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When Hollywood came East of the Mountains

By on January 27, 2020 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments
Tom Skerritt, Gail and Dale Foreman pose for a photo on set of East of the Mountains.

By Dale Foreman

The phone rang, it was my son James. “Hey Dad, I just had a call from the Apple Commission, there are some movie guys who are looking for good locations to shoot a film up here. Is it okay with you if we let them visit the Keystone (our family orchard in Entiat) and take some pictures?” 

This was in October 2018.

 Location scouts? A movie, what kind of a movie, what is it all about? Do we want a cast and crew wandering all over the orchard? We have a business to run. 

Mari Groff and cast extras at 4th of July picnic, dressed for the 1950s.

What is it called? East of the Mountains. What is it about? Some medical doctor from Seattle who grew up in Chelan County, gets cancer and wants to come home for one last bird hunting trip before he dies. 

So who are the stars? Tom Skerritt and Mia Sorvino. Sounds interesting, let them come look at our property and see where it leads. 

 The author of the book, David Guterson, had already had one very successful novel that was made into a movie, Snow Falling on Cedars. I remember my wife Gail read that in her book club and loved it. 

We decided to let the scouts visit the orchard and see if it was what they were looking for. 

Meanwhile I bought the book and read it. The story is sad, a well respected heart surgeon in Seattle suffers the twin tragedies of losing his wife and being diagnosed with cancer himself. He is depressed and not sure he can go on living in pain. He decides to take a trip back home, to his roots in NCW and go bird hunting with his beloved dog. That is when the trouble begins. 

Sharva Maynard, who plays Bea Harden in the film, sits with SJ Chiro, the director, on the back porch at Keystone.

 A few days later a van pulled into the orchard in Entiat and out jumped the author, the executive producer, the producer Jane Charles, the director SJ Chiro and a couple of photographers. 

They wandered around, took lots of photos and some movies and we chatted about the process. They were going to look at a few other orchards in Cashmere, Malaga and Quincy and then decide which ones to use for the movie. 

Of course if we made the cut they would send us a contract. And they did come back a couple weeks later when there were still Red Delicious apples hanging from the trees to take more film clips.

 We had no idea how many people it takes to film a big time movie. But in June of 2019 we experienced it. 

The entire movie was scheduled for 21 days of shooting. For a week the prop people were in our old farmhouse, and in the old fruit warehouse setting up furniture, artwork, even dishes cups and saucers to recreate the 1950s setting. 

Friday, June 14 was the main shoot at Keystone, it was day 10 of 21. The huge trucks and vans began to arrive at dawn. Dozens of people driving the vans, hauling the lights, cameras, the costumes, make up artists to make the actors look perfect, security guards with walkie talkies and even stunt doubles. 

The crew filming Ben Givens (Tom Skerritt) as he comes walking across the Entiat River on the Keystone Bridge.

They recruited local folks, dozens of men, women and children of all ages, to dance and perform in the 4th of July party scenes. 

All of those folks had to get their costumes on in our old pickers housing and sign “extra” actors contracts with confidentiality agreements. They will be able to tell you about their experience in a really big show as soon as the film is released.

 A Seattle caterer with a huge mobile kitchen brought food for the cast and crew. (In fact they cater most of the Hollywood movies filmed in the Northwest and they liked our Keystone Cellars wine so much they are now buying our Keystone Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay by the case to serve their customers.)

 Tom Skerritt arrived in a motor home. We watched him as a wounded Dr. Ben Givens act/talking with Bea Harden (Sharva Maynard) in our kitchen, and saw him come walking across our bridge over the Entiat River. 

After the morning shooting, he ate lunch with us and he was a very gracious gentleman. I told him how much I loved his performance in Top Gun and also as a Presbyterian minister in A River Runs Through It. 

He told us his life story. He was born in Detroit and said he has had a charmed life; he feels so lucky to have gotten into the movie business. He posed for a photo with us and autographed the printed shooting schedule. Then everyone went back to work.

 After lunch the crew moved everyone up to the Keystone Canyon where they had created an old fashioned 4th of July picnic setting. 

The main character Ben Givens has a flashback to the 1950s when he fell in love with his beautiful young bride, Victoria Summer Felix. It was a sweet scene, a party to remember. 

My daughter Mari, her husband Alan Groff, and Lulu Solis are all dancing in the scene. Two of our grandchildren, Clara and Johnny Groff, were “extras” in that scene. Jeff and Susan Heminger and Bill Dobbins are playing musical instruments. 

Lots of local folks are in the film, having a blast, literally, as the fireworks explode all around them. 

 The filming took all day and ended about 11 p.m. when the crew began loading up the trucks and vans. 

The producers and directors and the stars looked exhausted and I suggested they were invited to come down to our wine cellar and do some barrel tasting before they headed out. We had a wonderful time until 2 a.m. sipping and laughing as we relived the ups and downs of the day. 

They went back to their hotel in Wenatchee and the next week were filming with Mia Sorvino in Seattle. 

 Just this past October a small crew came back again to take some shots from the back of our manager Epi Ayala’s pickup truck, driving up and down the Entiat River Road, showing the river and the trees laden with apples. It does take a village to make a movie.

 Now the film is “in the can” the editing is nearly done. We expect the film to be released this spring. 

I asked the author, David Guterson, to summarize his book for me. 

He wrote, “My novel is about a good man who, in the face of mortality and loss, has forgotten who he is, has lost track of the life of service and compassion that long sustained him, and who now finds, in the course of his journey, that he still has much to give and that he can continue to address the suffering of others — to the very end — by dint of his experience and skill.”

 I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment, there are lots of great scenes in orchards in Cashmere and Entiat, in Quincy and on a Greyhound bus with a sick young man, an illegal farm worker the doctor tries to help. 

But there is one story in particular in the book that brought tears to my eyes. 

Dr. Givens is up on Stemilt Hill at a pickers cabin and a young woman is about to give birth. The doctor, himself in pain, suffering and dying, gives the young mother the most loving care and delivers her child. 

What a great book, what a sensitive portrayal of the people who grow and pick our fruit and make north central Washington such a fabulous place to live. 

We are excited to see the magic of the story of a good man who in the face of death and cancer chooses a life of service and love. 

 You know the old question: Saw the movie, read the book, which one was better? 

We loved meeting the people behind the film and respect their talent. We have not seen the movie yet but will as soon as it is released. We hope the film does justice to the beauty of the book. 

But just in case, read the book. It is wonderful.

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Trina Hansen Adams says:

    We definitely look forward to this grand movie! So proud of the Formans to allow this upcoming movie to be filmed at their ranch! The book sounds like a must read! How exciting this movie was filmed in our magnificent NCW! To more!

  2. SIG Swanstrom says:

    Dale, thank you for sharing the backstory and your reflections. It will make watching the movie a far richer experience for us. Please let us know when the date firms up for its release to theaters.

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