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Oscar® Tour SoCal Day 3: Sony Pictures

Day 3 of our LA tour began at Sony Pictures in Culver City.

The Irving Thalberg building. All images courtesy of Dan Sarto.

By Dan Sarto

Our day began at Sony Pictures in Culver City.  We watched a short film detailing the history of the studio dating back to brothers Harry and Jack Cohn’s 1918 partnership with Joe Brandt to form CBC Film Sales, or as it was then known as Corn Beef and Cabbage.  CBC became Columbia Pictures Corporation in 1924, with original offices located on Gower Street in Hollywood. The studio’s fortunes changed dramatically with the hiring of Frank Capra in 1927, who over the next decades helped chart a course of excellence starting with their first Best Picture Oscar in 1934 for It Happened One Night.  The list of legendary films produced at the studio is immense, including From Here to Eternity, Dr. Strangelove, Lawrence of Arabia, Taxi Driver, Gandhi, Ghostbusters and The Last Emperor to name but a few.  Sony purchased the studio from Coca Cola in 1989, changed its name to Sony Picture Entertainment and relocated to the former MGM lot in Culver City.  I’ve skipped numerous pieces of the studio’s story, including the growth of its vast TV operations, and of course, the creations of Sony Pictures Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation, our ultimate destination for the morning tour and screening.

Fondhla, Tim and Ron stand in front of the Thalberg building as we begin our Sony lot tour.

Our intro movie complete, we crossed the street to begin our tour.  Starting at the base of the Irving Thalberg building, we crisscrossed the entire old MGM lot, rebuilt and refurbished over the years, an interesting blend of old and new, with buildings still displaying name plaques from eras long since passed.

Interesting stops included Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production offices, complete with his Cadillac styled golf cart.  We took more extended detours onto the sets of two hugely popular and iconic TV show sets – Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.  Both were dark, as they only film a few shows a day, a few days a week, a handful of weeks a year.  Because the shows both tape before a live audience, each set includes foyers stuffed with show memorabilia and other items designed to entertain the crowd as they wait for seating.  The Wheel set was being broken down to go on the road to broadcast from some distant location. Needless to say, I enjoyed regaling both Tim and Fondhla with tales of old TV show history, needling them both as I realized the extent to which they had no clue what I was talking about. Ridiculous Get Smart references were common, including the gold standard, “Missed it by that much!”

Happy Madison Productions and Adam Sandler's Cadillac-styled golf cart. Right above the sign is a second floor vault where they store all the great movie ideas they decided not to development.

The famous MGM gates.

The hallway leading into the Barbara Streisand Recording Stage, a favorite

recording studio for many top film composers.

Who ya gonna call?

The Wheel of Fortune Hall of Fame. Maybe Pete Rose could get

inducted here?

Our guide shared that Merv Griffin chose Vanna White from the other letter flipper finalists because she had the biggest head, which he felt would look the best on TV. Insert your own version of an inappropriate joke here.

The set was being broken down for travel for remote show broadcasts.

Let's all play Jeopardy!

Fondhla and Tim meet a rather reserved Alex Trebeck.

I'll take humorous Soviet bloc animated shorts for $800...

Fondhla and Tim looking down on the Jeopardy set from the audience seats.

At one point, we stumbled upon a project involving Apple co-founder Steve Wozniac and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, an eco-friendly bio-diesel or hydrogen fuel cell (not sure which) powered modified Hummer that will be driven to the South Pole (the show details were sketchy, as was the premise).  Not sure, but I think the reality show’s name is Zero South (or is that the project) but the rigs look pretty impressive.  Would I want to travel in the Hummer and live in the trailer in a frozen wasteland with Steve Wozniac and Buzz Aldrin? – no ma’am.

Downward to the frozen South Pole we go for our new reality series! With cameras, getting all up in each others' faces yo dog!

Rows and rows of giant canvas backdrops dating back to the 1940s are still used at the studio.

Tim and Fondhla on the top floor of the backdrop production facility, exactly 80 steps up a tight staircase from the ground floor.

Fondhla and Tim say goodbye to Sony Pictures before heading over to Sony Pictures Animation.

Our tour complete, we hopped back in our cars and drove the few short blocks over to Sony Pictures Imageworks/Animation for our screening and lunch.