If you’re a TV and movie fanatic like me, touring a studio lot is one of the best experiences, because it’s a chance to immerse yourself into the world of production and see what it really takes to create some of those shows and films that you love and watch over and over again.
While in Los Angeles, Jen and I went up to Burbank to check out the Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood, a massive 110-acre lot filled with sound stages, exterior lots, production offices, prop houses, post-production suites, and more for a tour to see how some of our favourite shows and movies were made. The regular studio tour is 2 hours long, but we splurged on the 5+ hour VIP experience that gave us some added bonuses, and was totally worth the additional cost.
Some of the shows regularly filming at WB Studios right now are Pretty Little Liars, Conan, Ellen, and The Big Bang Theory. The lot also used to be the home of Friends and Gilmore Girls. I was especially excited to see all of the exterior sets of PLL and maybe even catch a glimpse of Conan (or Jordan Schlansky!) on the lot.
The VIP tour runs once a day and is capped to ensure that the experience is intimate and gives everyone a chance to ask their questions. Our tour guide, Thom, was incredibly knowledgeable and super passionate about his job, which made our tour even more enjoyable. A completely unsuspecting bonus was that we also got to have lunch with Cass Warner – the granddaughter of one of the founding Warner Brothers!
Photos were by and large welcome on the lot (except for the active sound stages and a couple of rooms here and there), and I’m so excited to share a peek into the great experience we had. And if you’re a PLL or Friends fan, you can only imagine how excited I was when you see what I got to see.
The first order of business on the VIP tour (after watching a short film on the history of the WB Studios) is that you get to hold a real live Oscar. I’m not kidding you. It was pretty magical and I wish that I had been better prepared for it (I really should have let Jen take my photo instead of the girl working there). The statue is made of gold-plated brittanium and weighs a hefty 8.5 pounds!
To get around on the tour, the group is shuttled around on an extended golf cart. If it’s not blazing hot outside, bring a jacket! The breeze can get chilly. Since it’s a bit of a squeeze, there’s a locked storage box to stow away purses and backpacks during the tour.
The first part of the tour is to explore the outdoor sets. We learned that just this small stretch of road has served as the forest setting for tons of different productions, but you’d never be able to tell with camera angles and editing. Production crews can also bring in additional foliage to any exterior set to fill in any gaps.
As we continued along the road, we spotted our first PLL location! Here’s the front of the DiLaurentis house. Interesting to note that although the Hastings house is just next door, that exterior is nowhere near here.
Along this road, we also saw the large “lake” that is filled and drained whenever it’s needed, as well as some cabin exteriors (including the Lost Woods Resort).
We then entered a quaint suburban neighbourhood and drove past the exteriors of houses. When they’re not being used, these houses are actually set up as office spaces for production teams, as interior shots are typically done on sound stages.
The Marin house on PLL! Has anyone ever noticed that the interior floor plan doesn’t actually match up with how the house looks from the outside?
Another fun fact we learned on the tour is that all of the production office buildings on the studio lot are built and designed so that they’re very basic looking and nondescript. This is done so that they can also be used as exterior setting shots, and this becomes a huge cost-saver. The above building could be anything between an office building to a hospital!
The next spot we visited was the large town square location, which has a number of storefronts and a beautiful grassy courtyard in the center. Fans of Gilmore Girls will recognize this as Stars Hollow, and this is also beloved Rosewood to PLL fans.
Parts of the town square was set up for PLL. Here’s the Rosewood City Hall and police department, where Toby magically became a cop in two days. This was also Stars Hollow High School in Gilmore Girls.
One of my faves… the infamous chapel where Ian falls from the bell tower and disappears mysteriously.
Rosewood High School. So much drama and side-eye has been exchanged outside of this building.
We later saw the gazebo that usually stands in the middle of this courtyard, a familiar icon for Rosewood and Stars Hollow. I love the idea that large pieces can be picked up and moved around on sets at any time. I also really enjoyed the aesthetic of the square… it really felt like someplace I could live!
We were then led into one of the houses just across the street.
Sets rarely ever have a ceiling, because that’s where all of the lights and ventilation have to go. Thom shared with us that it can often get very hot on set from all of the blazing lighting. These interiors are also frequently redecorated and redesigned to fit each production.
Honestly, this exterior is just beautiful, and it’s also Mona’s house on PLL. If my future home could look like this, I’d be very happy.
Down the street, a new building was being constructed. Looks like it may be a restaurant with a clock tower!
We then walked through an alley around to the back of the houses and found this delightful view… The Hastings house! And yes, we were standing right where Jessica DiLaurentis was found buried in the yard. Those steps are also where the drunk PLL moms hung out during this season’s prom episode. For Gilmore Girls fans, this was also Lorelai’s house.
Thom explained to us that the front and back of the same house may not always match up – that’s to get as many different uses out of a building as possible.
And of course, just opposite from Spencer’s house out in the yard is the barn where it all started.
We also got to visit the Fields household, and peeked inside to also see the Gellar household staircase featured in the Friends episode, “The One With the Prom Video.”
That living room window is also the same one A crashed a car into on PLL. The reno looks pretty good to me!
We were then taken inside to the Audio Underground to see a foley stage, and even got to run into two foley artists setting up to work.
The job of a foley artist is to rerecord everyday sound effects, which are then added to the video in post-production to enhance sound quality. The artists watch the already-filmed scenes and use all sorts of props to recreate the sounds. A foley artist has done a good job if you can’t tell that they’ve done anything!
We then went back outside to explore the city set exteriors, again built to look like they could belong to a neighbourhood in any of the major American cities.
It’s a little strange to look into the storefronts and see everything empty, but interesting to think of it all as a large shell of a playground waiting for set decorators and designers to get their hands on it all and transform it into the setting of an exciting story.
The gates to Radley Sanitarium… I wouldn’t go poking around in there for clues if you paid me an A-fortune amount of money.
We continued to drive around the lot and past the working theatre, which is also where they were showing the Conan in Cuba special.
The studio lot is home to 30 sound stages. Each has a large plaque noting every production that has ever called that stage home. So much entertainment history has been made here!
The most exhilarating? Getting a peak into Stage 6, one of the sound stages PLL films in. The bottom left fence belongs to the Montgomery house, and here you can see some of the art props used on the show, as well as the large photo of Janel Parrish from Mona’s funeral. So. Cool.
A little peak into the Conaco offices. No Jordan Schlansky sighting, unfortunately.
Despite this, our spirits would soon be elevated greatly, because after this we parked and were led down a hallway. We were told that when we entered “the room” to quickly move in so that the door could be closed behind us, and then we could take all the time we wanted to explore what we would see next…
Because the room was this:
Yes, that’s right. The set for Central Perk, completely preserved in its original state from when Friends was still being filmed. The favourite hang-out spot for Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe. And yes, The Couch is on the bottom-left of the above photo.
It was surreal. Everything was so colourful and beautiful. I loved all of the patterns and textures used that you don’t always pick up from the video quality of older shows, which is just incomparable to what’s on television nowadays. And there were so many props that were just a delight to see up-close.
The best part? We got to touch everything. Yes, this was the best part about the deluxe tour. The standard tour groups only got to stand off to the side and take pictures from afar.
Gunther, is that you?
And yes, we all broke out into the chorus of “Smelly Cat”.
We all got our photos taken on The Couch, touched as many things as we could, and felt so satisfied. This was easily the best part of the tour.
Riding on that high, we continued on to the prop house, which houses so many different kinds of objects that it’s hard to believe how much stuff there is, from large crystal chandeliers to old cameras and radios, children’s toys, antique furniture, and…
…fake food. Jen’s favourite. Everything looked good enough to eat.
Here are some popular shows that regularly rent props from the WB prop house.
Batman celebrated its 75th anniversary last year and Warner Brothers had a special exhibit of all of the different batmobiles, batpods, and tumblers over the years. As huge Batman fans, Jen and I were especially delighted to have been able to see them all.
We also got to see the Batman exhibit with all of the costumes and some small props from the films. I was completely obsessed with this cowl, worn by my beloved Christian Bale.
And of course, (one iteration of) the infamous Dark Knight batsuit.
There is a section for each of the Batman films, but of course this The Dark Knight one resonates with many fans for its highlight of Heath Ledger as the Joker and those terrifying clown masks his goons wore.
Upstairs is a small but delightful exhibit of costumes and props from the Harry Potter films! When you’ve visited the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden, England, this is sort of a sad comparison, but it still had its own charm.
It also gave Jen a reason to end up on the floor like this.
Overall, I was very impressed with the tour and completely happy with the price that I paid. Not pictured above is that we got to visit the sound stage for The Fosters and walk through the house set they film in, room by room. We also got to sit in the live audience seats for The Big Bang Theory and marvel at the sets for Penny and Sheldon’s apartments and their connecting elevator hallway. And of course, we got to eat a lovely lunch in the Warner Bros. commissary with Cass Warner and got a signed copy of her book, The Brothers Warner.
As I understand it, the tour has changed slightly since (we visited in early April), but the experience as a whole is truly fascinating and should not be missed. There is just so much to see. Jen also mentioned that it was even better than the Universal Studios tour. So go check it out and let me know what’s changed!