch or Not to Couch
It would be easy to spend several hours at Stage 48. But we breezed through pretty quick, spending about 30 minutes. When we were ready to leave, a tour cart was waiting outside, and we were taken to the final displays on the tour.
First though, while again passing through the Backlot, we were given the option to get off and have our picture taken on the couch and fountain from Friend’s opening sequence. Again, not big Friend’s fans, so we stayed on the cart and headed directly to The Archive, which is located in the main tour building.
The Archive – Where I Became Hufflepuff
First up – costumes from many of the DC Comics movies, all made by Warner Bros Studios, including Michael Keaton’s Batman and Christopher Reeves’s Superman,
Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman,
and one of a long line of Batmobiles used in the movie franchise – this is the Tim Burton version.
Next, was Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. Harry Potter was filmed at the Warner Bros Studio in England rather than this one, but it is still a big deal on the Hollywood Studio Tour.
Here, several Harry Potter sets and scenes were recreated for our photo-taking pleasure.
Plus, we had the opportunity to participate in a Sorting Ceremony. We may have not wanted to sit on the various Friend’s couches, but we couldn’t pass up the Sorting Ceremony! The hat was lowered on to our heads (kind of), and our House was chosen by a voice above and around us. Me – Hufflepuff! Mrs. TT – Slytherin!! I’ll have to watch out around her now….
Finally, we found ourselves in a room surrounded by various awards collected by the Studio over the years, including a few of their Oscars. This is the first time I’ve ever seen an actual Oscar. The one pictured here is My Fair Lady’s Best Picture Academy Award from 1964.
Our time on the Warner Bros Studio Tour was thoroughly enjoyable. We learned a lot about film and TV production, had much better studio access than I imagined, and we were impressed with the interactive displays. We don’t tend to linger at displays, so our tour only took about 2 hours. But I can certainly understand why the Warner Bros website states that it could take 3-4. If you love TV (or movies) as much as I do, then don’t hesitate to spend a few hours on the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank. You can click here to purchase tickets on Viator
If you would like to read about some of other great tours from my travels, then check out this post about an Air Tour in Kauai, this one about Touring Ballard Locks in Seattle, or this one about a Cooking Class in Seville Spain.
And during this trip to LA, I decided to exclusively use ride share for our transportation needs rather than renting a car like I usually do. Did I save money? Yes! A lot actually. Click here to check out my blog post about Uber vs Car Rental in LA