Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A day on the Warner Brothers lot


My partner, David and I went to Warner Brothers yesterday to help punch-up a friend’s pilot. Judging by the nine-story-high billboards, I guess they tape Conan there. We were directed to a large parking structure across the street. That’s when you know your career is in the dumper – when they don’t give you a drive-on. When you’re assigned the lot reserved for audience members of ELLEN. Forget that we weren’t in a lot with all those fancy Porsches and BMW’s. We were the only car in the whole structure that had California plates.

I felt bad for the ELLEN audience. There they were in this confusing Byzantine parking structure, SUV’s coming at them from every direction. They had no idea where they were going. Was it really worth it to see Ellen interview 12-year-old basketball prodigy Jordan McCabe?

We crossed the street along with three people in clown outfits. At least they all came in one car. We next had to go through a TSA-like security check. There was a time that Warner Brothers practically seduced us to come to work for them. Now we’re considered potential terrorists.

We had to show our ID, and the guard (a very nice woman, by the way), compared my driver’s license photo to my actual face. I thought to myself, what happens when the clowns go through?

Once on the lot, we soaked up the Hollywood vibes. Every soundstage has a plaque listing what productions were filmed on that stage. So on one you might see CASABLANCA, THE JAZZ SINGER, $#’! MY DAD SAYS.


The first time David and I were ever on the Warners lot, we were like an hour early for a meeting. We were just starting out in the business. I think we had sold one script. And we were still given a drive-on. But I digress. We killed the hour by just walking around the lot. Standing by one stage door, in full costume, was John Wayne smoking a cigarette. He was making his last movie, THE SHOOTIST. He spotted us and said, “How’s it going, boys?” We were completely tongue-tied. “Uh…gr-gr-great, Duke”. We moved on and thought to ourselves, “Wow, we have ARRIVED!”

Today I think I saw that Asian guy from THE MENTALIST who talks like Jack Webb. But I can’t be sure. He could have also just been another maintenance guy on his way to hanging the seventh giant Conan poster.

We found our building, a charming older structure with a tile roof, and headed upstairs to the conference room to work. I always wonder -- what classic shows down through the years have been rewritten in this very room? Was 77 SUNSET STRIP created here? Or MURPHY BROWN? Or THE OBLONGS?

I have to say, there are few things as much fun as sitting around a room with incredibly funny people. So many laughs. I just feel bad that none of them got into the script.

Styrofoam lunch from the fabulous Warner Brothers commissary is a must. I was feeling nostalgic so I picked the entrĂ©e that traveled the worst – their world famous “homemade” chicken pot pie.

I knew it would come back cold, but I had no idea the presentation would be so, uh… unique. The goopy contents of the chicken pie were in the main compartment and a biscuit sat in one of the others. This was a homemade chicken pot pie? Where was the pot and the pie part? Good luck to the guys from THE BIG BANG THEORY who get to order here every day.

After five hours of everyone sharing their latest brain aneurism and Holland Taylor stories, we finished the polish. I hope the people coming in tomorrow are better.

On the way out I passed the stage where I directed EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. “God, I miss this!” I said wistfully. David reassured me that I’d direct another show. “No,” I said, “My parking space.”

33 comments:

Dave Williams said...

Nice piece. I understand that wistful stuff. I miss talking with you on the radio.

Gregg Hersholt said...

You always crack me up, Ken! Can we expect to hear you do some Mariners broadcasts this year? Hope so.

KEN LEVINE said...

Miss you too, Dave. KABC ain't the same without ya. Gregg, I also miss the Mariners. Hoping that comes to pass.

Troy said...

Wonderful piece, Ken. In fact, I'd love to hear more of your reminiscences about various studio lots.

I used to enjoy wandering studios before and after meetings, just soaking up the atmosphere.

At Warners, for example, you could walk around "Stars Hollow" and actually feel somewhat immersed in the fictional world of "THE GILMORE GIRLS".

But let's not over-romanticize the studio drive-on. As a writer, you should remember the drill, which almost invariably contained the following line of dialogue:

GATE GUARD: "You're not on the list - pull over to the side, please."

Which is how you knew you were really a professional scriptwriter in Hollywood.

Max Clarke said...

Too short, Ken, didn't want this piece to end.

I didn't know you directed Raymond. I never watched it -no television set since 1990- but I bought Phil Rosenthal's audiobook, You're Lucky You're Funny. A quick listen, he's great with voices, I've listened to it a few times now.

When your book gets published, hope you'll do the audiobook as well. Since we've already read a lot of those stories here, I don't want somebody else telling them on audio.

Nathan said...

C'mon...give with the Holland Taylor stories.

Anonymous said...

Same thing I came to post...

"After five hours of everyone sharing their latest brain aneurism and Holland Taylor stories..."

Give!

Mac said...

Funny stuff. Hope the pilot goes well.

Cappy said...

Love reading your blog!!! Are you going to continue with your Comedy 101 series? I really enjoyed reading about how you put together the Almost Perfect Episodes. Could you write about the Lost Weekend parts 1 and 2? Thanks!!!

lucifervandross said...

Max, you will love "Exporting Raymond" when it comes out.

Bob Summers said...

Warner must be different than Universal in regard to the food. I took the studio tour in November, and there were catering trucks parked at all the stages.

That brings up a possible Friday Question or post idea.

What is the food service like on the shows? I know they have craft tables, but what do they put out on them? What were some of the must haves and must avoids on the menu? Are those real Dodger Dogs, or is that just a name they slap on anything to get tourists to buy them?

amyp3 said...

Oh man, just the thought of going to work there ... even if I did have to park in the maze-garage with the Ellen audience.

Very funny post. I too would love to hear more "around the lot" stories.

John said...

Ken, you make the Warner Brothers commissary food sound about as enticing as it looked when it was covering Slim Pickens' face at the end of "Blazing Saddles".

(Also, if the pilot gets picked up, do you get any on-screen story or script consultant credit? Or is this just behind-the-scenes help where satisfaction has to be limited to seeing the final product on-screen and/or the paycheck in your bank account?)

VP81955 said...

I'm sure that was a gag line, Ken, and I'm sure you know this -- but just so people don't get confused, "The Jazz Singer" was not shot on the Warners lot in Burbank, but at their studio at the time on Sunset Boulevard, the large building with pillars that later served as home to Warners animation, a bowling alley and KTLA television.

The Burbank lot initially was home for First National, a major studio of the 1920s whose stars included the likes of Colleen Moore (she popularized the page-boy hairstyle in the 1920s long before anyone had ever heard of Louise Brooks, but that's another story). Warners bought First National in the late 1920s because its lot had more acreage than the Sunset digs and it would better serve sound productions (the company continued to release many films under the First National banner well into the '30s). Just about all of the great Warners pre-Codes (e.g., "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang," "42nd Street," etc.) were shot in Burbank.

Incidentally, Ken, did you see Yakko, Wakko and Dot? Or were they holed up in the water tower?

wv: "crest" -- someone at blogspot is selling not-so-subliminal advertising.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I knew actors who worked with Wayne,bit players. They said he was the nicest guy. I've never heard anything bad about the way he treated other actors or crew.

Phillip B said...

We need more!

Are each of the existing studio lots different in culture? And what about the TV network facilities?

When I got the chance to visit CBS in Hollywood, for example, I suddenly understood all the jokes about the Farmer's Market (all the way back to Jack Benny).

And while the Walt Disney Studios seem to be a remarkably warm and nurturing place, the security check for the parking structure was rougher than customs in most eastern European nations.

Thanks again for this one...

Michael said...

My second favorite blog from anyone connected to show business is Dick Cavett's at The New York Times, and if you go there and look for John Wayne, you will read a story that is just incredible.

benson said...

Michael, thank you. Two wonderful posts.

Joseph from Pasadena said...

1. Hey Ken,
I loved the story and was wondering why you don’t think the polish went well. Was it that the people there just didn’t get the premise and feel of the show or was the pilot itself just too flawed to fix in a single day? If it was the latter would you even tell the writer’s of the pilot that and suggest major changes?

Cobblestone Creative said...

Love reading this stuff!

Jenna said...

"I have to say, there are few things as much fun as sitting around a room with incredibly funny people." <--- I can't think of any myself

SebiMeyer said...

I think what you're describing is symptomatic for every writer who has every lived. We always feel like fakes, no matter how well we have been writing. After all, the OTHER writers never have these doubts because those are REAL writers, do they?

Then again, tough about that parking spot. ;)

EK said...

Lough-out-loud line of the day:

We crossed the street along with three people in clown outfits. At least they all came in one car.

Thanks, Ken!

Anonymous said...

Friday question:

What are your thoughts on the HoF vote?

(The BBWA's votes tie in nicely to your comment about clowns, by the way - Tim Raines at only 37.5%????)


VW: jackab: Swear word on network TV

Paul Duca said...

They have tours of the Warner lot for the public...however, they aren't hyped and you have to call to make a reservation. But it's considered a hipper thing for tourists to do than the Universal tour.

Gern Blanston said...

Holland Taylor - Bosom Buddies stories if you are taking requests...

VP81955 said...

Paul Duca said...

They have tours of the Warner lot for the public...however, they aren't hyped and you have to call to make a reservation. But it's considered a hipper thing for tourists to do than the Universal tour.

Have taken the Warners tour (albeit way back in 1989), as well as the Paramount tour (in 1996). I highly recommend both to anyone who genuinely wants to get a feel for the film/TV process, instead of taking thrill rides.

Paul Duca said...

Yes, 1989...before Yakko, Wakko and Dot escaped from the water tower.

Michael said...

Friday question: Is there a big difference in the work schedule for sitcom directors vs. sitcom writers? Do sitcom directors only work long hours the day the episode is filmed?

chuckcd said...

I can relate. I worked at the Paramount lot for a year and parked on Gower. The highlight of the day was coming out and seeing my car was still there and in one piece!
I had a similar experience in meeting my first celeb there on the lot when I saw George Wendt at the
commissary. I actually had the nerve to tell him how much I enjoyed his work on "Cheers". He was very
gracious.

Pamela Jaye said...

I've taken the Parmount Tour (in 99) and the Warner Brother's at least 3 times probably more. It costs twice as much and it's worth it.

I've spent way too much time on the sets of Gilmore Girls (years before I watched it) and Friends (not at all) and not the places I would have loved to see - the *inside* of ER (I wonder what the tour is like without the anbu-bay.) or the shows that didn't exist yet like Big Bang and Chuck.
I miss LA (in October or July, not February)
I miss having a job... or at least having an income.

jbryant said...

Sounds like a far cry from the first time I went on the WB lot. I worked across the street at an animation company, and several of our employees had figured out if you walked past the WB gate like you belonged there, the guards would let you pass (if they said anything, you'd just wave and reply, "Animation").

Liz said...

My family took the WB tour in October, and it was an enormous waste of (a lot of) money. Our tour guide was simultaneously insecure and condescending, and we spent most of our time driving outside random warehouses. When I found out previous guests got to meet actors and walk through homes in Stars Hollow, I realized why WB thought they could charge as much as they did. Thanks, Ken, for a behind-the-scenes view that was actually interesting.