One highlight of the Paramount Studios tour is the Paramount Studios backlot. The backlot recreates a number of generic city neighborhoods that have been used in movies and television shows. If you’ve flown on United Airlines recently, you’ve seen some of the backlot in the airplane safety video:
We also visited the (physical) film and video library, which staff were digitizing. The organization of the collection seemed a little haphazard—one shelf contained, in order, “Top Gun”, “Paranormal Activity 2”, “Iron Man 2”, “The Perfect Score,” “Ghost”, “Hotel for Dogs”, “School of Rock”, and so on—but overall, the visit felt like going into a miniature of the warehouse scene from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Then there were the various props and costumes. A small sampling:
So, you’re walking down an unexceptional street in Los Angeles. Fast food, cars, some nondescript houses and buildings, and a curious-looking character or two.
However, the view of the Hollywood sign and the large white trucks might give you a clue as to what’s nearby … as might the globe atop the building or the small but familiar logo on one of those nondescript buildings.
Welcome to Paramount Studios! While we waited for the tour to begin, we enjoyed some history, including costumes designed by Edith Head, famous props, and (not shown) clips from famous Paramount films and television programs.
Then it was on to the main campus, where we got to see how the magic is done.
Fun facts: With regard to Hitchcock’s career at Paramount: he was known for abusing his actors and crew, and the sound stages themselves, to get the shots he wanted. For Rear Window, Hitchcock removed the sound stage floor—without notifying the studio execs—to build the courtyard level into the basement. He also wanted to show cars driving along his streets, so he had actors drive the cars inside the sound stage, despite the fact that the sound stage doors are hermetically sealed to keep outside noises, well, outside; after a few days of running the engines, the studio execs had to put a stop to it, to keep the ensemble from dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. (For this reason, you can see cars driving normally in some scenes, and cars creeping along, being pushed by hidden extras, in others.)
We had booked the VIP tour, so we got to see more of the behind-the-scenes areas. One such area was the sign shop, which at its height employed 20 artists, but now—with computerization—requires only three. One of them was on duty, and he explained a lot of the operation. Another fun fact: if a film creates an official seal or copyrighted object, the artists have to modify 20 percent of it so to not counterfeit the item or infringe on the copyright.