Fire at Universal Studios

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A fire broke out this morning on the Universal Studios backlot. Current live TV news reports are saying that, in addition to the destruction of the New York street and King Kong ride, the film vaults are threatened.

Let’s pray this isn’t true. In addition to Universal’s own library of classic films (and Walter Lantz cartoons) the studio holds the master elements to Paramount’s pre-1950 feature films.


  • Kevin Wollenweber

    Oh, man, just what I need, more bad news!

    Yes, I have to agree that I hope that this is just a case of the news media stretching the truth a little, but I hope that we get updates on just how much damage was done to the film vaults. Sure wish there was a better way to secure the negatives of all the films in studio vaults, although I realize that these are not highest priorities for any entertainment company these days. We’re on such a good roll, however, with the two existing WOODY WOODPECKER volumes. These are put together nicely, with some of the best extras I’ve ever seen from just about any studio, running neck and neck with Warner Brothers who, when they want to , do a magnificent job at adding very entertaining extras to their films and animated cartoon sets.

    But news like this is ultimately what causes me to scream “get it out there while you still can!!” Classic movies and cartoons should be spilling out onto video shelves as if our lives depended on such product! While our own miniscule lives do not really depend on such product, the life of classic films *DO* depend on immediate action. It would be silly of me to say that modern day films should be overlooked in favor of restoration on what exists in the vaults! After all, most entertainment companies are in it for the new treasures that might be tossed about in some of the more inventive minds out there. That is what entertainment is all about—change and progress. But some of that progress comes from knowing about what has already been done and when. After all, half this summer’s forthcoming blockbusters are “next chapters”, so to speak, of already existing franchises or remakes of older TV shows or animated cartoons! So why not give that nitch market the goodies that we are looking for!!

    Stop making excuses and let’s get to good, hard work!!

  • http://thadkomorowski.com Thad

    Films can be replaced. If you’re going to pray, pray that nobody dies.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I thought all of the film vaults were out of state stored in an old salt mine, maybe in Utah.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    “Films can be replaced. If you’re going to pray, pray that nobody dies.”

    New York Streets and King Kong rides can be replaced. Master film elements (Negs, soundtracks, nitrate prints, etc.) cannot. No one has been killed (the fire broke out at 4am)… I’m praying for the film vault.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I would think that a film vault of a major studio would have a sprinkler system or some sort of anti-fire system, if only to keep the old nitrate film from burning the city down.

    Jerry, you’ve probably seen as many vaults as anybody, how good a job do they do at protecting these things?

  • http://thelink.concordia.ca Christopher Olson

    There’s nothing wrong with praying that priceless art doesn’t get destroyed, especially when said art is of such a historic nature.

    But then here’s hoping no one got hurt.

  • http://swordandsarcasm.com chuckfiala

    This is terrible news. There is too much of great value in those vaults. Let’s hope for the best. We need more film preservation. Thanks for all you’ve done preserving film so far, Jerry. Let’s hope the materials all survive.

  • http://raw.channelfrederator.com/profile/nickR Nick R.

    NOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Andy

    The film vault is OK -that thing is world’s strongest bomb shelter. What’s burning is the video vault so there is no hope for a DVD release of “The Munsters Today” or “What A Dummy” or “Small Wonder.” My prayers have been answered!

  • Tom

    hopefully, like several other Hollywood Studios, they have their master elements stored off site deep in a salt mine.

  • http://www.toddjacobsen.com Todd Jacobsen

    I keep hearing on the local news (KABC here in Los Angeles) that the video storage is burning, but the film vaults are safe.

    Apparently the video storage has duplicates kept in another location.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    To the best of my knowledge, few individuals with historical know-how have ever been allowed to do a thorough check through Universal’s vaults for rare and/or lost animation material (most obviously the pre-Lantz Oswald cartoons—the few that they serviced to Disney were all from a handful that Lantz later reissued and that had long since been reshelved with the Lantz library).

    If vaults are threatened, we may never actually know what has gone missing. Unfortunately, I’m under the impression a lot of executives feel more threatened by knowledgeable outsiders than willing to let them aid in inventory tasks—even when potential profit is involved.

    Enough with my rant. I’m concerned about lives, too.

  • Bugsmer

    I’m more concerned with the lives of the firefighters than of anyone actually at the studio. Any employees there are probably staying well away from the danger, whereas the firemen have to walk right into it. I also hope that no films were destroyed.

  • http://cartoongeeks.blogspot.com/ Michelle Klein-Hass

    From what I can tell it’s just the video vault, and this is elements of in-progress work, not an archives. There will be some bummed TV producers but no danger to irreplaceable history. I’m willing to bet that they have their actual video *archives* housed elsewhere in Hollywood.

    The film vaults are not in the line of fire…yet. However, they have the fire confined to one sound stage now.

    What’s irreplaceable is the Uni “New York Street” back lot area, which was badly roasted. The Town Square from Back To The Future is obliterated. Sure, they’ll rebuild, but it won’t be the same. These are sets that date back to the silent era. And now they’re gone.

    Also according to KABC 7 TV LA four injuries have occurred. Think good thoughts for the injured. And in about 15 minutes from now the park should open.

  • http://inkwellimagesink.com Ray Pointer

    Master Film Elements and negative, particularly Nitrates are not stored on the Universal lot. Film negatives are stored in off-site film vaults. The Nitrate elements are supposedly stored with UCLA Film and Television Archives. The studios “donated” their Nitrate materials beginning in the late 1970s to avoid paying a “Nitrate Storage Tax” to the state of California. By turning them over to UCLA, the state bares the responsibility of storing and restoring, while the studios retain ownership.

    This is not the first time there has been a fire at Universal. There was a Backlot fire in the 1980s, and here we are in 2008 with pristine volumes of Walter Lantz cartoons that were unaffected by that event nearly 20 years ago. So let’s not cry that the sky is falling, yet.

  • http://cartoongeeks.blogspot.com/ Michelle Klein-Hass

    I stand corrected…just was reminded that New York Street burned once before, and what exists now is a reconstruction. The original set I thought had been destroyed today was actually destroyed in 1990.

    And of course, no big loss with the “King Kong” segment of the Studio Tour ride. Easily reconstructed, and probably should have been anyway, to reflect the more recent “reimagining” of the classic. The Kong who attacks the tram is based on the 1976 Dino Di Laurentiis version. Ugh.

    Also a very, very good thing that those film elements are elsewhere. The UCLA Film and TV archive deserves much respect…the “gift” of the nitrate elements forced them to develop the current state-of-the-art for storage and restoration of these fragile relics of cinema past.

    All in all, a very spectacular thing to see when waking up, but no big deal. Except for those injured and their families. Hope they’ll all be OK.

  • Elwood

    The air in the entire San Fernando Valley smells like burning plastic, yet Universal says it still plans to open up the tour and City Walk today. Long lines of tourists who’ve been breathing this polluted air are being affected. The AQMD is “evaluating” the situation. The desire to make a buck may be talking here.

  • Chris Webb

    On channel 2, the president of Universal, Ron Meyer, said no negatives were lost.

  • King Chuck

    If they lost the films maybe they could be “sweded” ala “Be Kind Rewind”.

  • Tsimone Tse Tse

    In a press release Meyer states there are “duplicates of everything.”

    Don’t fall ASLEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jay Kormann

    If anybody is interested, here is a link to photos that were taken during the fire: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lafd/

  • Crystal

    You think about films??? and what about the lives of the persons that where in the studios in that moment?????

    C’mon: with all the new modern technology cartoons and films could be saved (in certain ways, I don’t know, I’m not an expert! but it won’t be the end of the world! some cartoons will surely be registred upon a Videotape or DVD!) or even restored…but what to say about a human life????

    I’m writing this comment too late, I saw the terrible explosions yesterday at the news, and I just can say that I was worried about all the persons over there, their families and the Fire Fighters! I’ve just prayed for them all the time!

  • Steph’

    Nikki Finke is now reporting Decca and MCA original recording masters were destroyed in the fire. Amazed these were stored on-lot, but apparentely it was being used as temporary storage for them.

  • Steve Gattuso

    Now THAT sucks. They were most likely on site to be used in creating collections of classic material. I wonder whose voices just got forever stilled.

  • Rick R.

    Not official pics, but here are the pics I went down and took yesterday:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rick_r/sets/72157605379355800/

  • joe dante

    Unfortunately, there were lots of 35mm prints destroyed in the fire.
    One Universal exec estimates that “nearly 100%” of the archive prints stored on the lot were burned. There are some titles held elsewhere at Deluxe Labs and off-lot, but many rep houses around the country are scrambling to reprogram their schedules. I wouldn’t be looking for any pre-code Paramount or Universal horror fests any time soon.

  • Kevin Wollenweber

    Oh I am sorry for the injured. I’m even sorry for the future of all this and the human lives, too, if a fire like this had once started previous, doing a lot of damage to, perhaps, lives and art (and good music, too, by the way) and *STILL*, no precautions were taken. I don’t think prayer is going to help the unstoppable ignorance!!

  • Mark Vaz

    The fact that only a few individuals were injured and no one was killed is nothing short of miraculous. I just hope the LA Fire Department will be able to determine the cause of the blaze; so that appropriate steps can be taken to avert any more in the future.

    As for the archival prints that were destroyed; if the negatives for those films are resting safely far away somewhere, new prints can eventually be struck, couldn’t they? Granted, it would take a considerable amount of time to restore the archival library; but ultimately it could be done.

    I’m curious as to what Decca/MCA masters (I’m assuming that these are both tapes and metal matrices) were destroyed. Billie Holliday and Bing Crosby, to name just a couple of well-known artists, recorded quite a bit of material for the Decca Company during the 1940′s.

  • Nelson Curtis

    Perhaps those film prints can be printed from available elements stored elsewhere, but the big question is WILL they be reprinted? The major titles will, of course, but there may likely be many films that will be very difficult to procure for public showing for some time. My guess is that many of these circulating prints were struck before video had dealt such a blow to the repertory “circuit”. The question is, what kind of demand is there NOW, and how will the economic bottom line factor into the decision to strike a print of a given title.

    • RAVI NATHWANI

      DID THE WOODY WOODPECKER CARTOONS FROM 1959 TO 1972 MASTERS ARE SAFE?

  • ravi nathwani

    i hope that the woody woodpecker cartoons from the 60′s and early 70′s including the final woody woodpecker theactical cartoon short called bye bye blackboard from 1972 are not destroyed in that fire, if there safe, i hope that universal will have plans to release more volumes of the woody woodpecker and friends classic cartoon collection 3 dvd set series that includes the remaing other cartoons from 1959 to 1972, i hope universal release thoses cartoons on dvd imedeitly without deleys lets hope it happens right away, if you want to ask them did those cartoons survived that fire or if there are safe and when are they going to release them on dvd i suggest you call universal in california the number is 1-818-777-1000 you can also post comments about in regarding these inquires by following on facebook, twitter, youtube and google