Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Let’s all just calm down.

Today’s media freakout seems to be about the big fire on the Universal backlot.

The fire started in the New York Street facades, but no one on our local news seems to be explaining what a facade is or why they burn so well. I bet they’re not explaining it on your local news, either.

Basically, they’re lath and plaster over a wood frame, and from the outside they look just like buildings. Inside, they’re hollow with some rickety walkways, rotten fabric (hanging in the windows under the guise of curtains), and random piles of bird-shit splattered construction waste. Also, there are no fire escapes or emergency lighting and off the top of my head I can’t remember any fire sprinkler systems inside any facade I’ve ever seen (although I’m sure there are some somewhere).

Now, I’m certainly not pointing any fingers at anyone about this. The facades on all the lots look about the same, and when you consider how heavily used they are the accident ratio’s really not all that horrifying.

Universal Backlot


Facade interior

Facade interior

Facade interior showing stairs

As you can see from the photos, moving from one part of a facade interior to another can be challenging – there’s not really a direct route from point a to.. well, any other point at all, so quick escapes aren’t easy. Also, the interiors aren’t well lit so had there been a production shooting and someone (such as myself) had been inside the facade babysitting a light, it could have been a lot worse than just some replaceable and heavily insured structures burning.

Let’s all just take a break from the media hysteria to be thankful that there were no people trapped inside those facades when the fire started, and to hope that the few firefighters who were injured recover quickly.

Happy Sunday.

It’s just stuff.

Filed under: Photos,

5 Responses

  1. GroovyBrent says:

    I’ll be curious to hear when they know what started the fire. My first thought was that there WAS something shooting and I feared we were going to hear about a loss of life.

  2. jesse says:

    Let us all bow our heads and grieve to the copious amounts of bird shit that burned this morn at “Uni.”
    Listen people, there is no history in Hollywood except what remains on film.
    Sets are built and torn down everyday by people literally swings axes and sledge hammers.
    These facades are, well, Peg nailed it. Be not sorry. The real horror would be that actual “FILM” would be lost which unfortunately is happening as we read. Stunning imagery recorded on nitrate film is turning to red dust. Breathtaking performances from unknown artists from decades past are slipping away, never to be seen.
    These fiberglass, plaster and wood framed facades are nothing more than facades…..”a false, superficial, or artificial appearance.”
    Last time this happened at Uni a Fire Dept. employee (Yes, Uni has it’s own Police Dept. & Fire Dept.) started a fire and in hopes of being the first on scene to douse the flames and become a hero lost control of his fire and a similar scenario unfolded……..
    Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.
    God bless Harvey Korman.

  3. Gary says:

    Odd that sprinklers are not required. The city of Burbank requires new construction over a certain sq ft to be sprinklered, even in home additions. Granted, facades are more or less disposable, but they make great fuel for a fire that could easily spread to more valuable parts of the lot. What was up with the water pressure (reported as low) and why couldn’t the fake rain sprinklers have been used to help slow the fire?
    Now Ghost Whisperer will be waiting for Uni to rebuild before they can start up again in the fall…

  4. JCW says:

    I’m thankful that no one was seriously injured, and grateful this didn’t happen on the more historic Warner lot – I’d hate to see some of those facades go up in flames. It would be nice to think that the studios might take note and install sprinklers… but then, the studios have always been notorious in their lack of respect for the value of their own history.

    Still makes me sad to think of the MGM backlots being plowed under in the 70s.

  5. meg says:

    Cause of the fire? 3 people who will never work in this town again (j/k!)
    Oh wow, how would you like to be one of those responsible for starting the fire? Yeah, it was an accident, and “all proper procedures were followed” but golly, not something -I’D- want on my resume. “Last job?” “Um, roofing the back lot at Universal.” Makes most job fuck-ups seem pretty minor, huh.

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