August 19, 2009

Behind the scenes in Hollywood…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Television at 9:25 pm by dinaheng

Aaron LaPlante drives the tram around Warner Bros. Studios, sharing the story of how TV shows and movies are made to the tourists who have come for a behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood studio.

I’ve been on a number of sets, watching the filming of movies and TV shows, but have never taken a tram tour, so am curious to see what it’s like.

LaPlante, a former tour guide in Seattle, rattled off bits of trivia at every turn. He tells us that the Burbank, Calif. lot sits on 110 acres, and that 10,000 people a day work there.dinah-eng-21

“The Warner brothers were originally exhibitors, and from 1923 to 1927, they started making silent films,” LaPlante says. “Their biggest star was ‘Rin Tin Tin.’ “

Ah, no wonder celebrities often complain as though they live a dog’s life.

It’s fun to see the make-believe streets, stores, and parks that stand in for reality on film. At  the “transportation department” stop, we get to see a number of familiar vehicles, including two Batmobiles, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, and Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine van.

Being a big Harry Potter fan, the best part of the tour for me was walking through an exhibit of Harry Potter memorabilia. Funny how much of our lives are spent imagining a life that’s different than the one we’re living.

As children, we learn from stories about others, and aspire to become like those we admire. As adults, we escape from the “ordinary” routine of our lives by watching TV shows and movies for entertainment. We live vicariously through some characters, learn empathy for strangers, and explore our values while discussing what we’ve watched.

As media companies have cut budgets, TV and movie critics have been among the first staff members to be let go or reassigned. News executives don’t see entertainment as being vital to society, but nothing connects people around the world like the TV shows and films that we watch.

Tourists flock to Hollywood in hopes of seeing celebrities, and tours like the one on the Warner Bros. lot give a taste of what it’s involved in creating fantasies on screen.

LaPlante walks us down Hennesy Street, originally designed with a Lower East Side New York feel for the movie “Annie.” He shows how various parts of the street were reused for the Batman films and other productions.

Getting back into the tram, we pass the set where “ER” was filmed for many years, and where the upcoming ABC series “Eastwick” is being made.

“No two tours are alike,” LaPlante says. “We go out with a trainer and drive the lots, learning about every single piece of equipment and building on the lot. So when I’m not walking a tour group through something, I talk about the history, or technical aspects of filmmaking.”

Tour guides go through 27 days of training, and are often young people looking to break into the entertainment industry. Given the amount of information that must be memorized, the guides no doubt learn more about movie making than they ever wanted to know.

They may not be able to say, “Lights… camera… action,” but who knows where they’ll end up. Today’s tour guide may well become tomorrow’s studio executive or star.

Dreams, after all, are meant to come true.

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