Movies Way Back When: Flying A Folks Head South

Movies Way Back When: Flying A Folks Head South title=
Image: Motion Picture News, July 22, 1916
Reads 1932

By Betsy J. Green

In July 1916, Santa Barbara residents saw the following item in the local paper. “Fifty People Leave Santa Barbara Owing to Change at American Film  … Changing their policy, ‘Flying A’ releases are five-reel pictures only,” announced the local paper.  

I asked UCSB Prof. Dana Driskel for his insight. “The film industry was changing rapidly. Short films were out. Features were in … Unfortunately, this also meant that staff was being let go. Santa Barbara looked on uneasily as actors, directors and other artisans began to leave town in search of work … it was difficult for bit players, day laborers and other support staff to find work in Santa Barbara between jobs at ‘Flying A.’ In Los Angeles, support people could jump from studio to studio as jobs appeared. More and more ‘movie people’ began to leave for the south.”

Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1919 -- is now available in local bookstores and at This is the sixth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at​.
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John Wiley Jul 02, 2022 10:38 AM
Movies Way Back When: Flying A Folks Head South

Interesting story, Betsy. Imagine if the change had worked in the other direction, with more studios and "movie people" coming here. L.A. could have become just a "location" for exterior shots of big buildings and smog. The big studios here would have massive outdoor urban sets. Cowboy movies would've been shot in our mountains and valleys. Would we have tall skyscrapers, and city streets all the way up to the peaks? Did our June Gloom save us, given that early film cameras needed lots of light? Was it more that L.A. had better infrastructure and proximity to capital?

bjgreen Jul 02, 2022 12:34 PM
Movies Way Back When: Flying A Folks Head South

Interesting "what if" questions, John. I think a couple of reasons why LA became the film hub were: (1) topography - LA has a lot more flat land near the coast than we have, (2) transportation - LA was the western terminus of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. Could have been other factors as well. Anyone else have any ideas?

John Wiley Jul 02, 2022 09:39 PM
Movies Way Back When: Flying A Folks Head South

Plenty of "flat land" just across 154, but maybe that wasn't yet an easy (tho hazardous lately) drive back then. Many flix benefit from some topography too, or the major studios would be in the prairies. I'm with you on transportation tho. Not just RR, but a plethora of great airports even back then in the L.A. basin, which the financiers & bigwigs would favor. Plus of course a vastly larger labor pool. Maybe the "creative types" lost out to all that, back when movies were much less about art than finance? Or maybe that's still the case? Speaking of which, has anyone else seen and enjoyed the SB flik "20th Century Women" or did it slip completely under the radar?

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