Feature December 2, 2014

Stars in Our Midst


From Sitcoms to Women's Advocacy [pg. 2]
Effecting Change Through Film [pg. 3]
Filming on the Biggest of Stages [pg. 4]
Big Dreams / Small Town Roots [pg. 5]
Preserving the Legacy of Peggy Lee [pg. 6]
Get a Grip [pg. 7]



From Sitcoms to Women's Advocacy


Peggy Goldwyn is embarking on her eighth staging of the Family of Woman Film Festival. (Photo by Kristin Cheatwood)

As founder of The Family of Woman Film Festival, Peggy Elliott Goldwyn does not traffic in light fare. The films she brings to the festival deal with issues such as female genital mutilation in Mali, acid attacks on women by their “dishonored” husbands in Pakistan, and sex trafficking in Eastern Europe. Ironically, Goldwyn’s work today is a world away from how she made her name decades ago as one of television’s first female comedy writers.

It was a pursuit that started early. “As a child, I was constantly writing skits, sketches and spoofs,” Goldwyn said in an interview this fall. “I was doing comedy, even in grade school and high school, because I always wanted to be a writer.”

To that end, the ambitious 18-year-old from El Paso, Texas, headed west to pursue her dream. She got a job working as a documentary film writer in Los Angeles and loved it. Not long after this, comedy writer Garry Marshall arrived in town to write for the Joey Bishop Show. He was tasked with writing political jokes—not his strong suit—so Marshall turned to his friend, Goldwyn, for help. And, it turned out, she was funny. Marshall encouraged her to become a comedy writer and introduced her to her eventual writing partner of many years, Ed Scharlach. 

The two hit it off and, as Goldwyn put it, “Ed became like a brother to me. And because we were reliable writers, we became the flavor of the month.” The pair was hired to write episodes of “That Girl,” “The Odd Couple,” “Love, American Style,” “Room 222,” “Happy Days,” and others.

It should not be forgotten that this was 1966, and Goldwyn was a 22-year-old woman in an all-man’s world. She used to joke that she was the only “unbearded writer.” That notwithstanding, Goldwyn said she always felt at home with the comedy writing crew.

In 1969, Goldwyn married Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., son of the legendary filmmaker of the same name. The young couple built an independent film company of their own, Samuel Goldwyn Films (SGF). “It was a real mom and pop operation,” she said. They began by bringing foreign films to the U.S. for distribution and eventually produced their own titles.

While producing for SGF, Goldwyn raised two children, Liz and Peter, and worked on a number of television projects, both as a writer and producer. After divorcing Sam in 2003, Goldwyn began migrating to the Wood River Valley and eventually moved here full-time in 2007.

Goldwyn’s current life and activities sprang from an invitation to join the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) board of directors. When charged with the task of promoting the UNFPA’s mission of advocating for women and girls, it occurred to Goldwyn that “telling stories through film was the way to engage people’s attention,” she said.

And thus began, in 2008, the Family of Woman Film Festival, now in its eighth year. This year’s theme is “Women and Their Dreams” and will feature five films about women and girls who have asserted control of their futures. Goldwyn will also bring several of the filmmakers and subjects of the films to the festival. 

The funds Goldwyn raises through the festival this year will benefit the organization Women Deliver, a collaborator with UNFPA. Goldwyn acknowledged that the money she raises at this festival is not enough to make a dent in the problems women face across the globe. But, she was quick to add, “There is a ripple effect. I do believe that the people who come to these films have spheres of influence.  Who knows how much money you raise in the long run because a film sticks in someone’s mind?”




Effecting Change Through Film


Warshawski and Soliday’s film projects often entail adventures across the globe. (Photo courtesy Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday)

For the husband and wife duo, Todd Soliday and Leah Warshawski, documentary filmmaking was not their first choice in careers. “My father worked in documentary film, and he warned me against it my whole life. There’s no money in it,” Warshawski said. “And yet, somehow, here I am,” she added with a laugh. 

Soliday, who left his family’s northern Idaho homestead to work for a TV station in Seattle when he was 17, said he “fell in love with the adventure. Getting out into the world and stretching ourselves to tell a story, getting to meet people along the way—that’s what I’m hooked on. Film is just the medium we use to do it.”

Both together and independently, they’ve worked for many of the major television production companies, including Discover, National Geographic, Outside, TLC, CBS, NBC and ABC. They also create music videos, commercials and reality TV shows in between their global adventures. “We do the corporate work to fund our independent documentary projects,” Soliday said. “It’s the only way to afford it.”

Their most recent project, “Finding Hillywood,” which screened at the 2014 Sun Valley Film Festival, focuses on a fledgling Rwandan film festival and its power to heal a nation struggling to cope with trauma. They are now working on a second feature documentary film, “Big Sonia,” about a larger-than-life, 89-year-old woman who owns a shop in a crumbling Kansas City mall.

Under the umbrella of their limited liability corporation, Inflatable Film, these two have become a tag-teaming, soup-to-nuts operation. Warshawski does most of the development before directing and producing, while Todd also directs, edits and takes over the post-production tasks. Together they market and distribute their films through platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Netflix.

Surprisingly, neither filmmaker has a background in the genre; Soliday studied history and Warshawski Japanese. But their personal relationship solidified through a love of film. “She was my dream girl and partner, in both life and work,” Soliday said. They met in Seattle through mutual friends working in the industry. However, before he proposed, he said, “I had to see if she liked the mountains.”

As it turned out, she loved the mountains, so much so that the couple decided to marry here, in the River Run Lodge.

For these two adventurers who split their time between Ketchum and Seattle, “This is a little slice of heaven,” Warshawski explained. She learned to surf while living in Hawaii and is now learning “to surf on snow.” They get their adrenaline fix by hiking, kayaking, mountain biking and paddle boarding (which recently inspired a short film for Outside Television of Hawaiian C4 watermen surfing the Salmon River.)

 “There is an attitude here—a lifestyle attitude,” Soliday said. “People are here because they really want to be, and there are stories to be told in that. This place is just ripe for filmmaking.”  The pair has a few Idaho projects in the works, including a potential reality TV show in Meridian.

“Documentary filmmaking is important for its ability to effect change, to influence policy and conversations,” Warshawski said. “Not every film is a tool for social commentary, but you can impact people in a unique and emotional way.”

“If we can reach one young person, to change their mind or be active or engage in something, then we’ve done our job,” Soliday added.

Their next journey may lead them to New York, Africa or Hong Kong. But when the camera is off, they’re in the mountains, on the water, chasing horizons and fall lines, searching side by side for the next heart-pumping adventure and their next “Big Sonia.”




Filming on the Biggest of Stages


Bob Poole in Gorongosa National Park. (Photo by Gina Poole)

Anyone with a taste for adventure would want to lead Bob Poole’s life. For much of his adult life, Poole has been tracking and filming wild animals all over the world. His cinematography work has been the subject of documentaries by Nova, PBS Nature, Discovery Networks, National Geographic and the BBC. And, by the way, there was an Emmy Award along the way for his work on the National Geographic film “Great Migrations.”

That’s not to say his is an easy life. In my last correspondence with him from Mozambique, he was recovering from his fourth bout of malaria. Over the years there have been exchanges with poachers, close calls with elephants and travels through roadless territories in a war-torn Sudan. But clearly Poole is a man who has found what he loves to do on a continent that is both wild and complicated but with as big and dramatic a stage as one could hope to work on. 

Born in Connecticut, Poole moved with his family to Malawi when he was 3. His father, a director with the Peace Corps, held posts first in Malawi, then in Kenya. By age 5 Poole was living alongside sisters Joyce and Ginny in Kenya. What he remembers most about those childhood years was “camping with my family in the African bush and the incredible and abundant wildlife.”

Poole’s father died in a car accident when Poole was 17, but prior to his death, he had arranged for his son to join a project darting and relocating Cape buffaloes. The helicopter pilot on the project, Wolfgang Bayer, was also working on another project with National Geographic filming elephants. He asked the 17-year-old Poole if he’d like to come along. “That’s when I got a lucky break driving the camera car and guiding the crew to places where they could film elephants.”

After returning to the U.S. to earn a degree from Montana State University, Poole had a second lucky break. He was kayaking near Jackson, Wyoming, when he ran into Bayer, who hired him on the spot to work on his wildlife films.

Much of Poole’s work has centered on Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, which he said, “was once perhaps the best park in all of Africa.” However, Mozambique suffered a 15-year war for independence, followed by a 17-year civil war that killed more that a million people. “It brought the country to its knees,” Poole said.  “Almost everything in the country was destroyed, including the national parks and the wildlife they were home to. Gorongosa was hit as hard as anything because it was the spiritual home of the resistance and an asset for whatever army controlled it. The animals fed the troops; the elephants were killed for their ivory, which was exchanged for arms.”

However, in 2008, Greg Carr, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, signed a 20-year agreement with the Mozambique government to restore the Gorongosa ecosystem. “Thanks to Carr, the wildlife is rebounding,” Poole said.

For the past two years, Poole has been working on a six-hour series for PBS and National Geographic International on Gorongosa. Scheduled to air in the fall of 2015, Poole served as both the director of photography and the on-camera person through whom the story of the park is told.

Wrapping up the Gorongosa film in September, Poole and his wife, Gina, headed to the Mozambique coast, then back to Ketchum for a few days, then New York, then on to Bristol, England, for the Afrika Eye Film Festival. Come January, he’s back to Kenya to start a new film project on elephants.

With such a peripatetic lifestyle, I asked Poole what he missed most when he was out there in the middle of Africa.

“Sometimes I worry that I might be missing a powder day.”




Big Dreams / Small Town Roots


Tara Buck (Photo Courtesy Tara Buck)If you ask any of actress Tara Buck’s longtime friends if they ever thought she would be best known for screaming, most of them smile and say, “No way!”

Buck, they will tell you, is a sweetheart, not the type of person you would picture starring in a gory, lewd and extremely popular HBO show about vampires. Heck, she was a cheerleader for Wood River High, for crying out loud!

Best known and much beloved as “Ginger” on “True Blood,” Buck has built an impressive résumé as an actress. But long before she became a famous “scream queen,” she was just another local kid with big dreams.

“I consider it my home,” Buck said about Hailey and Sun Valley, while at her current home in Southern California. “It’s a really special place. The people and relationships you form there are so special. It’s unlike anyplace else.”

After graduating from high school and cutting her teeth in local plays, Buck headed to Los Angeles to study acting. She didn’t have a single connection in Hollywood but felt like she had an entire community rooting her on back in Idaho.

“I always had a core belief I could make it happen, but it was also incredibly daunting,” she said about the beginning of her career. “I really believe that being raised in a place like Sun Valley, that’s so supportive, makes a big difference.”

Buck especially credits her former high school English and drama teacher, Bob Kesting. “He really encouraged me to continue on and to do it. He really believed in me and helped me pursue my passion,” she said.

It’s a passion she’s proven to be pretty darned good at. Her résumé includes guest star spots on some of the most successful TV shows of the last 15 years, from “Party of Five” and “The X Files” to “Bones,” “Southland” and “Criminal Minds.” Despite her success, Buck’s friends will also tell you that she has remained as humble, as sweet and down-to-earth as ever.

“The most important thing you can do in life is to stay grounded. I’m glad people see me that way,” Buck said, when told her friends are impressed with her humility, especially given the fame she has garnered for her unique, and rather humorous, ability to scream. “If people know you and recognize you and support your work, who cares why?”

In 2012, Buck married musician Chris Pierce. The two return to Idaho regularly, but not as much as she would like.

“People who have never been to Idaho have no idea how special it is,” she said, recalling the first time she brought her native Angelino husband to Sun Valley. “People are shocked to find out how incredibly beautiful it is and how cultured the people are here.”

As Buck continues to add to her impressive filmography, she will undoubtedly continue to be thankful for the people and place she’s always called home.

“What I love most about Sun Valley is that it cultivates big dreams. It offers all the best things in life: great people, diverse culture and lots of natural beauty, all in one small place where everybody knows you,” Buck said, adding, “Growing up there gives you wings!”




Preserving the Legacy of Peggy Lee


Holly Foster Wells with her cardboard office companion Peggy Lee, the singer-songwriter behind the hits “Forever” and “Big Spender.” (Photo courtesy Holly Foster Wells)Despite her reputation as one of the most influential jazz vocalists of all time, many people in the Wood River Valley, when asked if they’ve heard of Peggy Lee, say they aren’t entirely sure. This is precisely what Holly Foster Wells, granddaughter of the famous singer-songwriter, loves about the Wood River Valley. 

When Wells was growing up in Ketchum, she spent her vacations at Peggy Lee’s home in Los Angeles and often went on the road with her. They traveled the world together, visiting Australia, Japan and even the White House. But after each vacation, she would come back to Idaho, where she’d tell people about whom she met, and they would say, “Who?”  This she found incredibly grounding. “No one at Hemingway Elementary cared that I had met Elvis over the summer!” she exclaimed. 

Interestingly, Peggy Lee, best known for her songs “Fever,” “Big Spender,” and the soundtrack to “Lady and the Tramp,” never visited Sun Valley. She, nonetheless, has a presence here. When Wells was ice-skating with her kids at the Sun Valley Lodge over the summer, she heard “Big Spender” playing over the sound system. And then there are the Peggy Lee gowns and wigs floating around the Valley; Lee used to send them to her daughter, Nicki Foster, to wear in community theater shows in Ketchum. Lee even sent the gown she wore on the Nat King Cole Show so that Wells could dress up as a princess for Halloween. 

Today, Wells runs her grandmother’s music company, Peggy Lee Associates. It is a job Lee groomed her for over the course of their remarkably close relationship. Wells and her team manage Lee’s 1,000 recordings, as well as over 200 songs she wrote. They control her name, likeness and image, put out CDs of her music and license her music for films, TV shows and commercials. Her favorite part of the job is when people make requests that allow her to go through her grandmother’s catalogue. For example, they’ll ask for something upbeat of Lee’s from 1952, and Wells gets to suggest a song. 

Running Peggy Lee Associates has changed Wells’ perception of her grandmother. Lee was known for being a perfectionist, but now, as head of the company and with a perspective on the business side, Wells has begun to understand why it was necessary. “She knew the way she wanted things to sound. When I was younger I thought it was a pain in the butt, but now that I am in that position, I, too, have to say ‘no’ a lot in order to preserve her legacy.” It makes Wells happy to know that she understands what Lee would have wanted her to do and the way she would have wanted it done.

Wells is currently working on a Peggy Lee biopic, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright and directed by Todd Hayes. The film will star Reese Witherspoon, who became involved through a stroke of luck. Wells read an interview with Witherspoon in which she was asked about whom she would like to see a musical biopic made. Witherspoon replied, “Peggy Lee.” Wells jumped at the opportunity. Not only does she think Witherspoon has enough mainstream appeal to introduce Lee to a new generation, but she also remembers her grandmother loving Witherspoon. “We watched ‘Legally Blonde,’ ‘Pleasantville’ and her other movies together.” 

The film is still in the early production phase, but with Wells as a consultant, it’s sure to be a fascinating and intimate reflection of the singer, songwriter, composer, and grandmother that is Peggy Lee.



Get a Grip


Dan Wells on set in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Dan Wells)Hearing Dan Wells describe his job is like listening to a foreign language or, at least, a new dialect. In Wells’ words, he is a grip and a best boy. He keyed the TV show “Rules of Engagement,” was a best boy grip for the film “(500) Days of Summer” and for the television series “The King of Queens,” and worked on the rigging side of “Get Him to the Greek,” “Oceans 11” and its two sequels. But for Wells, this Hollywood lingo is just part of his daily parlance. 

What is a grip? According to Wells, “There is not a simple answer for what a grip does.” Perhaps it’s not surprising for a job with such an unusual title. Put simply, a grip is the person responsible for the setup, adjustment and maintenance of production equipment on a set. This can include camera support, lighting and mechanical rigging and a number of other responsibilities.

“We do a lot of lighting,” Wells explained. “We shape the light. We fly big silks with cranes and condors. We’re also camera support. We’re the ones who mount cameras on cars, planes, and helicopters.” 

A best boy is a key grip’s second man. The term is rumored to originate from when the head of the grip or electric department needed another body; they’d ask another department head to “lend me your best boy.” Best boys are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the grip department, including everything from hiring, scheduling, management of crew and ordering inventory, to coordinating with rigging crews and more. When working as a key grip, Wells said, “If I go in and do a scout, and I say, ‘I need x, y, and z,’ then the best boy will go and get them.” It’s not uncommon to bounce from being someone’s boss to being a hammer (a nickname for a grip), then back to key grip, as Wells often does. 

Wells wasn’t always so comfortable with this Hollywood dialect. He grew up in the Wood River Valley, his parents still live here, and he returns two to three times a year with his two children and his wife, Holly Foster Wells. Though the couple graduated from high school together, they had not seen each other for 10 years when they reconnected on one of Foster Wells’ trips to the Valley.

When Wells first moved to Los Angeles, he knew nothing about Hollywood. His wife set up job interviews for him at two different production companies. He picked a job at Carsey-Werner, “because it paid $5 per hour more than the other,” he said. He worked at the company’s set storage warehouse, loading and unloading sets for two months before they promoted him to grip. “They shipped me over, and I was a grip before I even knew what a grip did,” Wells joked. “From there it was just learning.” It wasn’t long before he moved up the ranks again and started keying, which has to do with manipulating lighting and backgrounds to achieve special effects. 

Speaking to Wells, it’s immediately clear that he’s “so not Hollywood,” as his wife said. She jokingly recounted a time when he came home and said, “I played basketball with Tom Clooney.” Foster Wells had to ask, “Do you mean George Clooney?” 

Despite not being entirely hip to the actor scene, Wells said that the best thing about working in Hollywood is that he loves the people he works with. “I meet a lot of really interesting people and get to go a lot of places other people don’t—like in a lot of the old hotels closed for asbestos.” 

This article appears in the Winter 2015 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.