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 LA set
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.

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