Touring Paramount Studios in Hollywood

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Paramount is one of the oldest studios in Hollywood (it was started in 1916), and tours are available to the public for a fee. Unlike Universal, which has become a theme park, Paramount is a working studio, and you will not find any thrill rides here. The tour offers a behind the scenes look at how movies are made and shows you the place where many famous films were shot. Paramount is the only major studio still located in Hollywood. The number of famous films shot on the lot includes The Godfather, Forest Gump, Sunset Boulevard and Titanic. Television shows include Cheers, Frasier and currently Nip Tuck.

I took this tour recently and found it very interesting, although it’s a bit overpriced for what you get. To visit the studio, first you must make a reservation at 323 956-1777. The tour cost $35.00 per person and children under 12 are not permitted. The tours are given Monday through Friday and last 2 hours. When you get to the studio you will park in a lot across from the Melrose Gate entrance (which is just beyond Gower Street on Melrose Avenue). The parking attendant will ask you if you have a reservation for a studio tour and you will pay five dollars to park. This fee is returned to you after the tour when you come back to pick up your car. I have no idea why they do things in this manner, but that is the policy.

You will cross the street and enter the studio through the guest entrance. Here they will find your reservation and issue you a guest pass. (You will not pay for the tour here.) Be sure to bring some form of identification–a passport or driver’s license. Security at studios is very tight. You will then take your guess pass and be escorted to an area where there is a souvenir shop and a Starbucks to wait for your tour to begin. It is here that you will pay for your ticket and major credit cards are accepted. One nice thing is that the tour groups are very small, no more than 9 people, so you can ask a lot of questions. Your tour guide will come find you and then you will be given an introduction to the studio in an outside area.

Our tour guide was a very nice young woman who told us about the history of the studio. There are kiosks with pictures from the past and of many stars that worked on the lot. After this orientation, you board a tram to ride for the rest of the tour, except for a few stops along the way where you will get off and walk. There were some extras (people who are working in the background of a movie) waiting where we boarded our tram and they got on another tram headed to the location of a film currently shot. You do actually see how things are done on this lot and none of it is “staged” for the benefit of people on the tour.

One of the first places we saw was where “I Love Lucy” was made, since Paramount now encompasses the old Desilu Studios. One of the most interesting things here is the Lucy Park, where Lucille Ball would bring her children to play while shooting her television series. The park is designed with several facades in the background–one of Lucy’s Beverly Hill’s house and another of her childhood home in upstate New York. It is said that she did this so she could have photographs taken that appeared she was spending time at home with her children when she was really at the studio.

Each sound stage at Paramount has a sign outside listing some of the famous movies and television shows shot there. We were able to visit the control room of Entertainment Tonight and see the director choosing what stories would be on the air that evening. Sure enough when I turned on my television at home later that night, ET was showing the same stories they were editing that afternoon. We also visited the set of Everybody Hates Chris that was shooting that day. On the set you are able to see how the walls of the set can be moved for camera angles and how everything on a sound stage operates.

A visit to the back lot showed how a street in New York could change into many different streets by the addition of shrubbery, awnings and decorations. Although the back lot at Paramount is small compared to Warner Brothers or Universal, you can truly see how so much of what we see is created by set decoration. The same street can be used over and over again and look completely different. A street in Paris can become a street in Chicago according to how it’s decorated. The large water tank at Paramount, which is against a huge sky backdrop, is used for boat scenes and miniature battle sequences. When it is not filled with water, it’s a parking lot.

One of the other highlights of the tour is the famous Bronson Gate, which is the old entrance gate to the studio and is featured in many movies, probably the most famous being when Gloria Swanson Rolls Royce enters it in Sunset Boulevard. There is also a stop at the relatively new Paramount Theatre, where movies are screened on the lot for stars and executives.

I wouldn’t go on the tour expecting to see movies stars, but you will get a behind the scenes look at movie making and get to see where some very famous movies were made. I wish the guide had been a bit more knowledgeable about some things when we asked questions, but the best part of the tour is that you are in such a small group that you really can chat about what you are seeing. At the end of the tour you are taken back to where you started and you can retrieve your car (and get your five dollars back). This tour certainly is a good alternative to the theme park experience of Universal. Warner Brothers and Sony (the old MGM studios) both offer studio tours, too. If you are a true film buff and love the history of movies, these are wonderful experiences. If you are looking for excitement, then go to Universal. For reservations, times and admission prices call Warner Brothers at 818 846-1403 or Sony Pictures at 323 520-8687.

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