The Dream Factory

Peek inside the Warner Bros. Studio lot with deputy editor Nancy Miller

For our annual Best of LA edition, we wanted to do something completely different in the pages of this year’s August issue. So we chose to devote 20 pages—the entire feature well—to a photo portfolio showcasing a wholly unique Los Angeles industry: The Hollywood studio. As editor-in-chief Mary Melton puts it in her editor’s letter, studios “are not only our steel mills but our Lands of Oz, emerald cities lorded over by wizards where strange and beautiful visions are realized.”

To realize our vision—the Hollywood studio as a dream factory—we tapped renowned photographer Dan Winters to shoot behind the scenes of one of our favorite back lots: Warner Bros. We chose this particular plot of 142 acres in Burbank because it has been the backdrop to some of our favorite films, from Casablanca to The Maltese Falcon to Ocean’s Eleven to Inception. Nearly 90 years in, Warner Bros. is still the place the greatest movie directors and producers call home: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, John Wells and Ben Affleck to name a few. In fact Ben Affleck, who has set up shop on the studio lot with longtime writing and producing buddy Matt Damon, perfectly describes the role of the studio in the 21st century as America’s last great industry: “Entertainment is now our country’s biggest export. We don’t sell much of anything anymore, but (the world) still wants our movies.”

Dan Winters’ rich and rare images—from the prop house to the soundstages—reveal more than the credits of any film ever could: the magic and mechanics of the Dream Factory.

    • The studio has spent 84 of its nearly 90 years on this 142-acre plot in Burbank.

    • The Media Archive Services Building, better known as the Vault, holds more than 65,000 television episodes, 6,000 features, and 20,000 shorts. The stand-alone structure is earthquake proof and self-sustaining; it can maintain proper temperature and humidity levels for three months. To protect the film, the storage area is kept at a teeth-chattering 35 degrees. Warner Bros. has other film storage facilities around the country, including still-functioning salt mines in Kansas and Pennsylvania.

    • All 27 cans of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, are stored in the Media Archive Services building.

    • The original Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies strips are like moving works of thumb-size art. Each frame contains layers of cels that exhibit movement, such as the smoke from Elmer Fudd’s gun, in painstaking detail. All of them are hand painted, and years later their color remains vibrant. Take that, Pixar.

    • Natalie Wood’s crimson dress from Rebel Without a Cause is one of more than 200,000 pieces in the corporate archives, but it’s no mere artifact. The rich hue of the frock is being used to help lab technicians repair Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic back to mint condition. The camera negative had been spliced, duped, and damaged after decades of projection. The restoration process will take roughly six months.

    • 35,000 items are stored in the prop room. Inside you’ll find the dining room table from East of Eden, a pair of Baccarat crystal torchères (two of only four left in the world), animatronic squirrels from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jack Warner’s original office furniture, Big and Carrie’s living room from Sex and the City 2, 12 sets of Oval Office drapes, battle armor from Troy, and much, much more.

    • At 32,000 square feet, Stage 16, the birthplace of the blockbuster, is one of the largest studio structures in the world. It’s where Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Big Sleep, Giant, The Music Man, Camelot, Annie, Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Inception were filmed.

    • The costume room holds miles of clothing, organized by category such as men’s suits.

    • Dan Winters gets an aerial view of the lot. Photograph by Niles White