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Behind the Scenes: Academy Museum of Motion Pictures


The construction is nearly complete for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (@AcademyMuseum) at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax Boulevard, adjacent to LACMA (6067 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036). Ninety years in the planning (originally discussed in correspondence in 1929), the museum promises to showcase movies, but more importantly, movie production, art and science.


This was a behind the scenes look at the facility and the construction of the museum just before opening. The 1939 May Company department store building has been nearly completely gutted, although keeping the original gold mosaic circular façade in the front, which looks like stacked movie reels. The building has been renamed the Saban building after they donated $50,000,000 to see the project come to fruition. 


Renzo Piano is the architect who has reimagined the 6 floors of the building into exhibition spaces to house permanent and temporary exhibits, along with hosting event spaces a large lobby, numerous galleries, as well as the education spaces.



The Saban Building is linked via two suspended bridges to a sphere, a space housing an exhibition theatre in the center, with a roof-top 76 foot high terrace that gives spectacular views of the Hollywood Hills and of the entire downtown and West side of Los Angeles.



Our tour with Miguel and Aka afforded us the opportunity to see all of the nooks and crannies of the building. We started in the darkness under the Sphere Building. The sphere is made of about 25 million pounds of steel and concrete, all suspended on 4 columns, and supported by the bridges. As you walk out from under it, you are captured in the light between the two structures, a intended experience of "light and dark" or shadow and light as you would expect in movies.



The main floor has a huge grand lobby, with original cement wood-grain encrusted pillars supporting the area. There is exhibit space (supported by Stephen Spielberg), devoted to original movie memorabilia from The Wizard of Oz, since that was the movie out at the time the building was originally built. Restaurant space is on this same level, with a wine bar just above, and retail space.




We descended into the basement of the May Company building, where the intimate Ted Mann, 288-seat theatre is housed, along with several adjacent rooms for students to engage in the creative arts that support the movies. The sound system is state of the art, with acoustics that are bar none. There are 10 escalators, which when viewed from outside, create a sense of film running between the floors. One of these escalators will have the mechanical shark (Bruce) from Jaws suspended above it! 

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From the 2nd floor you cross via one of the suspended bridges to the sphere: of course, walking on a red carpet, to enhance the "Oscars" experience. You enter the David Geffen 1,000-seat theatre from below, arcing from the right or left into the main theatre space. Red chairs are arrayed in stadium seating style, with a huge Dolby screen in the front and all of the latest and greatest in projection and sound technology.




We climbed around the catwalks above the theatre and got to examine the view from above and the sides, with innumerable lights suspended all around. Covering the sphere is a gloss dome on the roof-top that allows you to see all of downtown, including the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance.

Exterior of the 5th floor suspension bridge

Walking back from the terrace via the Barbra Streisand 5th floor suspension bridge, you enter all of the exhibition space of the museum, where various exhibits will be housed, making up the main part of the museum. There will be interactive spaces, along with rotating and permanent exhibits. The museum archives has more than 200,000 movie titles, 12 million photographs, 92,000 screenplays, 104,000 production art pieces and 61,000 posters.


Can you spot Bruce from Jaws?

Needless to say, while the Miyazaki exhibit will be one of the first, there will certainly be thousands more to come. Overall, what an amazing opportunity and experience to visit all of the rooms, galleries, catwalks, corridors, and theatres that make a museum like this take life! We cannot wait to return when it opens and see the vision of the Academy finally come to life.




Images (22)
  • Entrance to the Museum: Hard hats are still required
  • Overall design plans
  • View of the Theater as Artist Drawing
  • Space between the buildings
  • Under the Sphere Building
  • Ajdacent to the Sphere Building
  • Exhibition space on the first floor
  • Cement-encrusted wood design: Wood boards used to create the columns of cement imprint onto the column
  • Two theaters
  • Cousin It in the Ted Mann Theater
  • Sound baffles in the Ted Mann Theater
  • Miyazaki Exhibit to be the first
  • Can you spot Bruce from Jaws?
  • How the mechanical Jaws will be seen above the escalators
  • Large Interactive Exhibit Spaces
  • Barbra Streisand 5th floor suspension Bridge
  • David Geffen 1000-seat theater in the Sphere
  • Theater from the catwalks above
  • Exterior of the dome
  • Exterior of the 5th floor suspension bridge
  • Reflections on the visit
  • View from the Sphere Dome Terrance

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Comments (1)

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An interesting behind the scenes look, Lester.  Thanks for sharing this.

Do you know if this Academy building will be open to the public, or will it just be for members of the Academies and their invitees?  As I recall, the current Academy building is mostly off limits except to Academy members.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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