It would be our first time in L.A and the expectations for the world capital of entertainment were high. We were very interested to experience the city, to visit production studios, to understand how movies are made and hopefully to spot one or two famous actors too.
Besides checking out the city lifestyle I was excited to meet an old friend after 20 years. Andreea was a former primary school colleague and very good friend. She moved to USA with her family when we were pre-teenagers and we haven’t seen each other since then.
Traffic in L.A
Coming from Ventura to L.A was a pleasant ride especially driving on the side of the Pacific Ocean and seeing all those beautiful beaches and manicured coastal towns.
Entering L.A. was not that fun anymore. As we approached the city the traffic became consistent up to the point that we started to wonder if we would make it on time to Andreea’s party. We were invited for a Romanian party in Andreea’s apartment and we were very excited about that, however it proved to be a challenge to find any paid parkings that would match the height of our truck next to Andreea’s apartment. We soon discovered it was mission impossible and started to evaluate our options further away. With few options left we started to ask help even at churches. We took them one by one in that neighborhood. To our surprise we were refused, often rudely. We were in shock! We couldn’t believe the churches wouldn’t allow us to stay one night in their spacious and secure courtyards even if we would pay. After a couple of hours of serious efforts navigating in circles in the busy downtown, when we were almost giving up we saw an open parking area with security 24h, with places available and without height restriction.
With our last resources we asked the security man if we can park there and he answered they are not allowed to receive campers in the parking overnight. He was a nice Iranian and after we kindly asked him again to let us stay, he made an exception for us. We promised to leave early the next morning so we won’t cause him any troubles. The miracle happened, we found the right spot! It was the happiest moment of the day! We were so content we would make it to Andreea’s party.
We soon realized we were in Little Tokyo district and the Japanese influence was felt at every corner: Japanese American history museum, cultural houses, loads of Japanese restaurants and people networking the area. We figured that the Japanese are a major and significant community of L.A. They are established here for many years and this makes a pretty cool cultural mix and of course pretty delicious Japanese dishes 🙂
Romanian party in L.A
Soon after we parked we rushed to Andrea’s apartment. We were welcomed with big smiles and hugs by Andreea, her mother and by lots of Romanian-American friends of Andreea. It was great see her after 20 years. Not that long ago we played in Romania’s country side exploring the valleys of the Carpathian mountains. She was a true childhood friend and I remember I was so sad when her parents received the permanent residency for USA and left Romania for good.
We were welcomed at the party with traditional Romanian dishes cooked by Andreea’s mother. Ms. Tofan didn’t change at all besides for some gray hair here and there. We conversed in Romanian about how their life has been in US for the past 20 years. She confessed that she did not regret even a single moment the decision to leave Romania. They are happy in USA, both their daughters are well accomplished and integrated in this system and culture. To be honest I felt Andreea more American than Romanian and I guess that was normal.
The several Romanian dishes prepared were excellent and we were so happy to taste them all. From beef balls soup, rolled minced pork meat in cabbage leaves, grilled minced pork rolls, traditional eggplant salad, potato salad, pork pate, home made bread and about six types of Romanian cookies including my favorite one, the nuts cake. For drinking we had the traditional plumb berry as starter and continued with soured cherry berry. It was a feast. JP was so happy, he had a blast. The food was so fulfilling and the hosts impeccable.
It was great to see Andreea doing so well for herself, with a good job, a nice apartment, and lots of good friends. What was amazing to see was that Andreea remained the same friendly, big heart, generous and loyal friend. It was such a good feeling to reconnect with her after so long we haven’t seen each other.
My former colleague from work, Marielle who recently moved to L.A, joined the party too. It was nice to see both and have this get together, even if it was just for few hours. After saying goodbye to Andreea, her lovely mom and her friends we returned to our parking lot in the Little Tokyo neighborhood in a stealth mode and slept. The following day was a big day, discovering the city of L.A!
Walk of Fame
We woke up early and left before 9am as we promised the Iranian gentleman taking care of the parking lot. We were ready to explore LA, in particularly Hollywood area. We parked at Griffith Park, the biggest city park in the USA. The parking was for free, had beautiful nature and it looked safe.
It was refreshing to walk down the park towards the famous boulevard of Hollywood with its Walk of Fame where one can see the stars engraved on the path walk with the names of the most famous people in the entertainment industry. It took us about 30 minutes to get from Griffith Park to the Walk of Fame on foot. It was a good walking exercise. On our way we admired the luxurious villas we saw in the park’s neighborhood, probably houses of millions of dollars.
As we reached the more central area of Hollywood we were shocked with the poverty and misery we saw around: a lot of homeless and drug addict people were networking the streets and dirt was everywhere. Not the view we envisioned about Hollywood Boulevard. Ironically the boulevard of the Walk of Fame looked more with the walk of poor and lost than the rich and famous. It was full of homeless people, people selling “things” in a disorganized manner, others trying to sell you tours around Hollywood to explain you about the life of the movie starts. It was a crazy and kitsch atmosphere. Surprising landscape.
However we had fun looking for our favorite stars names engraved on the boulevard.
The Chinese Theater was one of the highlights of our morning. There we saw the footprints and signatures of several movie stars. It was nice to observe what a big hand has Ryan Gosling from Lala Land :-))) and what thin sensitive hands has Emma Stone. We found this place more insightful than the stars from the Walk of Fame. The fact that you could see their footprint or hand print it was almost like you knew a little bit more about them. It had a personal touch.
We wanted to make the best of the short time we had in L.A so we soon returned to Griffith Park and prepared to head towards Getty Museum, which we heard from our friend Chris we shouldn’t miss. Chris was right. We had the chance to visit a state of art museum with art collected from all over the world by the American millionaire and oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. The architecture and the set up of Getty Museum was impressive, clean, relaxing and inspiring.
We paid only 10$ for the parking. The museum entry and the tram to the top of the hill where the museum is positioned were for free. We visited the Latin American art collection, the photography exhibition and the Greek and Roman sculptures which Getty collected. We were lucky to have for free a unique experience. We wished we had more time to explore the museum and its complex art architecture, its collections, the gardens and relaxation areas. We promised to return one day. It’s really worth to dedicate at least a day to admire the beauty of the Getty.
As the night approached, we departed to Santa Monica where we found a secure parking lot to overnight next to the Convention Center. After a lot of time spent in the notorious L.A traffic we finally reached our spot just next to Santa Monica pier.
Since we were so close to the beach we decided to visit Santa Monica pier the following morning. It was the classical pier we’ve seen in most of the beach towns of California, with lots of street vendors, restaurants, a bit too touristy for our taste. The beach was beautiful and it was nice to feel the vibe of the ocean and the crazy people interpreting all sorts of politic and movie characters around.
Warner Bros Studio Tour
We could not come to L.A without visiting a production studio! So after the walk on Santa Monica beach we departed with the mission to understand how movies are made. We wanted a more insightful experience and based on the reviews we read we selected Warner Bros Studios as our first choice.
We parked next to the studio for 12$ fixed fee. The ticket for the experience was 65$/person.
As we entered the reception area we had our first introduction into the movies world. The lobby had pictures with the oscars Warner Bros Studios won throughout the years, movies they produced, famous actors that played in their movies and informative panels about the studio itself. We were arranged in groups of 16 and started with the studio intro video in the cinema room. It was an exciting video with the highlights of WB best movies, most exciting plays, parts of their production set ups and a short history about the founders, the Warner brothers.
As soon as the movie was finished we were each assigned a guide and everyone was excited to start the real tour.
As we entered the production studios we immediately observed a lot of huge storage buildings with enough space to reproduce plenty of scenes based on the production needs. The interior part of one building could have been reshaped into numerous rooms, stages, walls, set ups organized up to the last detail often for only one shot. It felt like we were in a factory zone with plenty of workshops that would be tailored for the specific production. Everything seemed practical. Each building had a number and a red light assigned outside. If the light was on that meant it was a working building with live shootings. So everyone knew they can’t enter without permission access and security clearance. We would never be allowed to enter as visitors a location that was running a live production.
Our first stop was at a storage building that had all sorts of antique pieces and decoration elements that were used before in movies or waiting to be rented for various movies. We’ve seen chandeliers used for special effects in Superman to the notorious Whitehouse desk used for various White House related scenes. There were so many pieces of decoration that you could watch forever.
The following stop was into an archive room where we saw prototypes of cars, motorcycles and vehicles from popular movies like: Batman, Superman, Harry Potter. It was pretty cool.
The tour continued with a visit to a building that stored all sorts of superheroes and characters costumes from movies we honestly didn’t see. However, it was interesting to see the level of details each costume was designed to.
Up to this point the trip was not really mind blowing. I wanted to get more, that insightful experience about how movies are actually done, who does what, how does it work, etc. Personally, I didn’t like that much the guide. I found him over burnt and cocky. It felt he was engaging mostly on the surface. It was still interesting to drive through the studio, see all sorts of neighborhoods that would imitate street corners, theaters, shops, restaurants and see where the live shows like Ellen were recording. We were so close, but still so far away :)))
The best part of the trip came at the end. In the last building we had the chance to really understand how movies are produced, the massive efforts and hard work they involve, the creativity and imagination the production team needs to have, the level of details and perfection the directors are looking for. To understand and feel how does it work besides having specialists talking about their jobs, we had all types of simulators for scenes shootings where we could interpret the characters of those parts. And that was fun!
We started with the beginning, the phase of the movie script. We learnt that WB Studios receive thousands of scripts that are written by free lancers which are never paid. Few of them are making it into the pre-pre-production phase, even fewer get into the development phase and a tiny bit actually make it into production, while really very few make the blockbuster.
We watched movies with screen writers talking about their job, how much they have to write, rewrite, reedit and modify scripts. We watched casting directors trying to select the best actors for the roles, the production designers trying to create and bring characters alive, places, situations, scenes based on the script and director’s vision. Some designers explained that they have to design and simulate the weirdest requests, such as the movement of a black whole. Their imagination must have no limits.
We were taken afterwards to a stage from the popular “Friends” series. It was a set up designed and decorated up to the last detail, exactly like in the serial. The staging and the lights were perfect. You could actually interpret the role of one of the actors, have a dialog and afterwards see how you did in the recorded video. It was cool to watch. Some people really sucked :))) while some others had some talent :)) We were too shy to try at this point 🙂
We started to warm up into the acting roles taking a picture together in an illusion scene with a table that would make one of us look bigger. So, I finally took the bigger role and had a good laughter about it :-))
The best of all parts was when we could interpret an action role in a movie. We could choose between riding the broom of Harry Potter or riding the motorcycle of Batman. Each one had a director that would give instructions on what to do, what to say, how to bend left or right, what hand to rise, etc. The director would give you directions how to act in such an engaging and expressive way I never got the chance to experience. This American Japanese guy that was directing my ride on Batman motorbike offered me a great experience about how it feels to act in a movie. I was having a great time shouting, rising my hands, pretending I have the ride of my life, feeling alive and free. It was really one of the coolest things I ever experienced. Acting was fun.
Our last stop was in the sound studio understanding how the sound is mixed and how difficult and complex it is to get the right sound balance. At the end of the tour we took a picture with a real Oscar for the fun of it fighting who is the winner and who is the presenter of the winner :)))
The complexity of one production, the level of details and creativity involved, the hard work and repetitions needed, the talent and the niche roles each production team member needs to be specialized in, made me realize how hard working and talented the people that want to work in the high end of the entertainment industry need to be. I think the easiest part of all was acting. If you are a natural you can find yourself just having fun.
I can say WB studios tour worth it and we recommend it in L.A.
We left about 5:30pm. It was already dark outside, and we were getting ready to drive further down of Santa Monica, at Huntington Beach where we would park at a public library to overnight.
L.A experience was fun offering us a glimpse into the movies industry, I was particularity very happy to reconnect with my lifetime friend Andreea, however we were bit disappointed with the city’s traffic, lack of cleanness, organization and security. One expects a bit more from the world’s capital of movies. Nonetheless it’s worth the visit, at least once in a lifetime.