Sony Pictures Studios Tour is one of several movie and TV studio tours in Los Angeles. The Sony tour is a two hour walking tour of the working studios in Culver City that produce long-running game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy as well as a variety of sitcoms, dramas and feature films.
This particular studio lot began in 1915 and spent the years from 1924 to 1986 as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM, which produced some of the most famous movies in history. The studio had a brief stint changing names and hands before various partnerships ended and began, resulting in the new and improved Sony Pictures Entertainment. Their film division includes Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Screen Gems.
Like all studio tours, what you see will depend on what is going on that day. The more that's going on, the better chance of spotting a random celebrity walking across the lot, but the less you get to see of the inner workings. Most tours manage to show you a game show set, an interior set of a comedy or drama and at least one production element for sound or video.
On my visit, our Cleveland-born tour guide, Michael was very informative and entertaining, and spoke clearly and slowly enough for the international tourists with us to easily understand him – which was a bonus, since some tour guides talk really fast.
The first stop on the tour is under the 94-foot high, 188-foot-long steel rainbow, which was installed in 2012, and can be seen for miles from higher elevations. The giant arc is made of 100,000 pounds of steel covered with aluminum color panels. It was designed by artist Tony Tasset, who was inspired by The Wizard of Oz, which was filmed on the lot.
Right under the Rainbow, we visited the Columbia Pictures offices, where you can see all 12 of the Best Picture Oscars on display. Then we proceeded to the Rita Hayworth cafeteria, where Louis B. Mayer went to a lot of trouble to make sure the chef knew how to make matzo ball soup.
We walked through the set of The Goldbergs – a single-camera comedy that is not shot in front of a live audience – and got to walk through the school hallway and the Goldbergs' living room, where the furniture was covered - according to Michael - to protect it from the studio cats between tapings. I've seen sets covered similarly at other studios, but never heard that particular explanation before.
A real highlight for me as a singer was getting a look inside the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage. The 96-channell recording studio has been used to score countless films and TV shows, and is in high demand for its perfect acoustics. Just as Rita Hayworth was not responsible for the cafeteria, Streisand has no personal investment in the recording studio, but has recorded there. The very first song to be recorded in the studio was Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
In addition to Judy Garland, other child stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney also got their start on this lot, playing in the big league with such stars as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Joan Crawford. Notable films include The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, The Tin Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gigi, and National Velvet were shot on the original backlot, part of which was sold off in the 1970s by then-owner Kirk Kerkorian to fund the MGM Grand hotel chain. Most of the sound stages used for those films are still intact, but the outdoor sets are now covered in homes and businesses, so you can't walk down the street of Singin' in the Rain anymore. Since most of the backlot was sold off, there are fewer outdoor film sets at Sony Pictures Studios than Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, or Universal Studios Hollywood, however the facades of all the offices do double duty as filming locations, so there's a nice diversity of architecture.
Like other studio tours, photos are not allowed in most of the indoor set locations you visit. The exception on our tour was the Jeopardy set, where we were allowed to take pictures of the actual set, and they also have a nice little photo op set up where you can take a photo of yourself as a Jeopardy contestant. You can also grab a shot of their many decades of EMMY Awards displayed in a glass case.
The tour ends with an outdoor display of a few notable vehicles including two from Ghostbusters and the bullet-ridden RV from Breaking Bad. There's a stop in the gift shop – where the deal of the day for us was a pre-packaged turkey sandwich for three bucks. On the way back to the parking garage, we got to pick up our green-screen photo (included) that was shot at the beginning of the tour.
Sony Pictures Studio Tours
10202 West Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 244-TOUR (8687)
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:30, 10:30, 1:30, 2:30 (subject to change)
Save on the Sony Pictures Studios Tour with the Go Los Angeles Card.
The Jeopardy Exhibit and Set at Sony Pictures
I've done all the studio tours in Los Angeles, and the Jeopardy set on the Sony Pictures Studios Tour is the only time we were ever allowed to take photos of a working set. They also had this cool photo op set up in the lobby where you could get a shot of yourself as a contestant.
The Rainbow Over Sony Pictures Studios
The Rainbow on the Sony Pictures lot was not created for any film or TV show, it is a public art project created as part of the 1% for the Arts project in California, where all new construction is required to put 1% of the total budget toward one or more art projects. This piece, created by artist Tony Tasset in 2012, required 150 people to manufacture and install.
The Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage at Sony Pictures Studios
Only about ten to twenty percent of visitors to Sony Pictures Studios get to go inside the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage because its perfect acoustics are in high demand for audio recording.
Sony Picture Studios Madison Gate
There are three gates to the Sony Pictures lot. This one on Madison Avenue is the one you walk through at the beginning of the tour after meeting in the office building across the street, where there's also an underground parking garage with free parking for tour guests.