MTV Movie Awards Go On As Universal Studios Fire Burns

June 1st, 2008

Universal Studios Fire“That chemical smell,” the security guard said, “Is our archives burning.”

We assembled in the lobby, then began down the hill. Not surprisingly, Lankershim Boulevard was strewn with orange cones and Los Angeles’ finest. Most of the Universal Studios gates were barricaded. After a short detour (and a few wrong turns) we made to Gate 3.

Smoke was still pouring out of the back lot, just a few thousand feet from our offices, as we gathered ourselves and tried to address remaining coverage issues. We called a final production meeting atop the hill, jumped into a pair of carts, and raced off towards the smoke.

It was more than a little eerie — and, I’ll be honest, exciting — peering over the edge of the hill into the charred lot.

The MTV News production office was an odd combination of calm, and chaos. We raced to shoot a quick news brief, the split up: most got in positions for rehearsals, while Ryan and I came back down the hill to post the video online.

This from MTV News:

“The areas we are utilizing for our production were unaffected, and the 2008 MTV Movie Awards will go on as planned,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re working closely with authorities to make sure everything operates smoothly.”

According to Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, the blaze started on the studio’s New York street facade — where episodes of shows like “Seinfeld” and “Sex and the City” were shot — sometime around 4:45 a.m., and quickly engulfed several more street facades and the studio’s so-called “King Kong building,” a stop on Universal’s back-lot tour, where a large mechanical ape bellows at tourists and the artificial smell of bananas fills the air. At press time, the cause of the blaze was undetermined, he said.

“The fire moved very fast,” Freeman said. “So we responded accordingly to contain the situation.”

The show will, of course, go on.

In fact, the red carpet opens in less than an hour.

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Universal Studios Fire Threatens MTV Movie Awards

June 1st, 2008

Universal Studios FireI woke to the sound of a helicopter swooping what sounded like mere feet overhead.

Moving towards the window of my hotel room, a column of black smoke billowed where the mountains used to be, then flattened like an anvil just a few hundred feet overhead. The air was cast a gauzy, grayish-orange. Four helicopters circled overhead, alternately diving into the valley beyond.

‘That looks like it’s on the lot,’ I thought.

I worked a mental map in my head, imagining the five-minute cart ride from our offices on the back of the hill to The Gibson Ampitheater high above the back lot. The fire appeared to be somewhere right in-between, though — for what it’s worth — blowing southward.

I turned on the TV, and began scanning the channels. Local television wasn’t on the scene yet, but Fox News was, and the pictures were dramatic.

Entire soundstages were ablaze, high flames and thick smoke pouring out of the rooftops. Through the smoke, I could spot the “Back to the Future” town square, and famed New York Street set, both criss-crossed with fire hoses.

Reports indicated that the fire broke out just before 5:00 a.m. PT. Filming may have been going on at the time, and at least one explosion had been reported. Information varied as to whether the nearly 100 years worth of celluloid in Universal Stuidos’ Film Vault — from Lan Chaney’s “Phantom of the Opera,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” “King Kong,” “Frankenstein” and more — were threatened.

“The smoke is visible from the entire L.A. basin. Firefighters are coming in from as far as Covina. This thing is going to be burning well into the afternoon.”

On NBC-4, Elliot Sekuler, Universal Studios’ Communications Director, while conceding that he is watching the same footage as the rest of us, reports that “All the rides and attractions will be open today.”

From Universal City Hilton Room 1065, it looks and sounds a little like Vietnam to me. I’m not sure Mr. Sekuler might not be making some revisions to his initial statement.

For the moment, though, the fire appears not to threaten our offices, or the amphitheater, so all systems are go.

Universal Studios Fire

Universal Studios Fire

Universal Studios Fire