From the iconic Hollywood sign to the handprints of movie legends outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to the Oscars, Los Angeles is the ultimate movie town. Want to get up close and personal with this celebrity acting world? Take an insider’s tour with LA local Jan Fox.
So this is Hollywood, and all the traditional tourist guides will tell you how to get a photo of that famous Hollywood sign, but get away from the tired old tourist routes and you’ll get more of a feel of a real actor’s Los Angeles and find out where the locals hang out.
Keep your eyes peeled. If you see floodlights and velvet ropes being unloaded from big rigs outside the ArcLight cinema on Sunset or Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s a dead cert there’s a premiere happening that night. Both venues are good for getting up close and personal to the stars.
Fancy auditioning to be a star yourself? No chance unless you have a work visa but you can apply to ‘audit’ an acting class. Top Los Angeles coaches to the stars include Ivana Chubbuck, Larry Moss and Margie Haber but get in line – there’s usually a waiting list. Find them on Facebook and book early. Or check out the less pressured but prestigious short courses (from four sessions up) at UCLA’s Extension programme, featuring everything from film acting, to writing that Oscar winning screenplay or making a low budget film. Browse their brochure online.
Rather watch others do the work? Despite recent talk of a slow down, you can still see film crews aplenty working on the streets of LA, on streets which double for a raft of other cities like Las Vegas (CSI). Play detective and follow the small yellow signs you’ll see pinned to lampposts around the city to find a location shoot in progress. It might be anything from a commercial to a movie or TV show.
Catering trucks and trailers are also a dead giveaway that something’s happening. Street location shoots happen all over greater Los Angeles. Scenes from TV’s House, and movies including A Single Man, The Wedding Singer and the classic It’s A Wonderful Life were shot in and around my tiny town of Montrose, near Pasadena.
Is that sitcom laughter really ‘canned’? Find out for yourself by going to a show taping. They usually take place between 3-7pm. After a long line to go through security, you are in the theatre for 3-4 hours, entertained by the warm-up comedian, having occasional candy bars thrown at you, and being escorted to and from the loo. It’s a long haul but fun, and tickets are free.
Sitcoms, game shows and talk shows are all up for grabs. Apply for tickets direct through network websites, line up at studio ticket booths (like NBC Studios in Burbank for Jay Leno’s Tonight show), or try a ticket agency like www.tvtickets.com for sitcoms or www.1iota.com for talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Wonder how those sitcom stars got started? Many honed their skills in improv and sketch comedy. Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow and Kristen Wiig are all alums of the famous Groundlings. Catch the stars of the future at their West Hollywood Theatre on Melrose.
Also check out the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on Franklin Ave, near Beachwood Canyon (best view of the Hollywood sign is driving up Beachwood Ave).
To see where it all began, explore Hollywood Boulevard’s three historic movie theatres. The Egyptian, built in 1922, has a great programme of classic movies on the big screen, often with special guests. Check out the American Cinematheque website for details. El Capitan, now owned by Disney, was built in 1926. Pre-movie, audiences are entertained by live music from an organ which rises up through the floor and sinks down again to great applause. Big kids love it as much as little ones.
Grauman’s Chinese, built in 1927, has the famed foot and handprints of the stars. Some 25 actors and musicians are awarded a star on the Walk of Fame each year and the Hollywood Chamber Of Commerce website publishes details of forthcoming ceremonies. They typically last about half an hour. Get there early to bag a good vantage point and to be able to hear the speeches.
Those star names on Hollywood Boulevard go all the way back to the silent movie era and if you want to see some of those greats in action, visit the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax in West Hollywood for an unusual night out. In homage to the silent era and DW Griffith’s epics, are the massive elephant statues and temple pillars that adorn the Kodak Theatre complex, home of the modern day Oscars. Visit the week before the ceremony and you’ll see the red carpet being laid, the bleachers going up and giant versions of the prized statuette decorating the walkway.
Across the street, the Roosevelt Hotel hosted the first ever Oscars, awarded over dinner, in 1929. Sip a cocktail in the darkly mysterious lobby or explore the chic new Library Bar and commune with movie ghosts. Hang out with long gone stars like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Jayne Mansfield at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which has open air movie screenings – bring a picnic. Forest Lawn cemetery has two main sites, one by Warner Brothers in Burbank and the other, little known but housing some of the biggest names, in the suburb of Glendale (where John Wayne grew up). Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart are among the greats buried here.
See the studios that made them famous with a VIP tour of working studios Paramount and Warner Brothers, but skip Universal unless you like theme parks with long lines. Hollywood premieres happen year round but your best bets are the two major film festivals. In June, the ten day LA Film Festival is centred on the LA Live complex in downtown LA and in November, the AFI Film Fest takes over Hollywood Boulevard.
Grab a brochure listing all the premieres and turn up early to see the stars arrive. Or book tickets to a screening, often followed by a Q&A with stars and directors. If you’re a major musical fan, head for the magnificent art deco Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. Nondescript from the outside, inside it’s an absolute gem. Sip an interval glass of champagne in the lobby and imagine the stars of yesteryear climbing the long staircase. Upcoming shows for 2011 include Shrek The Musical.
To work off that lunch, skip the gym and join the many Los Angeles actors who prefer a hike in the canyons, often with canine chums in tow. Fryman (which goes right past George Clooney’s house) Runyan and Franklin Canyons are favourite haunts. Finally, if you’d like to try and get inside the head of director Tim Burton (Alice In Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands), trip on down to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) which has a major retrospective of this Burbank native’s concept artwork and movie costumes from now to the end of October 2011. Book ahead online.
Above all, remember the streets may not be paved with gold, but you can have a great time imagining they are, and pretending for a few days that Hollywood is home.