Universal Studios… and art

I was far too tired to write a blog post yesterday as I had been exhausted by the wonderful place that was Universal Studios Hollywood. The ‘entertainment capital of LA’ was much smaller than its Orlando counterpart and had less rides, but it had the distinction of actually being a working studio rather than just a theme park. The world-famous studio tour was undoubtedly the highlight of the day; not even the humour of The Simpsons Ride, the sheer thrills of Revenge of the Mummy or the pyrotechnics of Waterworld could contend. It wasn’t just a tour – it was a tour-de-force of façades, vehicles, special effects, hilarious videos starring Jimmy Fallon and an impressive 3D King Kong experience authorised by Peter Jackson himself. The ‘Have a Tram-tastic day’ song was firmly lodged in my head for the rest of the day.

Some examples of the many facades at the Universal lot.
The Bates Motel – my favourite set from the tour.

Today, after an awesome church service at Reality LA south of Sunset Boulevard, I headed up to the renowned Getty Center for just a short amount of time. While my interest in paintings and sculptures falls far behind that of film, the architecture of the galleries was very impressive, and the views even more spectacular.

The Getty.

I also went to the Santa Monica coast and observed the intimidating and near-impossible ‘Muscle Beach’, where the most buff of the California population go to climb ropes, rings and just generally show off.

I don’t have any pictures of that though.

Ah well.

Tomorrow I’m off to Six Flags Magic Mountain, the multiple-record-breaking theme park which houses some of the fastest and most furious rollercoasters around, another of my passions. I’m now two years post-back surgery so keep your fingers crossed that I don’t transform into a reluctant Nosferatu after going on a particularly strenuous ride. All 3 of you reading this.


Paramount Pictures and Hollywood Boulevard!

I initially had a few reservations about LA. Yesterday we spent a very boring and long time in traffic and the sky was pretty overcast. However, today I (roughly) got over the jet-lag and threw those ideas out of the window. No matter what your view, the centre of Hollywood is deliriously exciting, with lots of people in silly movie costumes, beautifully constructed movie palaces, street artists and, of course, the iconic Walk of Fame. You do see the odd homeless person (with optional offensive signage) or a political protestor, but you just ignore those people. My journey to discover the American film industry today began not on the Boulevard itself but in one of the most famous places around, and the sole working studio that still remains in Hollywood itself, as oppose to Burbank: Paramount.

Paramount Pictures

Our guide showed us around to several soundstages, which has in Paramount’s history housed the likes of Orson Welles with Citizen Kane to the entire Glee cast. These were enormous and had massive insulated walls. The other major attraction that we drove to in our golf cart was an impressive series of building façades that gave the illusion of New York City. Here is the home of the young Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris:

Chris Rock’s house – I think

Our tour guide reliably informed us that when this lot was rented to a production company that company could do whatever they wanted as long as they promised to restore it when finished This includes blowing up the pavement as J.J. Abrams did in Cloverfield. We also saw sets from Breakfast at Tiffany’sBuffy the Vampire Slayer, The Godfather, the TV show Community and Vanilla Sky.

We also gained access to Paramount’s massive screening room and I sat in the chair where Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams had edited some of their movies. I seriously nearly fell over in the chair when I first sat down but I eventually stabled myself to give a directorial pose:

‘That’s right! Delete the Transformers movies from existence!’

It was a really authentic tour and I very much enjoyed it. Sadly I didn’t see any celebrities but I thought that the surprise entrance of Mila Kunis yesterday made up for it.

I then went to the Hollywood Museum near Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a three-odd-storey building which houses a collection of movie props and memorabilia. It was a quaint little place and while it wasn’t exhaustive in its props there was plenty of interesting things to see; a whole floor was dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, and there was a fabulous exhibition piece on Max Factor, the Polish innovator who invented many modern make-up items (such as mascara) and tried them out on early film stars. One of my favourite exhibits was the Hannibal Lecter cell from Silence of the Lambs; a cold thrill of terror shot through me as I peered in to the home of a cold-hearted killer.

Clarice makes her approach…
‘A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.’

I rounded off the day with a wonderful walking tour on Hollywood Boulevard. Our guide told us the history behind all of the most famous buildings and cinemas in the area whilst opening our eyes to some of the famous scandals that had taken place! It was also great to hear the story of the Hollywood stars and why many people refused to be given one – either because you have to pay $30,000, or because several fictional characters exist as stars including Mickey Mouse (thus the credibility is ruined). But my favourite place to go was Grauman’s Egyptian Theater – recently restored with the help of the American Cinematheque, and with a brilliant interior:

The Egyptian Theater now shows all kinds of old classic films and new releases, often with Director or cast introductions.

I then got back to my apartment and gratefully collapsed. I really wanted to go to a double bill at the Egyptian Theater but nobody wanted to go with me! So I vowed to return there at some point and pick up many of the amazing postcards that I had spotted in the foyer.

Tomorrow I’m off to Universal Studios. The Florida version is one of my favourite places in the world. It remains to be seen if the Hollywood version will match up. See you then.

I’m in LA

The relentless peril of exams has now ground to a halt and I have been set free. So, this very morning (it will be yesterday morning to British people) I left Heathrow airport at 11.30 and arrived in the USA eleven hours later. On board I was treated to what felt like a particularly violent simulator ride 30,000 feet in the air, with double dips and consequent squeals of terror. It wasn’t a very pleasant flight but eventually I would come to touch down in the city of a million different stories, of glamour and hype, of expensive restaurants and striking movie studios. In fact, perhaps the most famous place in the world – Hollywood.

Well, it didn’t get off to a great start. I nearly broke US Federal Law by unwittingly almost bringing a banana into the States without declaring it. I was sniffed out by a (rather cute but deceptive) dog, my first thought being: ‘Oh no! Someone’s stashed some illegal drugs into my suitcase like in those border patrol shows! Is that a taser?’ Luckily, I was able to just hand it over, which they promptly binned (no wonder they’re all so large).

Upon leaving LAX I was instantly greeted by what I’m told is stereotypical of LA – traffic! If you thought driving round Soho on a Friday night is slow, then you should see the kind of jams that build up over here. Six lanes on the freeway, all crammed with random cars and people trying to get around. We hastily moved off the freeway as soon as possible and made our way to Sunset Boulevard, passing through Beverly Hills on the way…

The houses here are very expensive.
I feel like the narration from Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Blvd.’ is about to kick in…

There isn’t really much else that I did that day which is noteworthy. I was myself barely able to adapt to the change in time zones which is why I’m finishing this at four o’clock in the morning. Anyway. As we drove down Hollywood Boulevard and passed perhaps the most famous cinema in LA, we noticed that there was a premiere going on. As I kept my eyes peeled, I realised that the film was Seth Macfarlane’s ‘Ted’, and a certain Mila Kunis was moving across the road in front of us…

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Sorry for the unflattering circle, Mila, but my zoom doesn’t extend very far…

So I’m now going to try and get some sleep before a crazy and eventful day of stuff… today. I hope you enjoyed reading this and hope you’ll come back to hear more of my adventures in the filmmaking capital of the world.