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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blast from the Past: Disney Studios and L.A. Zoo

Our first year in Los Angeles, we stopped by the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. We were on our way to the Los Angeles Zoo, and I figured it'd be OK to stop off and see what a movie studio looks like - from the outside. There was honestly nothing to see, except the main entrance . . . 

and the "Seven Dwarfs" office building. The studio isn't open to the public. Guess if you really want the "Disney experience," you either need to know somebody, or drive down to Disneyland. 

After a couple more pics (including the obligatory "crazy" photo that my kids continue to insist on) we headed over to the Los Angeles Zoo.

The Los Angeles Zoo was "OK" - I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars. Maybe that's not fair, because at the time the zoo was doing a ton of remodeling, so a couple of sections were closed off. The remodeling has since been completed, so I'm curious to what it looks like now.

My kids were 3 1/2 and just shy of 6 at the time, so we focused on the children's section of the zoo (translation: I didn't have the freedom to walk around and take a lot of pictures). 

They had an age appropriate little show that kids could participate in. 

My son LOVED (still loves) this kind of thing. 

My daughter choose to just watch. 

These pictures were taken six years ago - it's honestly amazing seeing how quickly they've grown. Six years from now - God willing - my son will be thinking about college; my daughter about driving. I'm reminded of the words of Moses: "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90).

No time like the present in terms of building into our kids' lives - and passing on our faith and values to the next generation. 

© 2011


On A Clear Day: View from the Huntley Hotel

One of my favorite "L.A. views" was from the glass elevator at the Huntely Hotel in Santa Monica: great views of Santa Monica, the bay, and the mountains. Easy to see why Santa Monica has become an international destination.

If you want to enjoy the same view, you can do so either from the elevator, or from the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. Parking is available in the neighborhood, or a couple blocks away at the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade.

Here's a
 link to more info on the Huntley Hotel.

For me, the view from the Huntley was a reminder how fortunate we were to live in this area. It also was a reminder of the responsibility that comes with that. As the pastor at my church said many years ago, "if God has blessed us economically or materially, we shouldn't feel guilty - we should feel responsible."

I think it's easier just to feel guilty. Responsibility implies actually doing something.

Jesus said on multiple occasions "to whom much is given, much is expected."

I - and others on the westside of L.A. - honestly have been given much ... and it's challenging thinking what that means in terms of investing my time, my abilities, and my resources in the lives of others.

Here's to those five years we spent living in Los Angeles - and the responsability that came with it.

.originally published 7/4/2009

© 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Warner Brothers Studio Tour (Part II)

When we were living in Los Angeles, my sister treated my wife and I to the studio tour on the Warner Brothers lot as a birthday present. Last week I blogged about walking through the set of the old "ER" TV show. This week I'll cover the 2nd half of our tour. 

The New York set: hundreds of movies, TV shows, and commercials have been filmed on this street. 

Another view, with the Warner Brothers corporate office building and studio tower in the background. 

According to the website

The oldest section of the back lot at Warner Bros is New York Street, a mock city block, built in 1930 for the gangster movies that made Warner's famous - starring the likes of James Cagney and E.G. Robinson. One part of the street resembles New York ("Lois and Clark" was shot here, as were the "L" train tracks from "ER"). The other side resembles San Francisco. It was here that they shot portions of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Batman Returns" (it posed as Gotham City), and the sci-fi classic "Blade Runner." And it's here that you'll find the facade of the 'St. Gregory Hotel', from the TV series "Hotel."

This is real, working studio. Dozens of hopeful actors/actresses were on the lot, preparing for a screen test - and, they're hoping, a role in an upcoming film or TV show. 

Turning a corner and at the end of the street was the city hall from the old, campy "Batman" TV show. Of course, Gotham city never had mountains behind it - that's the hills of Griffith Park in the distance. 

A "tighter" shot - that's the Gotham Hall city hall I remember as a kid. 

My wife and I in front of the "embassy" set. A few days later my kids and I were watching the 1999 version of "Annie" - and immediately recognized this set as the exterior of Big Daddy Warbucks' home.

The Warner Brothers tour is very personal - our group of eight was able to walk around the outdoor sets, take photos and explore. Really neat. In that sense, it was very different from the Universal Studios tour (and theme park) a couple of miles away.

Inside one of the "prop" buildings. Never saw the latest "Scooby Doo" movie (and, honestly, probably won't). 

Central Perk: from the "Friends" TV show set. 

While I can count the of times I watched "Friends" on one hand, it was still fun to sit down on the couch from the set and pose for a couple of pictures (which, by the way, were taken by our tour guide). 

Another view of "Central Perk."

Fun for us - and we're not even real "Friends" fans. 

As I've commented before, I'm continually impressed by the artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship that those working in "the industry" (the entertainment industry) put into their work. For sure, I'm also disappointed by some of the scripts that studios green light for production. The reality is that even living in Los Angeles, our family chose to avoid both network or cable televison, limiting our media intake to just videos and DVDs. Part of it was cost, part of it was we just weren't interested in what was being offered. 

Yet I'm still impressed in how much work goes into making a film, any film. Living and working in L.A., it was fun stumbling upon a movie, TV show, or commercial being filmed on location

A trip to the Warner Bros Studios gave me an even greater appreciation to what it takes to bring a story, any story, to life - and the impact that even a single film can have globally. In that sense, for good for for bad, what happens in Los Angeles influences the world. 

Here's a link to the Studio Tour website. 

© 2011

Sunrise Over Los Angeles

When we lived in Los Angeles, I took regular morning hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains with a couple other guys from the church we were invovled with. We try to get together once a week to hike, as well as to pray for each other, our families, and the larger community.

The the low coastal fog yesterday morning made for an especially spectacular sunrise. Wow.

Equally as impressive was the fog up against the Santa Monica Mountains. In the distance is the faint outline of the San Gabriel Mountains.

A lone palm tree peaking up through otherwise shrouded hillside homes here in Los Angeles. Click on any of these photos if you'd like a larger view.

A view out towards the ocean. By mid-morning this fog burned off, but we were able to enjoy it as it hugged the mountains.
"In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation."
..Psalm 5:3

originally published 9/13/2009

© 2011


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Carmageddon: Biggest Non-Event of the Year

After weeks of hype, "Carmageddon" - the closure of 10 miles of the 405 Freeway - ended up being the biggest non-event of the year. Here's a map of traffic on Saturday afternoon around 2:30pm. Traffic hasn't been this great since the 1984 Olympics. 

We now return to our regularly scheduled gridlock. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Taste of Chicago: Warner Bros Studio Tour

The Chicago L (Elevated Train). Recognizable all over the world. This is Blue Line and the Shepherd Avenue Station. 

Actually, it's not a station. It's not the Blue Line. And it's not Chicago. 

When we were living in Los Angeles, one year my sister treated my wife and I to the studio tour on the Warner Brothers lot as a birthday present. These photos were all part of the "ER" television show set. Above, a Chicago-style newstand. 

This summer my family and I spent six weeks on a work related trip to Chicago - figured this would be as good reason to post these Chicago backlot photos.

Another view of the L train set, with the front of "County General Hospital."

Palm trees and a office building to the left. Welcome to Hollywood. 

This "tight" shot could in theory pass for Chicago. 

Add a little winter snow outside, a bunch of actors running around, and a soundtrack - and you're set: County General Hospital. 

ER aired from September 1994 to April 2009. My wife and I were at Warner Brothers in April of 2008, so this was all during the final year of production. 

Inside the interior ER set - that window our tour guide is pointing to is simply a photograph and can be changed to represent either day or night. 

Same thing with the vending machine images in the waiting room set: just photographs. 

My wife and I inside the emergency room set. Sort of a "serious" set - should we be smiling? 

Walking out with the "Jumbo Mart" across the "street" - the L set is visible at the top of the photo above. 

A final view of the L Station. 

Looking down Warner Brothers "New York" set. Over the years, this has been used for hundreds of movies and TV shows. 

View from inside our eight passanger cart - for anyone who has been to Universal Studios, the Warners Brothers Tour was a very different (and for me, much more interesting) experience. More on that in Part II next week. 

Oh, and here's a real deal: an L Station in the Loop. Yes, we really were in Chicago this summer. Good times (not to be confused with Good Times). 

With "Carmageddon" (the closure of the 405 Freeway) in L.A. this weekend, it'd be nice experiencing L.A. with other options: a version of the L - or a real subway system - rather than a single line and this set piece on the Warner Brothers lot. 

© 2011


Not Ashamed: Benetton in Santa Monica

A couple of years ago my wife and I were walking by the Benetton store on the Third Street Promenade - a three block outdoor public shopping area in Santa Monica.

Music was blasting from inside the store ...

. . . with four employees in the front window - dancing . . .

. . . and drawing a huge crowd. 

My wife commented that no one was in their store; everyone was outside watching the show! 

They eventually got some younger kids to dance along with them, which only increased the size of the crowd out front.

I was impressed with the number of people - like myself - taking photographs. So, I decided to photograph the crowd taking photographs. That's the Criterion in the background.

Benetton (based in Milan) is certainly not unique to Los Angeles - they have stores are all over the world, including several in the media capital that is L.A. 

Two thousand years ago, St. Paul - the most influential leader in the first century church - wrote to a group of new Christians in the capital city of the Roman Empire: 

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans 1:20)
"I am not ashamed." The folks dancing in the window certainly were not ashamed. (Of course, some would argue that it helps working for a retail chain that spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year in advertising and perfecting it's image.)

"I am not ashamed." A local pastor once said, "when some Christians talk about their faith, they should use breath mints: the gospel is offensive enough. They don't need to add to it."

Over the years, I'm sure I've needlessly added to the what Paul called the "offense" of the gospel. Chalk it up to the stupidity of youth (or just stupidity).

The great thing about living on the westside of Los Angeles - where many people consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious" - is that it causes me to constantly go back to what I believe, not to take my faith for granted.

"I am not ashamed." 

Or am I? 
I appreciate the folks over at Benetton and the reminder - in a very indirect way - that it's the very last thing I should be.

originally posted 2/15/09

© 2011