Sound Stages

Part 4 of 5

Part 1: Photos

Part 2: Studio Tours

Part 3: Exteriors

Part 5: Props, Etc

One of the highlights in the long and short tour is going onto the soundstage for an hour long television drama. By go on the soundstage I mean you get to walk on and around the sets. This is very cool. Unfortunately, but understandably, they don’t allow photos. This time my tour got on the set for CBS’s The Mentalist. This screenshot from yawgurt.com shows the office set we got to walk thru.

This, and the hospital set from ER my family got to go on in 2002, look and feel like a real office or a real hospital. As the tour guides explain how scenes are shot you start to get an appreciation for all that goes into making a TV show.

As you can see in the Yawgurt image, the sets are built 360-degrees around. That helps them appear more realistic but limits them to using only one camera. Any more and they would have a hard time avoiding being in another’s shot. How many times do they have to film the same scene with one camera? The tour guides pick out two people and goes thru a simple dialogue scene.

First they set up a shot with both actors. This might involve taking out a window, as it often does in The Mentalist.  All of the windows are built to easily pop out or swivel to accommodate this or times when a window will cause a reflection. The camera films a shot that shows both actors going thru their lines. That’s one. The director says cut, everyone breaks and they reposition the camera over one actor’s shoulder. The actors repeat their lines again. That’s two. They move everything again to shoot over the other actor’s shoulder. Three. Now they have a wide shot and close-ups of both actors saying and reacting to the dialogue. It probably took a few hours.

Now imagine a scene from Criminal Minds when the team is discussing a case as seen in this image. (It doesn’t film at Warner Bros.) Seven actors exchanging lines and reactions around a table. You can see how long that must take for just two or three minutes of screen time. And they’re not even moving! A 42-minute drama takes several days to shoot, and they don’t do it in the order you see in the finished episode. It’s a really cool perspective on what goes into a show that makes you appreciate editors who stitch together scenes shot days apart from multiple angles into one coherent string of footage.

A sitcom is set a little different. Their sets only have three walls so that everything can face the studio audience. Without a fourth wall it is easier to accommodate multiple cameras, so they film from multiple angles at once. With retakes and rewrites a 22-minute sitcom can take 5 hours or more.

Warner Bros’ Stage 16 is one of the tallest in the world at 65 feet and boasts accommodations for 2 million gallons of water. All kinds of famous scenes filmed in Stage 16. For me, the t-rex scenes from Jurassic Park are the most notable. You can see more about Stage 16 and layouts for all of the stages on Warner’s site.

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