Review: Is the Sony Studio Tour Worth It?
The Sony Pictures Studio tour takes guests behind the scenes of the former MGM studios, one of the most famed studios of old Hollywood. During this walking tour, guests go inside various sets and soundstages, and get a general taste for life on the Sony lot. In this review, we’ll cover the pros & cons of the Studio Pictures Studio Tour, how it compares to the Warner Bros. tour, and whether it’s a worthwhile thing to do in Los Angeles.
Actually, like the Warner Bros. Studio, the Sony Studio is in neither Los Angeles nor Hollywood. It’s in Culver City, California, which is nestled between Santa Monica and Los Angeles (just north of LAX). Probably due to its legacy as the former home of the MGM Studios, this is the one studio that is not located in Burbank.
In terms of cost, the Sony Pictures Studio Tour is the cheapest way to tour a Hollywood studio at $45/person with free parking (valet or self-park; we opted for self-park). We used the Go Los Angeles Card (read our review of the Go LA Card here), as did every other guest in front of us in line at check-in. If you’re thinking about doing both the Sony Studio Tour and Warner Bros. Studio Tour (read our Warner Bros Studio Tour Review here), it’s cheaper to buy the card and do them in the same day.
If you go this route, we’d recommend reserving the first Sony Pictures Studio Tour of the day and the last Warner Bros. Studio Tour of the day, with the middle of the day reserved for other experiences on the card as time allows.
You’ll definitely want to make reservations for this tour–and be on time–as there are only a handful of tours per day (space out by hours), and tour slots fill up days-to-weeks in advance.
The Sony Pictures Studio Tour starts with green-screen photo op (we skipped this, assuming we’d be charged for a photo at the end of the tour, but it’s entirely free) and an at-your-leisure tour of a Sony museum.
This includes a reproduced set of Jerry’s apartment from Seinfeld, which was a major geek-out moment for me.
One of the first stops was the set of Jeopardy! Inside this building, there are three podiums set up for photo ops, followed by a hallway with a variety of tributes to Jeopardy! This area was pretty neat, and included Emmys the show has won over the years and other historically-significant items–it wasn’t just fluff.
This led to the actual Jeopardy! set, which was really fascinating to see. We sat in what would be the studio audience, and were able to look out into the set while our guide offered various ‘fun facts’ about the show. Both this and the next stop (Wheel of Fortune) are not included on the tour when filming is occurring.
Next, we went inside the Wheel of Fortune soundstage and saw a set-up that was quite comparable to what we experienced previously in Jeopardy! The biggest difference was that this set was in partially-constructed form. It was interesting to see how much smaller this all looked in person. There was so comedic relief here supplied via the age-defying Pat Sajak and Vanna White (via video).
No photography was allowed on these sets, nor was it allowed in the next location…
From there, we headed inside the soundstage used for The Goldbergs, where we walked inside the sets for the family’s house and school. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but this was really cool.
The show was in obviously in the midst of production (we saw extras on the lot who were dressed in 1980s attire), and it was actually a bit surprising that we were allowed on a set that was ready (or close to it) for filming.
Aside from the tour format and frequency, one of the biggest differences about the Sony Pictures Studio Tour is that there isn’t a huge backlot with various streets used for filming establishing shots and exteriors.
Instead, there’s something of a functional ‘main street’ with a variety of different facades that can be used to film establishing shots. This aspect of the Sony tour is a disappointment as compared to Warner Bros.
At the end of this area, there’s a row of picture cars that were used in Sony productions. They have the RV and SUV from Breaking Bad, various Ghostbusters cars, a car from Talladega Nights, and a golf cart from 22 Jump Street.
This area is basically a photo op, but it’s neat to see these vehicles up close.
At various other points, we peeked inside other soundstages and spent a lot of time wandering through other areas of production; a big part of the Sony Pictures Studio Tour was the experience of being there, if that makes any sense.
While each Sony Pictures Studio Tour accommodates larger groups than the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (and is less intimate as a result), there are far fewer tours per day, and it’s clear these tours are an afterthought for Sony, whereas Warner Bros. has opted to make this an active revenue stream. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
In terms of it being a good thing, tour group guests are taken into areas of the Sony Pictures Studio that are quite clearly active. We saw costumed extras for The Goldbergs, animal actors being prepped for something, and a bunch of suits meeting at a random table. (Your likelihood of seeing a celebrity is much higher on the Sony tour than any of the other Hollywood tours, if that matters to you.)
There are times when you have to move off to the side to allow production crews and vehicles to pass, times when you have to stay quiet, etc. The point here is that you’re actually ‘backstage’ in a place where production is occurring. By contrast, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour takes you places where production has occurred (past tense), but the trams mostly steer clear of active work areas.
In this regard, the Sony Pictures Studio Tour felt more “raw” and real. If you’re taking a family with kids, this might be a problem. (In fact, children under 12 aren’t even allowed on the tour.) The Sony tour does not have the same level of ‘scripted entertainment’ as do the Warner and Universal tours, so it probably wouldn’t hold the attention of small children nearly as well.
For me, this was a huge upside to the Sony Pictures Studio Tour. Even when we were not actively being entertained by a scripted part of the tour, there were fascinating things to see going on all around us. The Sony Pictures Studio Tour is, in large part, an exercise in “seeing how the sausage is made” rather than an active entertainment. I liked this, but your mileage may vary.
The flip-side to the less-scripted nature of the tour that I just praised is that the Sony Studio Tour is tremendously lacking in polish as compared to Warner Bros. Calling to make a reservation for the tour was a hassle (we literally called 20+ times trying to get through), we had to sit in the parking garage prior to our tour starting, and it felt somewhat haphazard at times.
This was all best exemplified by our tour guide. Rather than being an exuberant, ‘show-ready’ guide like you’d encounter on the Universal or Warner Bros. tours, it felt like he was just a random employee on the Sony lot who happened to have time in his schedule to host a tour. While incredibly knowledgeable about the history of MGM and the goings-on of the Sony Pictures Studio, he lacked ‘stage presence’ and didn’t make the tour as engaging.
I think this is all really significant. In hearing feedback on the Sony Pictures Studio Tour, it’s highly inconsistent, with a lot of the same complaints mentioned above, and also reports of people seeing practically certain soundstages were closed to the tour.
Based upon what we experienced, I’d give many of the negative reviews of the Sony Pictures Studio Tour a good deal of credibility. The Sony tour felt highly improvised, but unlike the Universal and Warner Bros. tours, which always seem to have a “Plan B,” there was no such contingency plan. If something couldn’t be done due to active filming, it’d be skipped. This makes the Sony Pictures Studio Tour more of a gamble.
The gamble paid off for us. I found our overall experience of the Sony Pictures Studio Tour to be my favorite of studio tours we’ve done thus far. The lack of polish is both a strength and a potential liability. For our tour, it ended up being more of a strength. What we saw was more authentic than the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, and there is really something to be said for wandering around a working studio. I thought that was really cool, but that’s likely a matter of personal preference. The lack of polish in the organization and the tour guide was disappointing, but it was a tradeoff I’d accept for participating in a tour that wasn’t so much scripted entertainment. Keep in mind, though, that the Sony tour is unquestionably a gamble. Since it’s not a “product” in the same way as the other studio tours, there’s a distinct possibility that it won’t be as good as our experience. If you’re looking for something more consistent or better-presented, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is definitely a safer bet.
If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you done Sony Pictures Studio Tour? If so, what did you think of experience? Did you see as many things as we did? Was it well-organized and efficiently-run? If you’ve done any other studio tours, how did it compare? Would you do it again, or do you think it was a ‘one and done’? Was it worth your time and money? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
My ex-wife was a script reader for Sony Pictures and I was a still cameraman so I got to be on the set of many a film. I found it very, very boring and only hung around because I was getting paid. Sorry folks.
We did the Sony tour in 2013. I agree totally a lot depends on your guide. We were with a huge group, so got split into 2. Our guide was the ‘head’ guide, or whatever her title was. She was full of back stage knowledge/gossip etc., and was hilarious and personable. The stars obviously knew her too – several stopped to talk to her and our group as they were passing by. Except for Jada Pinkett Smith, who damn near ran us down in her hurry to get wherever she was going. The other group was not as happy, and in the end sort of tagged along at the fringes of ours rather than listen to their boring guide.
We enjoyed the tour. Although Warner’s is more polished and scripted, we liked the more spontaneous nature of Sony.
The hit or miss nature of the tours is no good, but having a rough/real feel makes up for it, in my opinion.