The Universal Studios Backlot - A Creatives Paradise!
Updated: Mar 10
My good friend Callum Blue and I were at Universal Studios. This was my first trip to LA in 2012 and one of the highlights of my trip - in fact it was something I had wanted to do for a very long time. After Cal and I had behaved like a couple of kids in the Universal Studios Theme Park, we headed off to the part that I was most excited about - The Studio Tour!
The Universal Studio Tour is world famous - as the picture says (!) and I have to say, it is one of the most thrilling, exciting and inspiring things I have ever done. From the minute you hop onto one of the open tour trams...tram? bus? trolley? Whatever. From the get go you are transported into movie magic.
As you make your way down the ramp to the backlot, you drive past images of Universal produced movies which are dated with their year of release, and you head past Universal's own fire station. The Backlot of Universal has seen 9 fires in it's history but the worst was in 2008 when much of Courthouse Square, New York Street, the King Kong exhibit and the Film Vault were severely damaged or destroyed. The famous clock from 'Back to the Future' was also damaged but luckily survived.
Once you reach the bottom of the pathway, you are hit with the huge concrete blocks of the
Universal soundstages complete with enormous billboards of whichever show happens to be filming in them. On stage number 26, 'CSI' was making it's 12,000th season. Yes folks, set in Vegas, filmed in LA! Moving through the maze of soundstage, past the backlots own cafe, you reach a quaint little row of production offices, including one that had a familiar sketch of a gentleman's profile; this was Alfred Hitchcock's production office. As a huge Hitchcock fan this was something pretty special to see.
And then it hits you. The vast, sprawling joy of various themed sets and streets. Each tour route is different depending on what is being used for filming, but we headed into New York and Brownstone Street. Having been rebuilt after the 2008 fire, Brownstone Street has featured in numerous films and TV shows including 'Bruce Almighty', 'NYPD Blue' and 'Ally McBeal' and really is just like being on a residential street in NYC! After leaving the Big Apple we moved into what can only be described as a legend. Courthouse Square.
Courthouse Square has secured it's place in movie history by being the main hub of Hill Valley in the 'Back to the Future' trilogy, but it was also the main setting for 'Ghost Whisperer', 'Gremlins', 'Weird Science' and 'To Kill A Mockingbird'; in fact it used to be called Mockingbird Square! As we carried on in our tour trolley tram bus, I just happened to glance to my left and see the iconic entrance walls to Marty McFly's road - Lyon Estates! Just
casually hanging out in the back lot!
After Courthouse Square we hit London and some very familiar looking buildings. I say buildings but of course these sets are mostly just facade. Look behind them and there is plenty of steelwork holding them in place - the magic of the movies!
Moving away from the streets we pushed further into the Backlot and past a row of famous movie and TV cars including Kit from 'Knight Rider', the fantastic 80's Ferrari from 'Magnum Pi' (I still have a huge crush on Tom Selleck!) and 'Back to the Future' cars, the striking DeLorean and Biff Tannan's Ford Super De Luxe - without the manure! Next up was a visually stunning display in how to blow up cars in 'The Fast and the Furious' experience and then the newly built 'King Kong' - where Callum and I basically got the crap scared out of us. It's a 3D, vomit inducing, body convulsing ride where neither of us could control being thrown around our vehicle!
Another famous street in the Backlot is Colonial Street. Again it's been used in multiple
productions but you will probably recognise is best as Wisteria Lane from 'Desperate Housewives' or Mayfield Place from 'The Burbs'. It even pops up in Nelly's 'Dilemma' music video! The street pretty much looks the same as it did in 'Desperate Housewives', but there is one very special house down here. It's had a remodel and looks a little different but the picture to the left is the old 'The Munsters' house! Amazing!
Next, we came to the part of the backlot that took my breath away, and to be honest I've been back since and still can't take on the detail of it all, and this was 'The War of the Worlds' set. This 2005 remake starring Tom Cruise was a big hit and looking at this set you can see the work that went into it. I can't even describe how incredible it was so am just going to show you in pictures - by the way, that plane is a real place that Universal bought and then tore apart, yes, they destroyed a full size place.
It was at this point that emotion overcame Callum and he declared he wanted to be a movie star. I politely pointed out to him that he was a movie star. He thought about that for a moment and announced he wanted to be a bigger movie star! Love him. But in all honesty, we were both quite speechless at the incredible hard work and commitment that goes into developing these sets and these productions. We both work in the industry of course, but seeing it on this level is something else entirely.
The tour sadly came to an end but other highlights were the 'Jaws' lake (although that's more for show as it was actually filmed in Martha's Vineyard) where oil cans explode and a 'still looks very' fake shark comes at you with his mouth wide open, the Mexican village where you are flooded in your bus trolley tram, the subway where the roof caves in and a lorry threatens to crush you before the subway floods and production secrets such as Green Screens and small scale models for special effects. It's mind-blowing, it's brilliant and if you like your movies, it's must see.
Callum and I finished the tour and, exhausted and overcome from our Universal Studios experience, decided to have a quiet night in with an In and Out Burger and a horror film!
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