Photos: Paramount Studios VIP Tour

After doing the all-day VIP tour at Warner Bros. Studios when I was in Los Angeles a few years ago, the 5-hour VIP tour at Paramount Studios was on my to-do list for my visit this past July. Because it was late July we were on the early end of filming for the fall TV season, so unfortunately the streetscapes were off-limits for the day. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was filming an explosion scene on the main New York street, but we were able to sneak a look as some guys in tactical gear ran out of a building, followed by some smoke and a scaffolding tower rigged to fall. Exciting! I meant to watch the season premier to see if I could catch the scene, but of course I forgot.

With Paramount Studios of the course the big attraction is its famous gate. Though not the main gate anymore it is still a thrill to think about how many Hollywood stars passed through it.

Paramount Studios gate
This is the famous gate at Paramount Studios, from back when it was known as Paramount Pictures.

One of the things I enjoy about studios is the way everything on the lot is made generic enough to be the backdrop for any film shoot a production might need. This courtyard outside the gift shop is a gathering place for studio employees, but the area is landscaped in a way for it to be shot as a park, a backyard or the outdoor courtyard it really is.

A smaller courtyard on the Paramount lot that can be used for outdoor shots.

The area below is built the same way. Studio employees work inside while cameras roll outside when the building needs to be an embassy, hotel or a residence.

Paramount Studios courtyard
Part of the courtyard just beyond the Paramount Studios gate.

And speaking of residences, doesn’t this look like it could be the living room window of a house in just about anywhere? It’s actually right across from the buildings in the previous photo, and it was Alfred Hitchcock’s office.

Alfred Hitchcock office window
The window of Alfred Hitchcock’s office at Paramount.

Here’s another great example: These offices are built to look like a motel. A similar office building at Warner Bros. was used for hotel scenes in Argo.

Paramount Studios office
An office building at Paramount that doubles as apartments or hotels when they need it to.

For more exterior shots Paramount built alleyways on the back of some of its sound stages. On one side they are the large numbered buildings people think of, like this Stage 9 where NCIS: Los Angeles shoots. In the bottom right you can even see an exterior set the show uses for an outdoor entrance.

NCIS Los Angeles sometimes uses that entry set for exterior shots.

This is what it looks like just around the corner. Filmed on one side it could be the back of some warehouse buildings; filmed from the other it’s an old apartment building or hotel. The grungy exterior is a paint effect to make it look older. Does anything look a little off? Check out the electric pole. It’s built short on purpose to help sell the illusion. Chances are you’ve seen countless short poles on movies and TV without noticing. Magic!

You can see how a tight shot at night would make this appear like a dark alley. Note the short electric pole.
You can see how a tight shot at night would make this appear like a dark alley. Note the short electric pole.

The brick street, by the way, is kinda fake. Basically a type of plastic.

Fake brick street
Plastic, not brick.

Throw some litter on the sidewalk and this looks like the kind of place you might not want to walk alone at night.

Paramount streetscape set
This streetscape set is build on the back of a soundstage.

As this wider shot shows, it’s just he side of a building. The dirty paint effect is here as well to sell the look.

Notice the electric pole? They build them shorter to be more easily fit into a shot and make the scene more believable.
Notice the electric pole? They build them shorter to be more easily fit into a shot and make the scene more believable.

I put this photo here because the walls here (most likely made of wood, not tile or steel like they appear) have the same wear painted on them as the blue doors on the streetscape above. Maybe you’ll see them in on of your favourite fall shows.

Paramount Studios sets
Some wood panels about to be assembled and believed to be tile walls or a steel door.

This construction shop says NCIS on it, but no one knows why that’s there.

Paramount Studios set construction
Construction at Paramount Studios is a 365-day a year job.

The last outdoor look before we went inside for lunch was at this golf cart, which actually belongs to Dr. Phil. The guys from Jackass stole it and decked it out with flames and the whole nine yards.

Dr. Phil's golf cart
Dr. Phil’s golf cart after the guys from Jackass got through with it.

We ate a catered lunch on the set of Dr. Phil. This was the only sound stage we got to enter, which is a stark difference from the Warner Bros. tours. At Paramount you can only get into studios your tour guide works on. Ours, an aspiring screenwriter, works as what is essentially a stage hand at Dr. Phil. Prior to the show he and other workers go through the line of visitors waiting to get in to watch the show and gives them cards that were dictate where they sit. It works exactly as you think it would: Attractive people in the front, ugly people in the back. Hollywood.

One question came up from multiple tour groups as we were eating: Are the guests real? Everyone who worked on the show insisted they are. Our guide told stories about confrontations back stage and even having to once chase guests as they ran right off the stage and out the door of the studio.

I should also note the stories about chaos behind the scenes on the Dr. Phil show. 

We weren’t supposed to take any photos, no studio lets you do that. But I did.

Dr. Phil set
The set of Dr. Phil, minus furniture.

After lunch we got a look at some of the props used in Paramount’s films and a walk through its archive.

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The last image in the slideshow is the back of a wall build around the outside of the archive building. Here’s the view from outside. As you can tell, it’s painted to look like the sky. The cars are actually parked in what serves as Paramount’s water tank for large outdoor shots that need to look like they’re on the ocean or a lake. You can see along the bottom where they’ve built the walls up to hold the water in. In part because of the drought, but mostly because of the cost, the tank hasn’t been flooded in years.

Paramount Studios water tank
The water tank is rarely flooded and has been a parking lot for years.

It’s tough to tell unless you click through to the full-size image and zoom in further, but this is the only studio street in Hollywood with a clear view of the Hollywood sign. And yeah, those are some crazy clouds back there. They looked like the famous spaceship scene in Independence Day, except they were a bazillion times bigger. It looked like doom. There was a storm north of the mountains that never quite got over them, much to the dismay of communities stuck underneath it. I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life and seem some pretty epic storm formations. But nothing like this.

Paramount Studios Hollywood sign
The street on the Paramount Studios lot that lines up perfectly with the Hollywood sign in the background.

The last real sight on the tour is this courtyard, and it was one of the most interesting. I didn’t know this, but Lucille Ball played a major role in Paramount history. Her office, dressing room is the building with the blue windows on the left. She had the grassy area installed for her kids so she could show that a woman and mother can work in Hollywood without neglecting her family. This blog from a costume designer who works in the building is a worth a read.

Ball and her husband, Dezi Arnaz, were major players in Hollywood, far more than I ever knew. As this blog explains, their idea to film with multiple cameras changed the way television was made (sitcoms are still shot this way) and they were instrumental in bringing Star Trek and Mission: Impossible to life.

Lucile Ball courtyard
Lucile Ball had this big courtyard built for her family to show she could run a studio and be a mom.

Paramount Studios offer a shorter tour if you don’t want to shell out $175 for the VIP experience. The Warner Bros. VIP tour is $250, but it’s a full day and you do see a little more than Paramount. If you’re hardcore and don’t mind spending the money, I would recommend Warner. If you want to se a little more than the standard tour, but don’t want to go all out, Paramount offers a great option.

Who (Might Have) Shot Annalise On #HTGAWM [UPDATED]

In my earlier post on season two of How To Get Away With Murder I mentioned we won’t know who shot Annalise Keating until the point when the writers can’t hide it any longer, and it looks like we’re two episodes away from that point. Thinking back to last year’s two big reveals – who killed Sam and who killed Lila – we couldn’t have made a realistic guess because the writer’s held the final reveal until the very last second.

I think the same will happen here. They might even do a little misdirection like they did with Sam. So while I think it’s a fool’s errand to go predicting who will shoot Annalise, I think it is worth taking a look back at what they’ve given us in the seven episode so far this fall. Every episode begins and ends around the Hapstall mansion and recent weeks have drawn in nearly every character relevant in season two. Here is a look back at each, starting with the season premiere.

Episode 1
Characters: Wes, Annalise
Wes is seen running from the Hapstall mansion.

Episode 2 – Two Months Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel
Wes is running from the mansion like in episode one. He meets Michaela and Laurel, who are looking for Connor. Connor is with the bleeding Annalise telling her it’s not her fault.

Connor is with Annalise as the other three run in and convince him to leave her. As they run out of the mansion they go past the dead body of Emily Sinclair, the prosecutor going after Nate.

Episode 3 – 7 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel, Connor, Nate
The four students are running out the mansion’s gate. Nate is in a car, calling Annalise but she can’t get to her phone in time.

The four students are running in the woods and hid from a car, which turns out to be Nate, who gives them a ride. He’s in a police cruiser.

Episode 4 – 4 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel, Connor, Nate, Caleb Hapstall
Law enforcement and paramedics are at the mansion with Annalise. The four students are still in the car with Nate when Michaela gets a call.

Their car pulls up to an apartment building. Nate stresses that the only way they can get in trouble is to worry about things they can’t control. Laurel interjects that killing someone can get them in trouble. Nate reassures and says to focus. He sends Michaela inside. She goes into an apartment where Caleb Hapstall is waiting. He asks how she is, she assures him she’s fine but he gives her a look.

Episode 5 – 3 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Bonnie, Asher
Bonnie runs out of the mansion, past Emily’s dead body. She gets into the driver’s seat of a car with Asher waiting. She promises him it’s almost over.

Bonnie pulls into a gas station where she runs into the bathroom and ditches her bloody undershirt. The blood is under her left chest, similar to where Annalise was shot. She has blood all over her arms. When she comes out the car is still there but Asher is gone, he’s at the police station and says he needs to make a statement.

Episode 6 – 2 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Frank, Catherine Hapstall
Annalise is brought into the emergency room where a frantic Frank follows her until he is removed. He leaves the ER, past a security camera, then calmly walks to his car where Catherine is unconscious in the back.

Frank lays Catherine’s body in the woods. A cop finds her right as she awakens with a shirt covered in blood spatter.

Episode 7 – 4 Days Earlier
Characters: Michaela, Connor
At the mansion, Michaela and Connor come down a set of interior steps as he tells her she doesn’t have to come if she doesn’t want to and that there are no excuses this time. Laurel and Wes overhear them and wonder what to do. Wes says to stop them and he has a gun.

Michaela and Connor are just out of the mansion, Laurel and Wes are outside on an upper level. Connor tells Michaela not to turn back. Right then Emily’s body lands in behind them. They look up to see Bonnie standing above all of them on an upper level of the mansion.

The only ones we haven’t seen at the mansion this point are Frank, the Hapstalls and Oliver (whose fate is up in the air after the most recent episode). But the timing of what they gave us in episode seven is significant.

What happened here – Michaela and Connor leaving while Laurel and Wes, with gun in hand, overhear – happened before Emily died, meaning before what we saw at the mansion in every previous episode. Emily’s body first appeared at the close of episode two as Connor, Wes, Michaela and Laurel ran past it after the later three convinced Connor to leave Annalise.

Here are the questions that leaves:

  • Connor has to go back into the mansion at some point. Why?
  • Wes had to be separated from Michaela and Laurel at some point. How? What do those two do that gets them outside the mansion?
  • Wes didn’t have the gun when we first saw him running from the mansion. Where did it go? Is it the same gun he gets from Rebecca’s brother? Is it the gun used to shoot Annalise?
  • Is this why Bonnie was running out of the mansion?

We’ll get the answers to these questions, and probably others we don’t even know to ask, in the next two weeks.



And the latest from episode 8 – three days earlier.

Characters: Connor, Wes, Laurel, Michaela, Bonnie


The four come running back into the house with Laurel saying “You seriously thought we wouldn’t notice?” and they are arguing. Connor says, “How are you both okay with this?” Bonnie comes down the stairs and meets them. She tells Connor there was no decision here and to agree or he’s the next dead body out there. Bonnie then asks for and gets the gun from Wes. She goes walking away.

There was no closing mansion scene. Instead the episode ending with the shocker that it may have been Katherine who shot her parents in tandem with her inbred brother. Caleb took Michaela to a heating vent where he found the gun hidden a week ago. Wes noticed one of Katherine’s paintings in the background of a photo of Philip (the inbred brother) playing video games.

So do we need to add Katherine and Philip to our suspect list? Annalise was exceptionally harsh toward him tonight, but he proved himself by bribing a lab assistant to run a DNA test that helped avoid Katherine taking a plea deal.

I still believe there’s something as yet unrevealed that we will need to know before we can reasonably guess who shoots Annalise. We’ll learn in 7 days.




How How To Get Away With Murder Gets Away With Everything

When they kept playing the promo clip of Annalise Keating writing on her chalkboard and drawing out the phrase “Howww to get aaawaaaay with muuurrrderrr” last fall I couldn’t get over how truly awful that show sounded. I’ve not been a big Scandal fan – tried the pilot, thought it was pretty lame – so the Shonda Rhimes connection didn’t do it for me either.

For some reason I watched the HTGAWM pilot.

I…loved it! Instantly hooked. Viola Davis was dynamite, oozing control and power in every scene. Spectacular. It made the show all the more impactful when they started to peel back the layers of Annalise’s invulnerability, and that was when HTGAWM shined. When Annalise took off her wig for the first time. When she confronted Sam. “Why’s your penis on a dead girl’s phone.” Bam!

Annalise is essentially a female anti-hero in the mold of all the male roles we (or I, at least) have grown tired of. But we see so few female characters in that role it’s not tired when Viola Davis does it. Keating is a brilliant lawyer who almost always wins and loves saving the underdog; she’s also a controlling, at times belligerent, figure who stops at nothing to portray and protect her power over everyone around her. The people who should hate her can’t hate her because she made them. Her control is absolute.

The best example came toward the end of season one when Bonnie dropped to her knees at Annalise’s feet to beg for continued acceptance. That’s why it was no shock to see Bonnie suffocate Rebecca in the basement. She knows Annalise is keeping at least one, probably two, killers in her circle. And they’re closer to Annalise than anyone. Bonnie wants to be that close. That’s the Annalise character in full glory.

Annalise is morally flawed in countless ways, as is every character on the show. It embraces and flaunts their shortcomings so freely that everything that happened in season one was completely believable. No one flinched when Frank emerged as Lila’s killer because it’s not a leap to believe knowing the way he uses his position to get in bed with Annalise’s students. It’s essential we see and believe their moral flaws in order for the show to create suspense. Everyone has to be a potential killer in order for someone to be.

I saw a note from a TV critic on Twitter that ABC didn’t send out the usual screeners for the season two premier. The critic speculated this happens when something big is going down, and she was right. If you’re going to end the episode with Annalise gasping for breath in a pool of blood you don’t want it being leaked.

So that’s our storyline for season two. Two months in the future, someone will shoot Annalise in the mansion of two children suspected of knife murdering their adopted parents. Just before the cliffhanger we hear the gunshot and see Wes running from the house. Did he do it? Last season would instruct us that there is much we don’t yet know, and won’t know until the moment when the writers can no longer hide it.

Walt Shot WHO?! Longmire Returns For Season 4

What a joy it is to get to write about a fourth season of Longmire! I was among the legions of fans scorching A&E on social media after the once-proud network announced it would not renew one of its most highly rated programs. It did not help itself by suggesting the reason for giving it the ax was that the demographic was too old. Netflix, that stalwart brand among the world’s aged, came to our rescue and released Longmire’s 10-episode fourth season on September 10.

I probably was not alone in fearing it would come back unrecognizable, but as I watched it last weekend I realized my assumption was not giving Netflix enough credit. You might expect a drastic change had Longmire gone from A&E to, say, Velocity. But Netflix has such a broad appeal that it does not need to typecast its own programming. So please accept my apologies, Netflix, for assuming the worst of you.

The evolutions apparent in season four were those of a show maturing beyond its original storylines. We dealt with three season’s of Walt pursuing vengeance for Martha’s death, and in season four Walt dealt with it himself. It seemed a tad rushed to have the arrows point to Barlow Connally so quickly in Walt’s house but the drama and Walt’s final decisive act delivered a worthy end to his founding storyline.

Many shows fail to make the pivot toward a new arch and meet a slow demise. Some argue this happened with Lost after season two. I would submit (and will in a later post) that Person of Interest faces this imminent danger. Based on other changes we saw in season four I feel comfortable that the brains behind Longmire have a plan. It is going to be a challenging one for fans to accept, but it beats not having Longmire at all.

The biggest and most jarring part of the plan, delivered in the outstanding opening scenes, is life in Absaroka County with out Branch. I give big props to the storytellers for coming up with a better way to reveal his death than simply picking up where season three ended. (There is probably no way A&E gets to visualize Branch’s final reaping pose the way Netflix could.) I also liked the decision to give uncertainty to his replacement, I think some instability in the previously stable sheriff’s office will leave the show plenty of avenues to explore (although hopefully better than will Vic hookup with anyone).

The other major changes that set the show for future seasons are the ones I think will challenge Longmire’s most devoted fans: The evolution of two of our favourite characters. Everyone loves the occasionally stumbling Ferg and pulls for him to become a great deputy. A lot of the Ferg love comes from his loyalty to Walt, but this season challenged that loyalty. A sheriff like Walt needs loyalty if he is going to be sheriff the way he wants to be sheriff. If Deputy Ferguson wavers he could replace Branch as the source of Walt’s foil. That would be a benefit to the Ferg character but leave fans torn between two favourites. Drama!

“It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony bar and continual soirée.” I do not know if his perfectly timed dry wise cracks or the absence of contractions in his speak pleasures me more, but I just love Henry Standingbear. He was Walt’s conscience in the most crucial moments of his quest to appease Martha, including in a fun scene from the season premier. But there has always been the sense that he could break bad if he had to, and at times this season it looked like he would. He is in the hands of Mathias now. The character feels like it could go either way – back to good or breaking bad.

Speaking of Mathias, I was very happy to see things thaw between him and Walt and between Nighthorse and Walt. The way things went early in the season I was full of dread that the show would turn into Walt versus the Indians. I think it is a better show when Walt and Mathias get along and he and Nighthorse at least do not completely hate each other.

There was a small moment in the thawing of their relationship that I think really filled in Walt’s character. Facing off in the casino, Nighthorse pledged to work with Walt on a case only if Walt apologized for blaming him for Martha’s murder. Walt did not flinch and gave a true apology, Nighthorse accepted. I think it revealed both characters as inherently good now that I think about it.

We love Longmire of course because we love Walt, so it was charming to see him try to put the moves on Dr. Monahan, played by the incomparably beautiful Ally Walker. Walt’s relationship with the famous author felt like kind of a fling that was too good for a Wyoming lawman to last. This one seems like they can make it into a real relationship. With the two of them entwined as someone broke into Walt’s house to end the season it seems like it will be.

Which brings us to the only thing I was frustrated with in season four: Vic. The season began with her heading to Walt’s house with a sixer of Ranier and I was like “Well I guess that is where it is going.” Then it disappeared until the season finale. Wut? In that way it felt like Vic herself completely disappeared. She had been the focus of previous seasons so maybe they decided to give her a year off, or maybe they wanted to keep her constant with so many other characters in transition.

I binged all 10 episodes of season four over the weekend, and there is no word on if or when we’ll see a season five. So now we wait.

Where You Been, Blogger

Well. It’s been ages since my last post so I guess I owe an explanation. Nothing scandalous, I just have a job. Landed it about a year and a half ago. Since that time I’ve wanted to make sure it was getting my full attention and my full creative mojo, which meant the blog had to take a back seat. But I’m back now and there is a lot to catch up on, including the site design, which is going to get a change.

Let’s start with the biggest travesty since ABC axed Last Resort: A&E canceled my beloved Longmire after its third season. A third season that ended with an empty shell bouncing on the ground after Branch and his father stared each other down over shotgun barrels. Who shot whom? I thought it was Branch because the shell landed by a box that would have been at his feet. Thankfully Netflix saved us and put out a pretty bold 10-episode season.

The decision to cancel unleashed a hell storm of angry fans on the A&E Facebook page, a problem fed not so much by the cancellation but the given reason: Longmire’s audience was too old. The cable channel is moving to populate its primetime lineup with cheaper “reality” shows that follow the likes of Donnie Walberg. Months after the cancelation fans still bombard every A&E update with messages conveying their displeasure and pledge to never watch the channel again. I’m one of them. The only other A&E show I watch was Bates Motel, and I never got into season two. Life goes on.

Let’s see, what else happened…

Alyssa Milano left Mistresses. Yeah. That happened. After filming wrapped on season two the show joined the long list of productions that packed up to follow the lucrative stream of taxpayer revenue offered by cities and states that aren’t Hollywood, California. Finances aside, it’s a mind-numbingly stupid decision by ABC executives to move the show 1,800 miles to Toronto after its star and main character had her second child. Babies are known about well in advance of their birth so ABC either knew she’d quit and didn’t care or foolishly thought she’d uproot her growing family. Stupid calculations either way.

Milano was open to the idea of a one-episode appearance to wrap Savannah’s story. I don’t think that’s a good idea and it didn’t happen. Season three went on just fine without her. I think the writers did an admirable job of crafting a storyline that left me thinking the Savi character would have been a real drag on the show.

Apart from the off-screen drama from my two favorite summer shows, the television world kept turning. The old standbys still move forward. Some rising, some stumbling. There’s a lot to talk about. Stay tuned.