Monday, April 27, 2009

The Paramount lot

My nostalgic look back at the 20th Century Fox lot prompted a number of requests for other remembrances of studios past. For twenty years I was ensconced at Paramount. My fondest memories are of Paramount but more for the people and creative atmosphere than the historic landmarks. Although some of those indeed exist.

The motel-looking building that served as William Holden’s office in SUNSET BLVD. remains intact. And the huge mural of the sky is still there. It’s always sunny with a few wispy clouds at Paramount.

And there is the “tank”. This is a recessed parking lot that can be filled with water for shooting or flooding car purposes. The blockbuster TORA TORA TORA shot most of its exteriors there. All of the warships were toy models. How did we live before Industrial Light & Magic?

One night after a late rewrite I saw massive lights and activity going on at the tank. Remember the climax of PATRIOT GAMES? There was a big fight on a small yacht that was swirling around in a vicious storm? They were filming that. I sauntered over and watched. Everyone just assumed I was a member of the crew. How many tourists are on the Paramount lot at 2:30 in the morning with a dog-earred WINGS script? Harrison Ford is a nice guy, by the way.

The tank is used sparingly because it’s quite expensive to fill. We did employ it once for CHEERS. Sam and Diane are on a boat. I think it’s from the second season. For the rest of the run of the show whenever we were stuck for a scene I would suggest, “Fill the tank!”

STAR TREK filmed at Paramount. More than once I’d be standing in line at the ATM behind a Klingon.

There was never much of a backlot but their New York street is more like a New York neighborhood. Several streets of different vintage intersect. Westside meets eastside. I see that location in a gazillion films, commercials, and music videos. Half the AMERICAN IDOL Ford videos are shot there. When we were doing ALMOST PERFECT, our stage was adjacent to the New York street. One day I walked out of our stage and there was James Brown sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

Celebrity sightings were frequent. Tom Cruise (before he became a nut bag) had an office right above the FRASIER writers room and was quite visible. Jesus, he’s short! I turned a corner one day and bumped into Sean Connery. Oh, and the twins from SISTER/SISTER were always around! Not to mention those two women who had an act called THE MOMMIES. If only I had my camera.

Unlike 20th, Paramount was not in a great neighborhood. Even in the 70s and 80s there were more drug deals made outside the lot than in.

But Paramount was more like being at a great university than a movie studio (or fort, which out of necessity is what it looked like). The Harvard of television comedy. When I arrived the Garry Marshall camp was in full force. HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, and yes, even BLANKSY’S BEAUTIES. Jim Brooks brought his MTM all-star team over to do TAXI and that begat CHEERS, FRASIER, and the various other shows spawned from those writers. Gary David Goldberg set up shop with FAMILY TIES. And of course there was WEBSTER.

And all of us writers from all of these shows knew each other. We’d help each other out on pilots. We’d work on each other’s series. At one time I was directing, writing, and consulting BECKER, FRASIER, and IT’S ALL RELATIVE at the same time. For years I worked on both CHEERS and WINGS.

When writers would bump into each other the first question always asked was, “How late did you guys go last night?” i.e. how long was your rewrite night? If you got out after TAXI than your show was probably in shit shape that week because they always stayed late at TAXI.

And then there were filming nights. This was the age of multi-camera shows. Most filmed the same nights (Tuesday or Friday). After audiences were sent home usually the directors had about an hour or so of pick-ups. There was nothing more boring. So writers would usually wander from stage to stage.

And then there was the C-BAG.

Tomorrow, the C-BAG. (No AMERICAN IDOL review this week. Sorry. My house is being tented and it’s not worth being gassed to recap it.)

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

what are pick-ups?ca

Anonymous said...

>All of the warships were toy models. How did we live before Industrial Light & Magic?

Hardly toys. One studio exec wanted a pirate ship for his mantle. When he was told it was over 30 feet long he changed his mind. Lots of skilled model building, skilled photography and clever people. I worked at ILM and glad we've made the transition to the level of control with digital but there's still amazing work from years ago (on the better films). Don't forget ILM used a pirate ship model for the Pirate film series.

Nikki said...

Hi Ken-
You're renting your house? Where are you guys?

Gridlock said...

Independence Day was the last film made largely using models instead of 1s and 0s - and also perhaps the biggest ever. Worked really well.

wv; cultima - scientology's new theme song, "cultima trap"

Gridlock said...

Also - not sure which definition of C-BAG the tease is directed at, but it's either very rude, very disgusting or slightly confusing:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=C%20Bag

Griff said...

"The blockbuster TORA TORA TORA shot most of its exteriors there."

Well, no -- almost all of the miniature work for TORA! TORA! TORA! was shot at the big Sersen tank at Fox.

VP81955 said...

Here's a map of the Paramount lot from 1992:

http://pics.livejournal.com/vp19/pic/002z26z2

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence! You'd have to get gassed to recap "American Idol", and I'd have to be gassed & forced in order to watch it.

Thanks for your remembrances of the studios, Ken. You have one of the best blogs out there. Sometimes I even read your baseball stuff :)

Dan said...

The backlot stories are great. Thank you.

A. Buck Short said...

Legend has it Poseidon Adventure used full size ship, but still required miniature model of Shelley Winters to appear realistic.

growingupartists said...

No, I said NONE of it's relative. And you call yourself a mindreader.

John said...

Ken, I know you were at Fox at the time, did they also fill the tank for Fonize's Jump the Shark moment?

Aside from that low moment, starting with I Love Lucy, Paramount's lot really is the high holy place of the three-camera television sitcom (And if you go back and look at the old Edgar Kennedy two-reelers from the 1930s and 40s, the RKO part of the Paramount lot was doing TV sitcoms before there were even TV for sale to the public).

Tom Quigley said...

With perhaps the exception of the "HOLLYWOOD" sign, for me the Melrose gate at Paramount is probably the most recognizable icon for the TV and movie industry. I remember getting a rush every time I drove through it the half dozen or so occasions I got the chance to visit or work on the lot. I could almost hear a chorus of angels and harps playing as I entered the premises....

Stuff said...

I remember working a few times on the Paramount lot. I loved eating lunch with all of the characters from Star Trek--great for people/alien watching.

http://www.thecorner33.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I used to ride my bike from Mar Vista to MGM and Desilu studios, where I'd beg for the stars' autographs. One weekday morning (no school) around 5:30, I was peddling like crazy on a sidewalk adjacent to MGM, when a man suddenly popped out of a doorway. I had to swerve my bike and slam on the brake to avoid a head on collision. "I'm so sorry," I said. "You alright?" the man asked. It was actor Paul Fix, aka Micah, the sheriff from "The Rifleman." I was so scared he'd arrest me, I peddled off to MGM's main entrance without his autograph.

LouOCNY said...

Did you ever work in the Roddenberry Building, Ken?

Mike said...

...And the building where Veronica Lake went rushing up the stairs and inside in Sullivan's Travels. I cherished those stairs...

Emily Blake said...

Hey I live in that neighborhood and I've only ever done three drug deals there. The dealers were really courteous.

Anonymous said...

One of my fondest memories of working at Paramount is when Moose, the dog from FRAZIER, would come by and pee in the flower bed outside my office window. Ah, show business.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Paramount for awhile and the place always struck me as being just like a movie about working at a movie studio.

You mentioned being in line behind STAR TREK extras in costume. Isn't that a standard of any old movie set at a studio, going to the cafeteria and seeing actors in costume? I'd also see the musicians carrying their instrument cases on the way to the Crosby building for a scoring session, stuntmen's trucks parked in the lot in front of the big blue sky with the association's decal on the back window and gear in the bed, an infinite number of golf carts with workers and execs whizzing back and forth, old fashioned bicycles with baskets on the front handle bars carrying tools to some job, a building labeled "Camera Dept" and the iconic Bronson Gate inside the walls ever since Paramount expanded a bit south from Marathon to Melrose.

Maybe all studios are like that, but it just seemed wonderful. It seemed like it was supposed to be.

Dave Mackey said...

I always thought it was funny when cartoon characters who were seen in Paramount cartoons would visit the studio in Hollywood, complete with the gate, in spite of the fact that the Paramount cartoons were actually made in midtown Manhattan.

AI: since no Ken recap this week, here's the deallyo - I'm so done with Matt and his hat. And Adam, I don't know what the heck he was singing but if it was from the "Great American Songbook", it was tucked way in the back buried under the more recognizable songs like "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "The Way You Look Tonight".

WV is "vallybel" - stablemate of the famous Jeep, Nellybel. (Was that Pat Buttram?)

Dave Mackey said...

Oh, anonymous - pick-ups are when, on a TV show shoot, something has to be redone for whatever reason.

WV: acted. Alan Alda acted in M*A*S*H.

jbryant said...

Dave: The theme wasn't "The Great American Songbook;" it was "The Rat Pack Era." Adam's cover of "Feeling Good" qualified because Sammy Davis, Jr., cut a version in the '60s. The song was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for "The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd," and the most popular version is probably Nina Simone's. It's become something of an AI staple - I think this is at least the third time I've heard it on the show. Adam's version was based on an arrangement by the band Muse.

Tom Parker said...

While the master is being fumigated, here's my recap of last night's festivities:Kris - Even though he has to stand on a phone book to still look short next to Ryan, this kid delivered the goods. Stylistic yet not over-wrought. My favorite of the evening.

Allison -She did a solid rendition of "Someone To Watch Over Me'. My most persistent thought: "If her voice sounds like this a day after her 17th birthday, what will it be like when she turns 27?" Then it hit me: ET.

Matt - Get the hook, he stunk the place up. Although Simon thought he made the only genuine connection of the night. I think Simon has made too many weekly connections to the UK and is suffering from Jet Lag. That, and not being able to smack Paula upside the head with a pamphlet for AA.

Danny - It took him a long time to get going, but he finished strong. And I loved the shot of the background singers grooving along towards the end. Looked like Ray Charles' Raylettes - but don't ask Ray.

Adam - Until they turned up the lights at the beginning of the show I was certain Ryan was being stalked by the Man From Glad. The judges didn't think he was over the top, but I noticed my dog Teddy was in pain by the end of the song. Honestly, could you listen to a CD by Adam? And Adam, Pat Boone wants his suit back.

anonymous said...

Help a newbie. What is "WV"