Looking forward to seeing my peeps in Seattle today at 1:00 at F.X. McCrory's.I often hear from readers asking me to talk about the various movie studios I've been lucky enough to work on. 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 purposes or flooding cars. 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-eared 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 fourth 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.
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. Talk about 3D. Every show on television we saw live.
Sadly, the lot is a ghost town today. Once CBS/Viacom bought it everything changed. Very few shows are done there today. CBS moved most everything to their Radford lot in Studio City. I don't know the reason but I'm guessing to save money. I know the Smithsonian will showcase sets from classic television shows from time to time. And they're a pretty big place. I wonder if they have room for an entire movie studio?