Studio Backlots

At the age of 11 I was taken to a movie studio for the first time. My father was on a picture at Universal at the time and my sister and I were ushered into a sound stage to watch him work. With its streets running between mammoth buildings, closed off to regular traffic, people getting around in golf carts or on foot, many of them in costume, it was clear this was no ordinary place. Inside, on the stage there were long periods of noisy activity in which huge lights connected by cables and camera equipment were moved around by dozens of grips and technicians, while set builders put up and broke down false walls and staircases. Beyond the stages were the backlots. There was New York Street, and a Western street, a European street, even a Babylonian castle. Most of the buildings were false fronts with nothing more than wooden frameworks holding them up. They were laid out in such a way that you couldn’t see one of these streets from another in order to preserve the illusion of whatever place each had been set up to represent. I was fascinated by how the illusion was created and the thin line between what supported the illusion and its often clunky underpinnings. My interest with The Studio Backlots was to explore these contradictions, showing how the magic was created, while preserving a sense of wonder about these remarkable places.

In 1981 I was granted access to the studios at Universal, Paramount, and Warner Brothers to photograph their backlots. And in 1999, the Fox lot was added to the list.