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flying A

February 3, 2005 - Flying Ed Studios

The corner of Mission and State is right in the middle of Santa Barbara. There are two gas stations – the ARCO with low prices, short pump hoses, and no credit cards, and the Mobil with high prices on every day but Wednesday when they sell gas “at cost”.  The two other corners are filled with a nondescript office building, and Garrett’s Restaurant.  And, yes that was a picture of Garrett’s in yesterday’s Wednesday Where Is It (WWII) contest.

But why? Why, smack-dab in the middle of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, would the dedicated staff of edhat.com stray away from our week-long movie theme to do a story on an old coffee shop? Was it used for a scene in Sideways? Did Leonardo DiCaprio eat there?  There is a Pepsi truck in the picture - is it significant?  Nope, it’s none of these.

The Garrett’s building is important because it’s on the site of the headquarters of the former Flying A Studios. Built in 1910, before Hollywood, Santa Barbara’s Flying-A Studio was the biggest studio in the land. It covered two blocks of Mission Street from Chapala to Anacapa.

In 1912, Allan Dwan, a top director, moved his group of actors sideways-up-the-coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara. From 1912 to 1919, Flying A made over 1,200 films. They were mostly cowboy movies filmed on the then-undeveloped hills just outside of the city. Stars of the movies included Lon Chaney Sr., and Victor Fleming.

Don’t confuse the Flying A Studio with the Montecito Hotel.  Charlie Chaplin built that Hotel as a Hollywood getaway in 1928, long after the Flying A heyday.  The old studio headquarters has housed many different businesses in its day.  Before Garrett’s, it was a restaurant named, Flying A., and the original location of McConnell’s Ice Cream.

Although Santa Barbara is the home to many movie greats, and the Santa Barbara Film Festival has become the one of the hottest Film Festivals in the country, movie making in has never returned to it’s pre-WWI level.

Every few years, a major motion picture shows up here. This year, we had Sideways, a few years ago, we saw Andy Garcia walking down State Street in the Solstice Parade in Steal Big, Steal Little. Parts of Seabiscuit were filmed in North County.  Yesterday at the Film Festival, the dedicated staff saw three Santa Barbara movies – two skate films and Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys.

Just as Santa Barbara is not Silicon Valley-South, it is also not Hollywood-North. Not that some folks wouldn’t like it to be.  According to Dave Greditzer, a local filmmaker, there are several roadblocks on the way to Santa Barbara County becoming a major player in the film industry.

For one, there is no infrastructure here.  The closest sound stage is in Ventura, and it’s not very big. Also, there is no “standing crew” – a local crew of film professionals who can be called in on short notice.  Besides the logistics, there are people here in town who just don’t want the hassle of big trucks and film crews.

The biggest issue, however, is that of expense.  Because of the distance of Santa Barbara from the Los Angeles area, various union rules require that the production companies pay anyone who is not local working on the project, a per diem and lodging expense. That adds considerably to the cost of the film.  The Alliance for Creative Commerce is a Santa Barbara area group interested in developing a business climate which will attract certain types of businesses, including the film industry. They have put forth several ideas, such as tax incentives, and various other enticements in order to help boost the area’s economic growth.

It isn’t clear to the dedicated staff if the issues involved in bringing more of the film industry to Santa Barbara are any different from the challenges faced by other industries here. But, based upon the attendance at the film Festival, there is certainly a lot of enthusiasm for movie making.  Maybe that enthusiasm, combined with Sideways-mania, will be a catalyst for change.

ONLY four subscribers mentioned the Flying A Studio in their answer to the WWII contest. They are MryPoet, Bucky, SWA, and SlipRock9. To decide the tie, we assigned each of the Edhat dog’s four paws a number, then we called her over and watched to see which paw would walk on a predefined spot on the floor. The dog was confused, but eventually hit the floor swatch with paw #2. Bucky wins an Edhat t-shirt and hat!

See pictures of the Dave Barry party in the Edhat Photo Gallery.

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