Steven Spielberg helps rebuild Universal Studios

Steven Spielberg helps rebuild Universal Studios
Universal Backlot is back in action after fire

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There was a dedication ceremony for the largest set construction project in Hollywood history at Universal Studios, with Steven Spielberg and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on hand to celebrate.

Spielberg, who has a 40-year history with Universal, said he was happy that the studios legacy will continue. And Gov. Schwarzenegger, who did five films with Universal before his political career, was just glad that it means more jobs will stay in California.

The occasion launched the reopening of the New York Street backlot locations that had been destroyed in a raging fire two years ago, on June 1, 2008.

The rebuilding effort had been called the “Phoenix,” after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, and Spielberg has been the creative force for the project.

 He was among the first to arrive the morning of the fire about 6 a.m., and recalled, “It was truly an inferno. The flames were hundreds of feet into the air and everything was coming down quickly. The smells, the sounds, it was very much like, but actually worse than, 18 years before when the same real estate burned down, burned down to the ground, and had to be rebuilt. I was on that team 18 years ago and I was very proud to volunteer my services to rebuild the lot this time.”

Spielberg pulled together a great creative team that designed the new sets, covering 13 city blocks of buildings on four acres. He contacted his long time production designer Rick Carter (an Oscar-winner for Avatar), who also crafted the look for Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. It was reported that the rebuilding cost $200 million.

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“What you see around you is the result of a new New York, and not just New York, but London and anywhere else your imagination takes you,” Spielberg explained. “Because the backlot can be anything an art department, and a director, and a writer put in our imagination.”

“So this backlot is a fertile basis for everyone’s use, everyone’s imagination. And I think this will be around forever, especially with the new fire sprinkler system that has just been installed here. It was an honor to be part of this,” the acclaimed filmmaker beamed.

In addition to Spielberg, Gov. Schwarzenegger, praised the firefighters, and called the event “kind of a homecoming,” because the studio made him a star with Conan the Barbarian in 1982. “They were the ones that launched my career. And then we did Conan the Destroyer and Twins and Kindergarten Cop and Junior. I have all kinds of really great memories of this studio.”

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Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios, Larry Kurzweil, president and COO of Universal Studios Hollywood, plus other top brass from the NBC Universal group, also shared memories and praised the firefighters who helped contain the blaze.

It was noted that there was no loss of life and there were no injuries resulting from the fire. To show Universal’s on-going gratitude, studio executives presented a check for $100,000 to local firefighting departments, to buy additional equipment to ensure firefighter safety.

Meyer said it was “a proud day for Universal Studios. The opening of New York Street shows the company’s commitment to film and television production in Los Angeles. And to supporting filmmakers worldwide.”

Tourists and local visitors will also get to enjoy it. The locations are now a highlight on the studio tour.

Kurzweil said, “This year marks the beginning of an exciting new era for our world-famous Studio Tour. Soon to open is the highly anticipated King Kong 360-3D, taking the 3D experience to a powerful new level. And with the completion of the iconic New York Street locations, we’re offering a more compelling behind-the-scenes experience than at any time in our history.”

After the dedication ceremony, the VIPs and media took a tram tour of the impressive new backlot area. And Spielberg lingered a long time after to talk with friends from the NBC Universal group and the firefighters.

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 He noted that the firemen did their best to save the contents of the historic film vault, carrying out the film negatives with great care. Spielberg said he was there and looked at all the titles of the movies they were saving. “Of course, several of the titles should have burned. But the majority of the titles, I thought, were awesome titles.”


Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to be half of the husband and wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who have written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 30 years.

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