By Rick Bentley
LOS ANGELES — The steady beep of a school bus backing up fills the early morning air. It mixes with the drone of street traffic to create the melody of the city.
All of the traffic is passing by a rather nondescript set of buildings on Sunset Avenue. The majority of the drivers struggle through their commutes unaware of the tight security needed to get access to the complex they are passing.
The security is necessary on Stage 9B, where the popular Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana” films. Otherwise it would be overrun by Miley Cyrus fans.
On these few permanent sets of a beach location and the family living room, a musical empire was born that ranges from toys to DVDs to the feature film “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” which opens Friday.
The cast is rehearsing this Wednesday morning for an episode in which Miley’s grandmother, played by Vicki Lawrence, arrives for a visit. Her car is such a wreck that it triggers a series of comic events. The actual filming will be done later in the week in front of a studio audience.
During a break from rehearsals, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s real-life and TV dad, talks about how comfortable it has been working on the set for 78 episodes. He wanted to feel that same kind of comfort for the filming of the movie. It just took some convincing of the studio on his part.
In the movie, music superstar Hannah Montana, the onstage persona of Miley Stewart, has reached a point where she no longer wants to live a double life. Her dad takes her back to her roots to see if her love of music is still there.
During a move to another set, Miley talks about how different it was working on a feature film that has a little more serious tone than her television series. “When I lived in Canada with my dad for four years, I did theater. When I was younger, I had not planned on getting a sitcom. I had planned on training for awhile and maybe getting it when I was 18 or 19,” Miley says. “What little training I had was more in drama. So I found the movie easier to do.”