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Valleywood: Location, Location, Location

The scenic Santa Ynez Valley has been a popular film location for decades and benefits from the stimulus that each production brings to the local economy. Yet, it is rare that a filmmaker brings both a film’s storyline and production to the area. The independent film “Flying Lessons,” which was shot entirely in the Santa Ynez Valley, is unique. Director and producer Derek Magyar set the script to use the picturesque canvas of this area throughout the story.
  Derek Magyar, whose family resides in Happy Canyon, was inspired to film the story on familiar turf. Magyar’s mother, Nancy Englander, and stepfather, Harold Williams, (both formerly at the J. Paul Getty Trust), have been living in the Valley for almost fifteen years and he is a frequent visitor to their ranch. He considers Santa Ynez a home. Much of the film was shot on the family property, including scenes at the home of the elderly Alzheimer’s patient Harry, played by Hal Holbrook.

Actress Maggie Grace; actor Hal Holbrook and Producer/Director Derek Magyar
Actress Maggie Grace and actor Hal Holbrook on the set in the Santa Ynez country home taking directions from Producer/Director Derek Magyar.
Photo compliments of Flying Lessons, LLC

  “The story was not originally written for Santa Ynez Valley but it fit like a glove,” Magyar explained during a recent phone interview. He went on to point out that “the storyline fit perfectly because it is about a girl moving from the big city to a small town.”
Maggie Grace stars as Sophie, a young woman who is forced to return home from Los Angeles to face old demons and her estranged mother, Carolyn, played by Christine Lahti, who lives in an upscale Santa Ynez home. Through Sophie’s job caring for Alzheimer’s patient Harry, she manages to reconnect with those she once alienated.
  When asked what drew him to the film, Veteran thespian Hal Holbrook said, “It is a very good script...It has something to deliver in the way of a human message.”
Holbrook, who recently turned 85, said that after watching people with Alzheimer’s so that he could more accurately play his role, he realized, “It’s not so much different than the way I feel now.”
  Another Valley local, Richard Harris, edited the film and his connection with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival garnered “Flying Lessons” the opening night screening this year. Magyar acknowledged that Harris’s personal relationship with Festival Executive Director Roger Durling was key. Durling, who was a fan of the film from the beginning, was proud to highlight a homegrown indie film to open the Festival.
  The Festival, which celebrated its 25th anniversary February 4-14, also picked 2010 Academy Award winners Sandra Bullock, Kathryn Bigelow, Jeff Bridges and others to receive special awards. Magyar and his cast, which also includes Cary Elwes and Jonathan Tucker, were in exceptional company during the Festival’s opening with “Flying Lessons” as many other celebrities walked the Red Carpet that night.
Magyar has made his mark in acting roles, such as X in “Boy Culture” (2006) and Commander Kelby in “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2005). “Flying Lessons” marks his debut as a producer and director. He originally planned to also be an actor in the film but decided that it would be “too many tasks to handle.” Thomas Kuehl scripted and co-produced the film. Jenny Hinkey was another co-producer. Chris Carter and Mark Johnson were executive producers.
  Magyar reports, “Another nine minutes of the film have been edited out since it opened the Festival in February. Now it is completely finished and has premiered in Los Angeles and New York City.” He says that it was well received in both venues and they are now seeking national and international distributors for a release date later this year.
  Several other locations in the Valley were included in the script to add the flavor of local culture, including downtown Santa Ynez streets, Maverick Saloon, Artiste Wine Tasting and Gallery and the Fossemalle Dance Studio. Magyar says, “Santa Ynez Valley is an incredible place. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the local community. Thank God for Santa Ynez!”

ACtor Hal Holbrook being filmed on set of "Flying Lessons"
Actor Hal Holbrook on the set in his “home” being filmed as he sorts through old photos and mementos.
Photo compliments of Flying Lessons, LLC

  Santa Ynez Valley provided the backdrop for another 2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival premier, “Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland.” Producer/director Larry Nimmer worked as a filmmaker for the Jackson defense team during Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial. Nimmer’s documentary looks behind the hype and innuendo of Jackson’s notorious child molestation trial and paints a vivid picture of his life at Neverland.
  Albeit controversial at times, film and commercial productions contribute directly to the local economy through the hiring of “extras” and catering companies, as well as paying for the crew’s lodging and other expenses. Secondary and tertiary impacts trickle down to otherwise unrelated businesses in the community.
  Santa Barbara Film Commissioner Geoff Alexander points out, “The most recent data on production for Santa Barbara County demonstrates that this business appears to be rebounding after a two year contraction. In 2009, Santa Barbara County saw a direct spend of $8.26 million with a countywide economic impact of just under $25 million. The County accounted for approximately 85% of media production, with the majority of this work occurring in the Santa Ynez Valley and other North County locations.

Larry Levinson Productions has returned repeatedly to North County and Santa Ynez Valley, with one of their most recent movies “Uncorked” recently airing, and have come back to scout for yet another project.”
  In 2009, there were at least 14 productions shot in Santa Barbara County. This includes: “Uncorked” /Hallmark/Larry Levinson; “Bad Girls”; “It’s Complicated”/Universal; Nitro Circus/MTV; “Inside Luxury Travel”; “The Othersiders”/Red Varden Studios;“More to Love”;
“Back in Wedding Shape”; “You’re Hired”; “Kathy Griffin Season 2”; “Somewhere”;

Hal Holbrook, Derek Magyar and Cary Elwes opening night of the Santa Barbara Film Festival
Hal Holbrook, Derek Magyar and Cary Elwes are shown here being photographed on the red carpet on opening night of the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Photo compliments of You’re The Star Video Productions

“Flying Lessons”; “Ghost Adventures”/Travel Channel; and “Love Life.”
  La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, located outside of Lompoc, was recently featured in the TV series “The Othersiders” (2009) and previously in feature films, such as “Seabiscuit” (2003). Another popular location for feature films and commercials has been the Pata Bros. Ranch on Jalama Road. Their family-owned Butterbean Studios attracted the Daniel Day-Lewis film “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (2007) for film shoots.
  As filmmakers continue to seek the right canvas to create the set for a film, Santa Ynez Valley will continue to offer a diverse pallet to choose from.

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