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The Sony Pictures Studio Tour

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Last month Mike, from MovieShotsLA, his fiance Jen, and I decided to go on another studio stalking adventure.  This time we opted for the Sony Pictures Studio Tour in Culver City.  The studio lot that is now owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment (parent company to both Columbia and TriStar Pictures) was originally built in 1915 by producer Thomas Ince for his company Triangle Pictures.  During that time, Culver City was quite a powerhouse in the motion picture industry.  The city even touted itself with the slogan: “Culver City – Where Hollywood Movies Are Made”.  In 1918, Ince sold his studio to Samuel Goldwyn of Goldwyn Pictures Corporation.  Six years later the lot became the legendary MGM Studios when Goldwyn joined forces with Louis B. Mayer and Metro Pictures forming the conglomerate Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  The rest, as they say, is history. 

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During its heydey MGM liked to say it had “more stars than there are in the heavens”.  And it was pretty much true.  Such mega-stars as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Crawford all called MGM home at one time or another.  Hundreds of hit movies were created within the historic studio walls, including Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Ben Hur, David Coppefield  and Grand Hotel.  When billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, former owner of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, purchased the legendary studio in 1969, he sold off more than 150 acres of MGM’s property.  In one fell swoop, the studio downsized from 183 acres to 30.  😦   Almost all of what was sold off was the studio back lot area, including the street Gene Kelly danced on in Singin’ in the Rain.  How sad!!  After several subsequent ownerships, in 1991 the former MGM Studios was purchased by Sony Pictures.  The good news in all of this is that Sonyspent $100 million rennovating the legendary lot and also opened the place to the public for daily tours.  It is that tour that Mike, Jen and I embarked upon last month.  🙂 

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The tour starts off in the lobby of the Sony Pictures Plaza building (pictured above).  As we pulled up to the building, Mike pointed out that the exterior was used in the filming of the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting in the scene where young Sara climbs the exterior of a Chicago skyscraper while her parents unknowingly attend a cocktail party inside.   Love that movie!

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After checking in with out tour guide in the lobby of the Plaza building, we were given Sony Studio Tour VIP lanyards to wear around our neck which we actually got to keep! 🙂  I was way excited about that!  🙂  Then while waiting for the tour to begin, we were encouraged to walk around the Plaza lobby, which is a movie memorabilia museum of sorts.  I absolutely LOVE looking at movie props and costumes, so I was extra excited about this part of the tour.  One of the exhibits included Julia Robert’s wedding dress from Steel Magnolias  and one of Cameran Diaz’s costumes from the first Charlie’s Angels  movie (both are pictured above).  

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Other items on display in the museum include, the gameboard from Jumanji,

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Annie’s letter to Sam and Jonah’s teddy bear and backpack from Sleepless in Seattle,

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artifacts from The DaVinci Code, including the book Tom Hanks character authored,

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Will Smith’s sunglasses and the notecards which contained his speech from Hancock,

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and Julian’s toys from Big Daddy.

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 After milling around the museum for a few minutes, our tour was ready to begin with a short walk across the street to the entrance of the historic studio once known as MGM.  Our first stop was probably my favorite part of the tour – the lightpost which Jennifer Garner posed with for the 13 Going On 30  promotional movie posters.  The lightpost and background were all digitally changed after the photo was taken, but I could not have been more excited to pose there nonetheless!  In fact, Mike, Jen and I almost got separated from the rest of our tour group because we spent so much time trying to get a photo of me in the exact same pose as Jennifer Garner.  LOL  🙂   

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Our next stop was the Irving Thalberg Building, an administration building which was built in 1936 and named for the legendary MGM producer after his untimely death at the young age of 36.  Besides now housing all of the Columbia Pictures Best Picture Oscar statuettes, the building was also recently used as the site of Peter Parker’s high school graduation in the first Spiderman  movie.

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Next we headed over to Main Street, where the studio commissary, cafe, and gift shop are located.  Our tour guide told us that Main Street is often used as a filming location for productions being shot on the lot, but he didn’t know in particular which movies or television shows had filmed there.

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While there, he also demonstrated how most of the doors on Main Street don’t really lead to anything but a stucco wall.  LOL

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Next we headed over to the only exterior/backlot type street located on the Sony lot – an East Coast looking Street, which can stand in for New York, Washington D.C., and even Boston.  Both sides of that street are pictured above.  The exteriors in the top photograph above were used as Jack Nicholson’s apartment building in the movie Something’s Gotta Give.  During the filming of the movie, producers were trying to film a long shot of Jack walking away from his apartment building.  Because there are no sidewalks located on this backlot street, Nicholson appeared very short when walking next to the cars parked along the side of the road.  To fix the problem, producers simply removed the tires on all of the parked cars and voila, Jack appeared to be a normal height. LOL 🙂

After walking down the studio’s sole backlot street, we were taken through the main part of the studio, which includes many soundstages (27 is where they filmed The Wizard of Oz), the scene shop where humongous backdrops are painstakingly painted by numerous artists all working at the same time, the “scoring studio” (a favorite of Barbra Streisand’s) where scores from movies are recorded, and an interior set inside a soundstage that was used in the filming of the new Beyonce movie Obsessed.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures of any of these things. 😦

All in all, the tour lasted about two hours.  While the Sony Pictures Studio Tour was fun, and I was super excited that we got to keep our VIP necktags, I would say that I much prefered the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour  and the Warner Brothers Tour.  My favorite part of studio tours is seeing backlots where countless exteriors are filmed and unfortunately there just wasn’t enough of those to see on the Sony tour.  😦  So while I did enjoy myself, if you are a tourist who only has time for one tour, I suggest one of the other studios.

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  🙂

Stalk It: Sony Pictures Studios is located at 10202 W. Washington Boulevard in Culver City.  You can visit their website and purchase tickets here.  The tour cost is $28 per person and only those 12 years of age and older are permitted.

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Charmed Challenge!

Got a challenge from Jenna a few weeks back to find a whole bunch of Charmed  locations, one of which being the “San Francisco” city street featured in both the Season 7 episode “The Bare Witch Project” and the Season 8 episode “Still Charmed and Kicking”.  In “The Bare With Project” (pictured above), the street is featured twice.  In the opening scene of that episode, Phoebe and Piper are shown eating lunch at an outdoor corner cafe located on a public street.  In the scene Piper is breastfeeding and is asked to leave by the restaurant manager.  In the closing scene of that episode, Phoebe rides a horse naked – a la Lady Godiva – down the same street to protest against the restaurant for mistreating her sister.   

In the “Still Charmed and Kicking” episode (pictured above), that same street shows up yet again as the spot where Phoebe and Piper do some serious shoe shopping after faking their own deaths. 

Well, Jenna, I have good news and I have bad news.  If you’re like me, you prefer the bad news first, so here goes.  The bad news is that the street the sisters walked along is not a real street – it is actually part of the Paramount Studios backlot in Hollywood.  While doing some online Charmed  research  to try to figure out where this street was located, I found out that after the sixth season of the series, production moved from its small Canoga Park studio to Hollywood mega-lot Paramount Studios.  After carefully watching both episodes, something about the “street” didn’t seem realistic to me.  If you look closely at both episodes, everything seems just a bit smaller than it should be – much like Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.  The streets are a bit too narrow, the sidewalks a bit too skinny, the buildings a little too short – all causing me to realize that a back lot, not a real city street, must have been used for the filming.  If you look in the background of the above screen capture, a house or small apartment building (circled) is visible behind Alyssa Milano on the left hand side.  That was a dead giveaway for me that the street was really a set, as residential street sets are commonly located right next to city street sets on most movie studio backlots.  After I learned that both of the episodes were filmed during the time that Charmed  was being produced on the Paramount lot, I became convinced that the street was in actuality just a set.  I believe that for both of the episodes mentioned one of Paramount’s New York street scenes was used. 

Now for the good news – even though this street is located on a set, you can still see it in person.  🙂  Paramount Studios offers a behind the scenes tour and one of the stops is the New York area of the back lot.  While I have never been on the Paramount Tour, it is definitely something I want to do in the near future.  Seeing Stars does a great write-up on the Paramount Tour, with some great photos and while he didn’t seem to like the tour much, this stalker still really wants to check it out.  When I do go on the tour, I will be sure to post some photographs of the New York City streets for comparison.  Sadly, though, I don’t think the streets will be that recognizable from Charmed  due to the fact that studio street scenes and building facades are constantly changed and redressed to make way for new productions.  That being said, I would still recommend stalking the Paramount Tour, as I think it would still be really fun to see.

And don’t worry, Jenna, I am still stalking the other Charmed  locations you challenged me to find.  🙂 

Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂

Stalk It: Paramount Studios is located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.  To book a tour, you can call (323)956-4848.  Tours cost $39 per person.

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The Cravens Estate

Just purchased Scott’s LA Audio Tour of Pasadena, a CD driving tour which is absolutely chock full of filming locations!!  Loved it!!  I was especially excited because one of the locations visited on the audio tour was a mansion named the Cravens Estate which was used in one of my favorite TV shows.  Besides currently housing the Pasadena headquarters for the American Red Cross, the estate is practically a Hollywood backlot.  Countless productions have filmed there over the years, but most significantly Cravens Estate was featured each week as JAG Headquarters on the television series of the same name.  I do love me some Commander Harm Rabb!  🙂

The Cravens Estate was built in the 1920s by John and Mildred Cravens.  It is one of the last remaining mansions on what used to be known as Millionaires Row (Orange Grove Avenue) in Pasadena.  The 25,000 square foot French Chateau style mansion was donated to the American Red Cross in the 1960s.  The red brick exterior of the estate is absolutely gorgeous and the mansion really looks like it could be found in Washington D.C.  Apparently, fans always used to write to JAG  creator Donald P. Bellasario telling him that they stalked the town of Falls Church. Virginia (where JAG  supposedly takes place) looking for JAG Headquarters only to find out that the builiding was actually located in Cailfornia. 🙂 

Both the interior and the exterior of the Cravens Estate have been used as filming locations over the years.  On the TV show Commander in Chief,  starring Geena Davis, the kitchen of the estate was used as the White House kitchen.  Other productions filmed at the estate include Enemy of the State, Traffic, Murder She Wrote, Rush Hour 3, The Practice, Swordfish, Judging Amy, The Lyon’s Den, 24, and Beverly Hills, 90210.  (I wish I knew what it was portrayed as in 90210!!!!  Does anyone know???)  The estate is also often used for weddings and special events.

Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂

Stalk It: The Cravens Estate is located at 430 Madeline Drive in Pasadena, just off of Orange Grove Avenue.  You can purchase Scott’s Driving CD’s here.  Although the CD’s do move a bit too fast on occasion, they are lots of fun to take a tour with.  Currently Scott has audio tours of Pasadena, Hollywood and Los Angeles available.

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Greystone Mansion

Greystone Mansion IWhile most mansions in Beverly Hills are well hidden from prying eyes thanks to tall gates and large trees, there is one that is open to the public on a regular basis and it’s called Greystone Mansion.  The 46,000 square foot mansion was commissioned in 1928 by millionaire Edward L. Doheny as a gift to his son Edward “Ned” Doheny, Jr.  Ned only lived in the home for four short months before he was found dead in his bedroom, along with his secretary Hugh Plunket, on February 16th, 1929.

There has been much speculation surrounding the deaths of Ned and Hugh – some believe it was a bizarre murder-suicide due to a lovers’ quarrel between the two, others believe Hugh asked Ned for a raise and became enraged when he was denied and subsequently shot Ned and then himself, and still others believe Hugh suffered from a psychological disorder and shot Edward during a mental breakdown.  Whatever the case may be, after his death Edward’s widow continued to live in the mansion with their five children for the next 26 years until she sold it to a man named Henry Crown.  Henry wanted to tear down the mansion, but the city of Beverly Hills stepped in and purchased Greystone from him in 1965, turning it into a public park several years later.

Greystone sits on over 16 acres and is an amazing piece of property.  I highly recommend stalking it.  Everyday from 10am to 5pm the public is given free reign to walk around the beautiful grounds and get an up close and personal view of the exterior of the mansion.  On occasion, there are times when one can tour the inside of the mansion as well.  Greystone has also been the filming location of hundreds upon hundreds of movie, TV, print, and commercial productions.  Just to name a few – it was featured in Entourage  as the location of Anna Faris’ photo shoot, it played Nicolas Cage’s home in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, it was the British Embassy and ball location in Jumpin’ Jack Flash  with Whoopi Goldberg, it played a restaurant in The Holiday, and it was featured each week as Rory Gilmore’s school in Gilmore Girls.  It also figures prominently in one of my favorite books The Prada Paradox  by Julie Kenner. 

While I was at Greystone this past weekend, a production crew was setting up for a film shoot (they wouldn’t say which film) and unfortunately much of the mansion was blocked off.  But a very nice security guard happened to let me in to walk around and my boyfriend snapped a pic as I stalked behind the film crew’s signs.  🙂

Until next time, Happy Stalking!

Stalk It: Greystone Mansion is located at 905 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills.  It is open everyday from 10am to 5pm.  You can visit Greystone’s official website here

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