William Desmond Taylor directing for Flying A Studios | Credit: Courtesy

Long before the International Film Festival, Santa Barbara was home to a different kind of film industry: the Flying A movie studio (you can still see one of the original Flying A buildings on Mission Street). In the early years of the 20th century, Flying A produced serials and short films, including The Diamond from the Sky, a silent-era series in the vein of a primetime melodrama. At one time, this series was the most-followed entertainment media in the country.

Now the adventures of the old stars from the Flying A studio come to the main stage at Westmont College, where director John Blondell and playwright Michael Bernard have developed an original work to tell the story of those who told stories. In Diamond to Dust: A Flying A Fantasy, Bernard has created a tale of the wacky artists of the early film era. “It’s a very silly, not-realistic celebration of early Hollywood, slapstick style,” he says. “I was watching a bunch of Preston Sturges movies — he was the king of screwball comedy. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is what [Flying A] should be; it should be one of these.’”

Diamond to Dust promises to be a zany, high-energy romp through Santa Barbara’s local history of movie magic. “It’s really about the moment films went from shorts to full-length pictures, and that really changed the way Hollywood worked,” says Bernard. “Everyone [who worked] for these shorts was on salary … once they switched to features, nobody was on weekly salary anymore; you’d get paid by the picture. That’s when the Flying A fell apart in Santa Barbara because there was nowhere else to work. If you were living in L.A., you could go work at this studio or that studio … so the Flying A people came out to Hollywood.”

Diamond to Dust runs at Westmont’s Porter Theatre (955 La Paz Rd.) February 24-25 and March 2-4. For tickets, visit westmont.edu/boxoffice.


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