Monthly Archives: November 2015

Backstage Universal

Yesterday was quite a day.  A good friend works at Universal and was able to get us backstage onto the lot to wander around.  So after a healthy breakfast we headed off to the studio!

We parked by some production trailers and you could already see the building facades.  Weaving between the buildings we came out right in the middle of town square.  This is where the finale of Back to the Future was filmed!

Could we get it up to 88?
Not much runway to get up to 88mph
Wheres Doc Brown?
Where’s Doc Brown?

We were able to crawl all through the buildings and see the lights, facades, and props.  That city hall building has two facades – you can’t see it but the Back to the Future town hall facade is behind the one in the photo.

We walked around street after street of fake buildings – New York on this side of the street, London across over there, modern architecture just around the corner.  Any type of city street you’re looking for is only a few steps away.  I couldn’t take any photos though, they were shooting an episode of Agent Carter.  And you don’t take photos of shoots in progress.  There’s a lot of security, all designed to keep you from walking through a shot or leaking information.  So the iPhones stayed in our pockets.  We wouldn’t want Hulk to smash them.

I cannot tell you anything about the Agent Carter filming. Hulk would smash me.
Hulk says I cannot tell you anything about the Agent Carter filming.

After that it was on to Amityville, where we wandered around the docks watching the trams full of people go by the mechanical shark.  Quite fun to see things from the other side.

propsuniversal - 11

My friend taught me one thing that was hugely entertaining.  He pointed out that the passengers on the trams are constantly looking for ‘famous people’.  So every so often when a tram would go by he’d tell me to pull my baseball cap down and quickly look away from the tram.  Sure enough, people would grab their phones and start snapping photos.

Watching the trams go by...
Watching the trams go by…

Next up was the taping of a tv show, which I’ll get into in another post.  But after the taping we were given the keys to the kingdom – access to a golf cart!  We were able to tour all around the lot quickly and without climbing any of those pesky hills.  Want to stop and see the houses on Wisteria Lane?  Sure! Or maybe snap a photo on the porch of 1313 Mockingbird Lane?  Of course!  We’d watch the trams cruise by as we enjoyed the various neighborhoods around the lot.

1313 Mockingbird Lane
The Munster’s House (cleaned up)

I even got to ding-dong ditch Norman Bates’ house!

Ding Dong Ditch the Psycho House!
Psycho House!

We toured ‘Little Europe’ as well, the area where all of the classic Universal monster movies were shot.  The village sets here were used in Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc etc.  As well as Pirates of the Caribbean.

propsuniversal - 17
European Village Set
Captain Jack hid behind a statue in that alcove to the left.
Captain Jack hid behind a statue in that alcove to the left of the barn door
Frankenstein's Arch
Frankenstein’s Arch

My friend was especially excited to see that the ‘Frankenstein Arch’ has been opened again.  It had been boarded over during the production of Pirates, but is now once again as it was during the filming of Frankenstein.  Neat!

Sadly the replica of the Hunchback fountain has been disassembled and is slowly withering away in the hot California sun.  We found pieces of it behind the village.

Hunchback of Notre Dame's fountain is fading away...
Hunchback of Notre Dame’s fountain is fading away…
Hey, there's one extra lion...
Hey, there’s one extra lion…

We finished off the day with a visit to the prop warehouse on the lot.  This is a huge building where everything and anything needed for a shoot can be found.  It’s a bit like that giant warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Aisles after aisle, floor after floor of props.  An aisle here of stuffed taxidermy animals.  An aisle of nothing but toasters.  Another aisle full of old computer equipment (which looks a lot like my garage).  You name it, they’ve got an aisle for that.  Production designers roam the halls marking pull tags for the various objects they need to dress their sets.  You’ll see them all over – we saw a number of tags for the TV shows Scorpion and CSI Cyber.

propsuniversal - 41 propsuniversal - 44

We wandered the floors for about an hour, and asked the guys working there what some of their favorite things were.  Here are a few:

propsuniversal - 37 propsuniversal - 38propsuniversal - 46 propsuniversal - 45

I was told this organ was from The Munsters.  It’s definitely old!

propsuniversal - 34 propsuniversal - 36

And this iron maiden is definitely from The Addams Family:

propsuniversal - 48

This is from one of the old Mummy movies:

propsuniversal - 29 propsuniversal - 30

I was in hog heaven!  I could have wandered around that shop all day long.  What a day!  I was just sad that it had to end.  Thanks to everyone that made it such a fantastic trip!

propsuniversal - 28



Bucket List – ELO – Check!

I’m going to see ELO!  🙂

A tweet popped up on my feed early this morning that really woke me up. The Jimmy Kimmel Show was giving away tickets to a mini-concert by Jeff Lynne’s ELO!

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.14.17 PM

I jumped on the link immediately and scored two tickets for the show Monday night. Just minutes later it was sold out.  But I got in, I have two tickets for ELO!

A close approximation of the real thing

The show is in Los Angeles, so I’m getting the trip down south all squared away. But I’m ecstatic. Just amazed. In a few days I’ll actually be at an ELO concert! That’s one I never thought would happen.  The new ELO album will be on constant play around here for the foreseeable future I think.

And although tickets are all gone, there is a waitlist (the show is on the 23rd). Maybe I’ll see you in LA!

Now excuse me, I have to go convince the J. Geils Band to make a trip west of the rockies…


Flotsam & Jetsam – The Iron Giant

I love thrift stores and flea markets. It’s a bit like visiting a beach to see what’s washed up on the shore. Finding abandoned things that can be reclaimed, dusted off, and given a second chance is fun. And I find some treasures to boot.

Like today. I stopped in a local GoodWill and what was sitting on the shelf waiting for me? The Iron Giant. And he was giant. Twenty inches tall, this was the Ultimate Iron Giant figure put out by Trendmasters in 1999. This was only sold in the Warner Brothers retail stores (remember those?), so there aren’t a lot of copies of this toy out there.  It’s not only cool, it’s very rare.


It’s from the movie of the same name, The Iron Giant. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It didn’t do that well in the theaters, but it’s a terrific film. The central message is about ignoring labels and being who you choose to be.  There’s a good bit of fear-mongering and alarmist behavior demonstrated in the movie as well, especially by the government (‘Well we know that we didn’t build it, so that’s reason enough to assume the worst and blow it to kingdom come!’). So there’s a lesson in there about keeping calm and not pre-judging foreign things. Did I mention that the robot design is gorgeous, and the film is directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles)? Watch it.

iron giant poster

So, GoodWill had an Iron Giant. I quickly rescued it. They wanted $7.99, which is more than I’d typically want to pay. I’m happiest when I find a deal for under five bucks. It’s just a thing with me. But this toy was so cool I knew I was going to take it home.

Did I have a spot for it at home? Oh, absolutely not. All the shelves in my game room are stuffed full. There really isn’t anyplace handy for a twenty inch tall robot. But still, it was going home with me.

Then I pulled out the most useful tool known to a thrifter – my smart phone. I did a quick scan of eBay for Iron Giant Trendmasters. Oh wow, in the box this thing goes for well over a hundred dollars, sometimes more than two hundred. That sealed the deal, eight dollars was a steal!

I got it out to the car played around with it a bit, the eBay listing said that it could talk. Sure enough, I found the right setting for the switch and it talked. The jaw moved and the eyes lit up, it was animated. Cool. I sat it in the passenger seat and headed for home.

Funny thing. I’d accidentally found the setting for the ‘Guard Mode’. There’s a sensor on the front of the robot that senses fluctuations in light. Which triggers the animation/voice chip in the robot. It’s meant for little boys to protect their bedrooms from encroaching little sisters.

While I drove down the road the amount of light filtering through the windows went up, and down, and up, and down. And the Iron Giant sat in the passenger seat having a random conversation with me.  🙂

This thing really is big.
This thing really is big.

Fortunately when I got it home the first thing I checked were the batteries. They had just started to leak.  Not much, but I did clean things up as a precaution with a bit of vinegar. Always replace the batteries in anything you buy. They’re little time-bombs full of acid, get rid of them!

Once that was done I took some photos.  This thing has an amazing amount of articulation!


Sadly it’s not in the original box. And it’s missing the Hogarth figure (the little boy), as well as the two cars and the statue that the figure can ‘eat’.  There’s a hole that runs from the toy’s neck down into the robot’s chest – the original came with small cars that you could ‘feed’ to the robot as it talked.  All of that is missing though, so this isn’t going to command incredibly high prices on eBay. Just very high prices. It’s still a rather rare thing.

My wife doesn’t know yet that we’ve adopted a giant robot. Will she be amused? Or unhappy? I suspect amused, as long as I keep it in my game room. Guess I’ll have to clear off some shelf space somewhere. This is too cool to sell off on eBay just yet. I mean, we bonded on that drive home!