For many of us, the only chance we get to see Santa Barbara from the air is when we fly out of the airport, and even then, we usually head away from it or just barely buzz the coastline. Sam Tyler had the same limited view until Mother’s Day weekend, when a hasty set of circumstances found him above Santa Barbara for two days in a helicopter, exploring our city and beyond from a bird’s eye view. Now that footage will be screened as part of a special DVD release party at the Lobero.
“Above Santa Barbara” offers 40 minutes of smooth, relaxing landscape gazing, as one seems to float over the ground. Mansions give up their floor plans and luxurious gardens, wineries show off their extensive vineyards and the true length of our winding roads can be seen.
Sam Tyler Jr. comes from a filmmaking family — his father Sam shoots business films and docs — but until this, film was nothing more than a “ski-bum” up in Aspen, when he wasn’t in college there. Back in his hometown, Sam Senior was kicking around an idea of a Santa Barbara historical film with Brent Sumner, when he suggested that it be shot from a helicopter.
“The next thing, I was involved, getting things put together and the following week we were shooting,” Junior says.
Part of the need to hurry was the May weather and flora. Sunny, green and blooming with wildflowers, this was Santa Barbara County at its finest. One can only be in a helicopter for two hours before refueling, so the two days were spent airport hopping.
Of course, there was a flight plan and a checklist, but certain places took finding, like Neverland Ranch.
“We were one canyon over, but we got some great footage just by searching,” he says.
For Tyler Jr., the trip offered many surprises.
“I had no idea Zaca Lake was Zaca Lake. I hadn’t been there before. The pilot was from Lompoc and knew everywhere we wanted to go. We had to look carefully later at some things. Los Alamos and Los Olivos look similar from the air.”
The film features commentary by Nancy Shobe of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum — the museum helped fund some of the project — and Sam Tyler, Sr., with a soundtrack by local musician Jesse Rhodes. For those who buy the DVD, there will be options to turn off the narration and just let the visuals and music flow.
Tyler Jr. is still deciding whether a Blu-ray will be completed, along with the usual standard DVD. Such an investment will likely require a large amount of interest shown on their Web site. But for the best picture possible, the Lobero screening on Tuesday will feature the full HD image, along with the narration and music.
Tyler Jr. hopes to get the DVD into shops and bookstores in a week or so, including at the Historical Museum. This tour of Santa Barbara is the tent pole for a future series of flybys, now that the filmmakers have caught the bug. Tyler Jr. and Sumner have already shot footage of Yosemite, and are planning a trip over Monterey.
For a first go as a producer and director, Tyler Jr. has rolled with the problems.
“It’s kind of like construction,” he says. “Things change, there’s conflict and one person can hold a whole project up. … Everything that has come up, I’ve had to deal with and make it happen.”