Thursday, 21 July 2016

Paramount Pictures

As well as being opposite the Chinese Theatre, with its evening premier of a new movie, we decided it was about time to visit the only full-size movie studio still working in central Hollywood.

That's Paramount Pictures, now owned by Viacom. We travelled there by taxi, and the driver didn't know the right entrance, so we even managed to get in through the big gate used in many movie scenes - that's just before we 'U-turned' to exit again to find our correct way in.

Paramount Pictures was founded in 1912 as the Famous Players Film Company by Adolph Zukor, who had been an early investor in coin-in-the-slot nickelodeons. The company went through numerous reconstructions, mergers and acquisitions and I'd count the blending with Desilu Studions (the Lucille Ball TV show company) as a landmark.

We also saw the dressing room that Lucille Ball took over from Katherine Hepburn, and the side entrance that Hepburn used to take into the studios on her bicycle, with a stunt double arriving for her at the main gate.

Paramount was a great example of the production line company, with writers, directors, actors and production facilities all arranged around a square inside the grounds.

In their heyday they could churn out 100+ movies per year. Now its more like a dozen. Indeed, the 12 stars around the Paramount logo originally represented the first stable of Paramount stars, before the phrase 'film star' had really been coined.

Of course, the modern shifts to Netflix, Amazon, HBO and similar mean that there's a chunk of the facility used for third party productions and the latest (gossip alert) new mini company to move in is the Di Caprio/Scorsese duo, who have just taken office space.

We toured the massive studio in a golf cart, with an amiable 'page' named Jason driving us around. There were many interesting moments as we travelled past huge shed structures housing the studios and a massive timber storage warehouse where they have the resources to build things like -er- the Startrek Enterprise.

An amusing moment for me was seeing the 'sky' which had been painted onto a vast wall under Cecil B de Mille's instructions. After the studios won the first ever Academy Award for a film called 'Wings' they were criticised for filming the plane scenes against a clear sky. They were told it looked as if they had used models instead of real planes and a blue backdrop. It was actually all real, but the clear skies of L.A. don't have so many clouds (look at the gate picture at the top of this post). So Cecile B de Mille asked for a vast wall to contain a fake and slightly cloudy sky.

The adjoining car park in front of the sky is also special. It takes a whole day to flood it and it can then be used for seascapes, with the sky in the background. The famous parting of the red sea was filmed here, as were many other air-sea rescue scenes over the years,

We also explored inside the studios. They were getting ready for the next Dr Phil show, which has a ridiculous amount of lights and 11 cameras for a day time sofa type show.

And of course the props department where I could try out a teleport from the brand new released today Star Trek Beyond movie. The New York Street scene was also available to walk about. It was being cleared from one production and set up for another one that evening. No pictures though, not allowed.

Certainly a bustling studio, with the bulk of productions now maybe skewing more towards television and presumably box-sets.

I've visited other movie sets, but this one really gave a sense of the busy workload being processed.

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