A look inside Los Angeles’ movie-making machinery

Traffic and pedestrians at Hollywood Boulevard. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 October 2018

A look inside Los Angeles’ movie-making machinery

  • Read on for an unexpected travel guide to Los Angeles
  • This glimpse into the reality of Hollywood could come as a surprise to some

LONDON: First-time visitors to America often remark that arriving feels like stepping onto one almighty film set. The country’s iconography, look and feel is so instantly recognizable — already deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, via the land’s greatest cultural export: The movies. Which makes a visit to Los Angeles surreality squared. The home of Hollywood is at once both the most-photographed fantasyland on the planet and an uncomfortable glimpse behind the curtain, at the mechanisms and people bringing these daydreams to the world.

The mask slipped the moment I arrived, when an airport minibus spurted me out on top of a lump of faded metal etched into a grubby sidewalk, and I realized I was standing atop one of 2,627 stars making up the Hollywood Walk of Fame.




(Shutterstock)


That night I was served pizza by an aspiring opera singer, and I chatted with jobbing actresses in the coffee queue the next morning. When I brazenly strolled into a famed Sunset Boulevard rehearsal studio, rather than finding gold records on the walls I was asked, “La La Land”-style, if I was there to audition for the prestigious Berklee College of Music. I didn’t even have to look for the oily engine room beneath the star machine.

And of course, I was expecting to. Disavowing jetlag, I had booked an early slot on an arduous $139 “LA in a Day” guided two-wheel tour, from the excellent Bikes and Hikes LA — a 52km-workout through numerous neighborhoods and landmarks I knew only from the movies: from West Hollywood through Westwood to Santa Monica Promenade, down to Venice Beach and through Marina Del Rey. Peddling furiously up the titular inclines of Beverly Hills, our endlessly enthusiastic guide (and, naturally, aspiring film director) Zack pointed out gleaming once-residences of Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Lucille Ball.


To recover, that evening I feasted at Barney’s Beanery, the diner where Quentin Tarantino reportedly wrote much of his seminal early movies. When we asked which table he sat at, our waitress was as unimpressed as any of QT’s characters.

The next day I rested my legs, riding Starline Tours’ two-hour Movie Locations bus tour ($55), winding around a giddyingly geeky list of sights which, if you squint at them in the right light, remind you of the movies.

We glimpsed the US Bank Tower aliens obliterated in “Independence Day,” stopped at the historic Bradbury Building — its restored interior heavily exploited in the original “Blade Runner” — and visited Union Station, familiar from “The Dark Knight Rises” to “Catch Me if You Can.” We found the pond Jack Nicholson rowed through in “Chinatown” and the Hollywood United Methodist Church used as a dancehall in “Back to the Future.” Towering above was Griffith Observatory, the locale of the famous showdown in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Spotting all these real-life sites had the jolting effect of demystifying the movies, but nothing could prepare me for my visit to the modern Warner Bros Studio, Hollywood’s biggest surviving back lot, stretching to 110 acres out of town in Burbank.

For $65 visitors can join the 1,400 people who call this giant playground their office on an official studio tour and ride a golf cart through the fake streets and makeshift neighborhoods across multiple centuries and worlds that have been brought to life in hundreds of movies.

We visited a studio where dozens of weekly sitcoms are shot in front of a live audience with factory-like precision. (Shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” can wrap in just two hours.) We saw the dull soundstages used by make-believe epics including “Inception” and “Dunkirk,” and were shown a warehouse storing real-life Batmobiles, used over three decades of “Batman” movies.

Any semblance of mystery was totally annihilated with the closing blockbuster ‘Stage 48: Script to Screen’ complex, a collection of interactive educational exhibits allowing visitors the chance to ride a Harry Potter broom in front of a green screen, hold a real Oscar, and hear the award-winning audio to “Gravity” broken down layer by layer — and even act out a scene on the original Central Perk coffeehouse set of “Friends”. As I mimed firing up a fake espresso machine at the edge of the frame and served another tourist an unbreakable plastic mug, I realized my journey inside the Hollywood machine had gone far enough. Sometimes, illusion beats reality.


Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

Russia witnessed a 10 percent increase in international tourists in 2018. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 14 October 2019

Easing visa regulations makes Russia big attraction for Saudis

  • Tourists can visit the country’s regions by simply applying online

MOSCOW: Walking the cobblestone streets around Moscow’s Red Square, tourists from far and wide enjoy the crisp, cool fall air, surrounded by architectural wonders dating back hundreds of years.
Similar to Saudi Arabia, which has begun promoting tourism for the first time, Russia has opened its doors wider to the world by easing visit restrictions, increasing the flow of tourists.
Zarina Doguzova, head of the Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation, explains to Arab News the dynamics behind it all. “Russia is now very focused on easing visa restrictions and formalities. At the moment, an electronic visa is used for tourists coming to the regions of the Far East, as well as to the Kaliningrad region. And just a very short while ago, an electronic visa regime went live in the territory of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region,” said Doguzova.
Doguzova stressed to Arab News the importance of working with Saudi Arabia to increase mutual openness and to develop a successful travel industry in both countries.
“Saudi Arabia is on the list of countries whose tourists can visit Russian regions using an electronic visa. We are always happy to see tourists from your country visiting us. Moreover, from Jan. 1, 2021, an electronic visa will work throughout Russia, and we consider it a real breakthrough for global tourism. The same can be said about Saudi Arabia — the things you are doing are a new step in the development of global tourism,” she added.
Doguzova went on to explain that a significant easing of visa restrictions increases incoming tourism by an average of 10-15 percent for a country.
“Tourism is at the intersection of the economy and the country’s image, and that is why its value is even higher. Therefore, we are now developing the concept of Russia’s systematic promotion in international markets in terms of tourism potential.”
Russia is one of the 49 countries on the list recently announced by Saudi Arabia whose citizens will be able to apply for tourist visas to the Kingdom for the first time.
Ahmed Al-Khateeb, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), announced on Sept. 27, 2019, at an event held in the Kingdom’s capital that international investors agreed to invest SR115 billion ($30 billion) in the tourism sector.
Al-Khateeb and Doguzova met at the 23rd session of the General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization held in St. Petersburg in September, the first high-level event hosted by Russia for the UN in the field of tourism.

FASTFACT

14,000 Saudis attended the 2018 FIFA World Cup using FanID, an identification document required by the Russian authorities that provided visa-free entry to Russia for foreigners that purchased tickets to the match.

At 6.6 million sq. miles, Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of landmass and an exotic destination for many. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia gave it a serious incentive to develop tourism, with 14,000 Saudis arriving under the FanID visa that was launched before the start of the games. The e-visa system allowed fans to enter Russia visa-free once they had purchased their match tickets.
The number of tourists has soared since then, placing Russia on the global travel map. Russia saw a 10 percent increase in international tourists, with 4.2 million tourists overall in 2018, the state-run Vesti news website reported, citing the Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards.
Doguzova said there are many points of interest for both Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation to maintain a mutual tourist flow.
With President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Saudi Arabia, Doguzova hopes that both countries will sign the first framework agreement on tourism.
“For the first time, the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism has drafted such a document and agreed on it with the interested parties. This agreement will create a legal basis for further cooperation in tourism and will contribute to the development of tourism between our countries,” she said.
Doguzova noted that Russia has previously raised the issue of a possible visa-free regime between both countries and will continue to discuss the issue. “We are excited about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to promote tourism. A trend to lift visa restrictions is underway in the world because people want to cross the borders at will in order to travel. Visa liberalization is now taking place all over the world, and both Saudi Arabia and Russia are making significant progress in this field.”
“We want millions of tourists from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, to discover our country,” she added.