Somewhere, hidden deep in the San Fernando Valley, surrounded by high fences and heavy security, is a treasure whose magnitude is almost beyond the imagination of even the most ardent movie lover. Housed in a building that is at once massive, yet inconspicuous, it is one of the greatest collections of iconic movie memorabilia in the world. Here, over 90 years of priceless Hollywood history is meticulously collected, preserved, and stored. This is the Warner Bros. Corporate Archive, a place Bonnie Fallone Otto warmly calls home.
Keeper of the treasures
As the Director of Corporate Archive Operations, Bonnie keeps the massive enterprise running. Her team of highly-skilled specialists train their eyes on every active Warner Bros. movie and television production, flagging those items which are the most iconic; then, when production wraps, they make sure those gems end up in her protected facility where they will be saved for posterity. “Every day when I drive through the gates, I’m in awe,” says Bonnie. “You can’t help but look around and be overwhelmed with the scope, the artistry, and the history. It’s remarkable.”
Rarely seen by the public, we were fortunate to get an exclusive look at the Archive, and it is genuinely breathtaking. 19,000 Feature props. 13,000 TV props. 20,000 Costumes. A fleet of vehicles. Countless storyboards, cells and concept drawings. And the collection grows by the day.
In Bonnie, Warner Bros. found the perfect person to run the operation. A rare mix of creativity, business acumen, and endless perseverance.
Bonnie brings a rich history to history
Born in Livingston, New Jersey, Bonnie spent her early years scrapping with her two older brothers. They brought out the tomboy in her, playing army and trucks and sports, sparking a competitive streak in Bonnie that persists to this day.
Bonnie attended a small liberal arts college, Caldwell College, as an art major and moved to Boston. It was here, in her beloved City on a Hill, where she developed her passion for the Boston Red Sox.
One would think her degree would lead to a career in the arts, and, well, it did. Eventually. But the route was a long, circuitous one.
Bonnie wanted to work in something creative, but she also needed a job. A friend turned her on to an opening at the Federal Reserve, and Bonnie grabbed it. The department was called “Money Processing,” and Bonnie’s task was to take huge, vast sums of money and pluck out all the bills that were too worn out to return to circulation. Or, as they call it at the Federal Reserve, “separate out the rags.”
Because of her experience with the Federal Reserve, her knack for managing people and processes, and her inherent understanding of finances, Bonnie was able to get a position with a commercial bank, where she served as Assistant Manager for about two years.
Still, Bonnie yearned to be in something creative, and she started looking. Soon, she found a job with a small company that owned theaters. That led to the job that would change her life forever.
And then came Warner Bros.
It was 1981. Through the grapevine, Bonnie heard there was a job opening at Warner Bros. It was in Warner’s sales office (the studios called them called “film exchanges” back then) in the Park Square Building on Boston’s famed Film Row, whose tenants included most of the major studios at the time. The position was Office Manager, and Bonnie got it.
It turns out that Boston was not only a key sales office, but it was also one of the best run offices in the country. Her time in Boston gave Bonnie a foundation she’s grateful for to this day.
Five years later—Bonnie rose fast—Warner Bros. moved her to the lot in Burbank, promoting her to branch operations where she was essentially the office manager for the entire country. She went on to be promoted to Director, then Vice President. Other than a 4-year hiatus, Bonnie’s been with Warner Bros. ever since.
In the intervening years, as Bonnie rose through the ranks, she met her husband, Mike. Also a Warner Bros. employee, Mike installed the first PC Bonnie ever had in her office. Such is the stuff from which romance blooms, eh folks?
Bonnie and Mike were married in 1991, and in 1993 they had Ryan, their son, who is now attending the University of Greenwich in London.
In 2008, tragedy struck; her husband Mike was diagnosed with cancer, and in 2011, he passed away. “I had no choice but to be strong. I had my faith, my family and friends, and my son, and that’s what got me through it.”
We’re in this together.
According to Bonnie, First Entertainment has been right there by her side through it all. In 1988, Bonnie became a member, and since then, every auto loan, personal loan, and her mortgage, have all been handled through the credit union. “It’s not like an everyday bank. It really is like being a member — not a customer; the people know you, you know them, and it’s great. I wouldn’t bank anywhere else.”
The job of a lifetime. Actually, several lifetimes.
Cut to last October, when Bonnie heard about the job opening at the Archive. It was at that moment Bonnie knew she had found her place. “When I got the position, I was beyond thrilled. It was as though everything I had done in my life had prepared me for this. I’m incredibly lucky, and very privileged.” Whether it be setting up a pop-up replica Central Perk coffee shop in New York to commemorate Friends 20th anniversary or a display at the Warner Bros. Museum’s Batman 75th Exhibit, the Archive provides support for many departments within the studio. In other words, this is not merely a vault — it’s a living, active collection that creates excitement and thrills those who are lucky enough to see it. Wherever select pieces go on display, they’re always a major attraction.
And what a collection. It goes on for seemingly ever. A fleet of Batmobiles. A piece of the Andrea Gail from The Perfect Storm. Bogart’s wardrobe from the Maltese Falcon. The remarkable models used in Corpse Bride. Shelf after shelf after shelf.
Over there, a small army of Matrix villains. Though their heads are made of rubber and latex, and you know that in your mind, they’re still a disturbing presence.
That over there? Those are the original costumes from My Fair Lady.
And that room there that looks like a giant locked refrigerator, well that’s the home of Tim Burton’s astounding puppets from Corpse Bride. Though only about 17 inches tall, every detail, from the texture of the fabric of their clothes to the patina of a tiny, tiny ring, is completely accurate and realistic. The three main characters—Victor, Victoria and Corpse Bride—are fitted with heads the size of golf balls, inside of which are complex gearing mechanisms that allow the puppeteers to manipulate the character’s expressions. Looking at them, it’s almost hard to believe they’re not actual living beings.
Every item has a story. A remarkable, fascinating story.
Started in the early 90’s, the Archive collects, catalogs, stores and protects the most significant items from Warner Bros. film and television projects. Prior to that, mementoes frequently went to cast and crew. Warner Bros. is eager to reclaim or add iconic items to its permanent collection, so staff keeps a careful eye online and elsewhere to see what might pop up.
Bonnie works with departments across the entire studio to develop ways the Archive can support their efforts. If asked, her team can handle everything from concept to design to installation. Sometimes it might be for a premiere, or a street date for a home video release, or even that Friends pop up display, where Warner Bros. products flew off the shelves. “It’s one of the most fun parts of my job, “ Bonnie told us with a burst of enthusiasm. “I love the idea that the history of Warner Bros. is helping the Studio’s future—and I get to work in both worlds. And of course, I love seeing how people get so excited about our treasures, and to see how much they love Warner Bros. itself. It’s not just that our job is super creative, either. It’s the idea that when our items are on display, failure is simply not an option, period. That I love.”
A small team with massive experience.
The archive staff has talents across a wide array of disciplines. With expertise in film and television history, animation, costuming, preservation, fabrication, design and installation, they collectively make a major contribution, not just to Warner Bros., but to Hollywood itself.
“My staff treats our assets with museum-quality love and care. They sometimes travel with them, protecting them like a mother protects her babies,” Bonnie says. “If we’re on site, as we just were in San Diego at the most recent Comic-Con convention, our folks will move heaven and earth to make sure our display is absolutely perfect. It has to be.”
But Bonnie and her team get involved way upstream. When a production begins, Bonnie assigns an Archive Rep to the title, and it’s their job to watch every episode of every TV show, or to carefully study the film, and keep a detailed record of what they feel is an iconic asset. Once production wraps, the Archive Rep will work with the Unit Production Manager and the other department heads to ensure that all the property is safeguarded. Then, they’ll walk the set, recording those items that are important enough to archive.
On any given day, depending on what’s wrapping, Bonnie’s team might have to deal with several 40’ semi-trailers coming in with deliveries. Then the real work begins. The Archive Rep makes sure all the items are delivered safe and sound. Then they weed through it all again, returning background costumes to wardrobe, or hard assets back to property so they can be used again.
Each item then gets inventoried, evaluated with a lengthy condition report, photographed, then checked in with security. As you can imagine, security is super tight around the facility, with guards present at all times.
The processing of incoming treasures is complex. The team has to be able to identify with certainty which is a hero asset, and which is a stunt/double asset. They have to know whether a costume was worn on screen, and by whom. There is no detail too small. And though the work is painstaking with zero margin for error, Bonnie and her team live for it.
A one-of-a-kind collection requires one-of-a-kind care.
“We represent what is arguably the greatest movie studio in history. For my team and I, as well as Lisa Janney, the VP in charge, it means that what we do has to be the very best. It’s a big responsibility, quite challenging, and the scope of it is huge. Every day is a new surprise. And boy, do we love every minute of it.”