This post isn’t one of my typical posts with fancy photos or multimedia; this is a post with simple iPhone photos that I took while touring Sony Pictures in Culver City, California (Westside LA). Nonetheless, I had a pretty interesting time learning about its history and rumors and decided to share it with you, despite it not being on par with my typical presentation. Here goes.
The tours are usually $50 a head, but my husband and I got a sweet hookup from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who works at Sony in distribution and, so, we jumped on the free opportunity like flies on shit. I wasn’t allowed to take photos while on the tour, so I tried my best to snap what I could front he hip and as discreetly as I could with my cell phone, so these shots are the outcome.
Law breaker, you say? You have no idea.
First of all, Culver City, California is the jackpot of movie production companies. Along with Sony, Culver City is also home to Smashbox Studios, HTV Studio and others that I’ll save mentioning since it’s easily searchable on Google. The other major location for production studios is the city of Burbank. Both cities, by the way, are considered “Los Angeles”, which is why I am still confused about a lot of things. Burbank and Culver City are about 30 miles a part from one another, but they both sit in the 60 mile radius that engulfs much of Los Angeles. In sum, LA is HUGE!
Just for context, Los Angeles is broken down into many neighborhoods and a metro area. I live in Koreatown, which is in the metro area and it’s a super spunky, lively, never sleeps, a delicious food haven, a music loving place and contains bizarre asian markets. “Bizarre” from my western perspective. It’s so much fun.
The neighborhoods, on the other hand, are kind of like sleepy cities. They aren’t as wildin’ out like the metro area, rather, they’re places to “raise a family”, as I’ve heard some people coin it. Still don’t know what that means, because people are raising families in the metro too, but this is what I’ve got, guys. I’m trying to speak SoCal to you here, and yes, some people would probably argue this, but I’ve already stated my disclaimer without having actually called it that: I AM STILL LEARNING.
Now, about Sony Pictures. It was originally founded as Columbia Pictures in 1987. Before that, it was an asset of The Coca-Cola Company, under the Coca-Cola name. Upon its foundation, TriStar Pictures agreed to be renamed “Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc.” Coca-Cola remained the owner of less than 50% of the company.
According to our guide, on account Coca-Cola is a beverage company, it had no clue how to run a production company, thus, the dysfunction resulted in the total sale of Coca-Cola’s remaining shares to Columbia Pictures.
With the change to new ownership, Columbia was able to realign itself and get back to work producing some pretty darn memorable movies, like: The Blue Lagoon, Monty Python, Roxanne, La Bamba, The Last Emperor, The Karate Kid, When Harry Met Sally, The Phantom of the Opera, and the list goes on. Then, sometime in 1989, Sony bought it all, and, so, Columbia became a subsidiary of Sony operations.
Today, Sony is one big cluster – nope, you already know how this ends – of many different projects and offerings. I’m talking, from movies to clearinghouse efforts and from studios to distribution. In sum, it’s better coined the “Sony Corporation”, and for the sake of this piece, we are talking about Sony Pictures, which I know you know that I know this.When my husband and I got to Sony Pictures, we parked in the company’s massive parking garage, signed in, received name tags, a pass, met with our tour guide and commenced the adventure. When we entered the gates, I immediately thought I was on a movie set. Everyone was busy doing something that I thought looked very queued and it kind of reminded me of the moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and everyone dance on the yellow brick road. People were carrying wheelbarrows of whatever off in the distance, groundskeepers in their unusually clean uniforms were tending to perfectly manicured flowerbeds, others were carting off things in boxes with immense focus and, what I swear to be, a little hitch in their get along, everyone was also saying hi to one another as they passed en route, and some folks were sitting in a nice clearing under a massive Mother Earth-lookin’ tree while working on their computers as birds chirped real songs with, like, tenor sections and the whole gamut. Like I said, it just felt very “movie like”.
I also noticed that the buildings were made to look like shops with ornate facades, symbolic of different eras.I definitely had to snap some of their Breaking Bad fan merch. Represent 505!
Mostly, the shops were fixed up as merch shops, but our guide told us that they’ll sometimes clear them out to use them in movies.Then we were welcomed by this massive fake rainbow, which reminded me of the People’s Friendship Arch in Kyiv, Ukraine. Look it up. I don’t know the story behind this one at Sony Pictures, sorry.There were a ton of towering warehouses with lots of commotion going on inside, too. I saw the set of Captain Marvel, for example, which looked like an alien spaceship. There were foreign films in production with titles I cannot remember for the life of me and a Japanese talkshow that was fancied with pops of pink and gold – art direction that kind of reminded me of that seen on the Wheel of Fortune, but more glitzy.
Speaking of Wheel of Fortune, they actually film the show once a week at Sony Pictures and it’s apparently free to attend. You just sit in the audience, watch and applaud and clap when you’re queued. Sounds like fun.
We also walked a bit behind the warehouses where we saw the celebrity quarters. They were really unsuspecting, in fact, a little too unsuspecting, come to think of it, which made them suspect, after all. I was hoping I would see Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt or Sean Penn, but no, instead I saw John Cho on his way to the restroom at the Irvine Thalberg building. John Cho is one of the mains in Herald and Kumar go to White Castle – an old “stoner” movie, as it’s been coined. And by the way, I’m not complaining that John Cho is now my official first celebrity siting. I just expected it to be a little bit more romantic like how everyone else talks about their first celebrity sitings. My mom, for one, spotted Danny Bonaduce (from the Partridge Family) at a cool bar in West Hollywood way back when and they shared a laugh or two. Le sigh.
So, about the Thalberg Building. It’s named after Irving Thalberg who was considered one of the greats in motion-picture. He was known as “The Boy Wonder” because of his youth and ability to wrap a production together from start to finish. He ended up taking a short vacation to Monterey, California on Labor Day weekend in 1936 where he contracted pneumonia. He died some days later. According to history, his death really shook the industry and, in tribute to him, the studios shut down for a day of silence.There were Oscar Awards on display for movies like Gandhi and Mutiny on the Bounty, which was cool. I had never seen a real Oscar so up close and personal like that.
Then we strolled around the campus a bit more and talked about work culture at Sony Pictures. I learned, what I think to be fascinating, how Sony Pictures screens new hires. They want to ensure that they aren’t bringing anyone on with the ulterior motive of becoming famous. They ask specific questions and research your social identity and determine your fate based on that. I guess, despite their efforts, they have missed a few new comers with ulterior motives. Our guide explained that they had to let a girl go who claimed to be a direct descendant of Katherine The Great from Tsar Russia. I guess she bragged about possessing certain manuscripts written by the Empress that were validation of her heritage to the royal, which got her to a point of hanging out with some of the higher officials of Sony, but they eventually fired her. This is heresy, because I can’t find anything to confirm this online, but it’s pretty fascinating, nonetheless.
We ended the tour with strong coffee and sticky sweets from the studio coffee shop and called it a day. This was my first studio tour, but I can’t wait to experience another. If you have friends who work at one of them and who would be willing to give me a tour in exchange for coffee and sweets on me, I would greatly appreciate the connect!
By the way, have you been on a studio tour? If yes, what was the most fascinating thing that you learned?