Santa Barbara: The Original Hollywood

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Now that the 30th annual Santa Barbara’s Film Festival is here, for some, it might not be known that Santa Barbara was considered the original “Hollywood” in California.

In the early 1900’s Santa Barbara held the first major film studio, Flying A Studios. Flying A Studios started in 1910 and produced many silent films in the early 1920s. In the last 100 years, Santa Barbara has been a historic backdrop for a variety of movies, a full list is here.

In 1910 Essanay Film Company visited Santa Barbara from Chicago to find a place with better weather and a Spanish style theme for their popular western genre short films. This is where Flying A Studios began production as well because Santa Barbara held urban and rural locations as perfect backdrops for their movies.

Unfortunately, Flying A Studios suffered from the combined effects of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression. However, Santa Barbara was strong in the minds of some of the greatest directors of all time as a choice for a filming location. Below is just a small list of the variety of movies that have been filmed in this immaculate and beautiful place.

1923 | The Ten Commandments | Paramount Pictures

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

 

The Ten Commandments 1923 | Paramount Pictures | Photo Courtesy of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

The Ten Commandments 1923 | Paramount Pictures | Photo Courtesy of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

This American silent film held two parts to the storyline. In one part it tells the story of Moses leading the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land. The second part of the film shows the usefulness of the Ten Commandments in modern life, based off a story of two brothers fighting for the love of one woman.

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes | Guadalupe, CA | Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes | Guadalupe, CA | Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

Film Location Trivia

Interestingly enough, this movie was filmed on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes just 80 miles north of Santa Barbara County. This film was an automatic box office hit in 1923, however DeMille’s enormous ancient Egypt sets has become a Hollywood legend.  The construction of four 35-foot-tall statues of the Pharoah Ramses, 21 five-ton sphinxes, and city walls over 120 feet high was all constructed on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. When filming ended DeMille simply had this entire Egyptian city set bulldozed and buried. In DeMille’s autobiography he stated

“If 1,000 years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope that they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization extended all the way to the Pacific Coast of North America.” – “The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille,” 1959

From this statement a documentary filmmaker in 1983, Peter Brosnan located the remains of the DeMille sets, still buried beneath the dunes. The site is now recognized as an official archaeological site by the state of California and only until 2013, some artifacts have been excavated; see the excavation photos and more information at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center.

1967 | The Graduate | MGM

Director: Mike Nichols

Ben driving through the Gaviota Tunnel near at the Gaviota State Park | Photo courtesy of filmsinamerica.org

Ben driving through the Gaviota Tunnel near at the Gaviota State Park | Photo courtesy of filmsinamerica.org

Some of you may know this iconic storyline from this Golden Globe winning best motion picture. In the story the main character, Ben has recently graduated from college, at his “Homecoming” party, Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner asks Ben to drive her home, which leads to an affair. The affair ends but Ben is soon overwhelmed with the feeling of love with a woman named Elaine, which turns out is Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.

Gaviota Tunnel 2015 | Photo courtesy of Adele de Batz

Gaviota Tunnel 2015 | Photo courtesy of Adele de Batz

Film Location Trivia

This scene where Ben is driving to Santa Barbara shows his car going through the Gaviota Tunnel, unfortunately this is in the wrong direction and he is actually going north.

1984 | Scarface | Universal Pictures

Director: Brian De Palma

Wedding Scene in Scarface | Universal Pictures | 1984 | Photo courtesty by: www.sffl.comcastbiz.net

Wedding Scene in Scarface | Universal Pictures | 1984 | Photo courtesty by: www.sffl.comcastbiz.net

Based in Miami, this movie has also used a famous residence in Montecito, California as a backdrop for Tony and Elvira’s wedding. The plot goes that Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant tries to succeed the American dream, but is so overcome by greed that all his close relationships are tarnished ending the movie in tragedy.

The 'Real' Scarface Mansion Located in Montecito, California | Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The ‘Real’ Scarface Mansion Located in Montecito, California | Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Film Location Trivia

Tony and Elvira’s mansion located in Montecito, California was on the market for $35M in 2014. Even though the interiors were not filmed in the movie, you can see the interiors and take a tour of this beautiful house.

1999 | My Favorite Martian | Disney

Director: Donald Petrie

On TV Hill in Santa Barbara | My Favorite Martian | Disney

On TV Hill in Santa Barbara | My Favorite Martian | Disney

This Disney film was a funny addition to this film list, and even one of my own childhood favorite movies. Basically a Martian lands on Earth, specifically Santa Barbara and befriends a TV news reporter.

View on top of TV hill | Photo courtesy of Aeronautic Pictures

View on top of TV hill | Photo courtesy of Aeronautic Pictures

Film Location Trivia

This scene is located on top of TV hill where KEYT news station is located but they covered the sign to show KGSC instead.

2009 | It’s Complicated | Universal Pictures

Director: Nancy Meyers

Scene in front of the Courthouse of Santa Barbara | It's Complicated | 2009 | Universal Pictures

Scene in front of the Courthouse of Santa Barbara | It’s Complicated | 2009 | Universal Pictures

You can see many of the Spanish style homes and red tile rooftops in many of the opening credits and throughout the entire movie. This scene was filmed in front of the famous courthouse in the center of downtown. The movie is about a divorced couple that has been apart for some time, while their youngest is going off to college; they start their relationship again. The only problem is that he is about to get remarried to someone else.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse 2015 | Photo courtesy of Adele de Batz

The Santa Barbara Courthouse 2015 | Photo courtesy of Adele de Batz

Film Location Trivia

As locals, we know that the farmers market does not occur at this location and in this movie scene is was actually staged in front of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, however these are actual local farmers working as extras in the scene.

Just by looking at all these movies anybody can tell that there is a long film history in Santa Barbara, its no question that it would be considered the original Hollywood.

While the 30th Santa Barbara Film Festival is happening this week, its nice to reflect the famous films that resulted from this area. You can now purchase tickets and see the full list of movies that are going to be playing this year, right here.

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About Author

Adele de Batz

Adele de Batz is currently attending Antioch University of Santa Barbara. This spring she will receive her B.A in two majors: Communication & Media and Marketing. Adele is currently working as a project manager for Social Stardom, a Social Media marketing agency. When Adele is not writing engaging content, she enjoys riding her motorcycle, drawing and dancing.

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