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updated: 2/25/2014 5:37 AM

Glenbard West grad '20 Feet' from Oscar documentary stardom

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  • Glen Ellyn native Caryn Capotosto visits the Sundance Film Festival where the documentary "20 Feet From Stardom" premiered in 2013.

      Glen Ellyn native Caryn Capotosto visits the Sundance Film Festival where the documentary "20 Feet From Stardom" premiered in 2013.

  • Glen Ellyn native Caryn Capotosto's movie "20 Feet From Stardom" might win the Best Documentary Oscar this weekend. She served as associate producer on the project.

      Glen Ellyn native Caryn Capotosto's movie "20 Feet From Stardom" might win the Best Documentary Oscar this weekend. She served as associate producer on the project.

  • Documentary maker Caryn Capotosto married fellow Glenbard West High School grad Paul Simms, even though the two never dated until after college.

      Documentary maker Caryn Capotosto married fellow Glenbard West High School grad Paul Simms, even though the two never dated until after college.

  • Jo Lawry, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer are three backup singers profiled in "Twenty Feet From Stardom," up for the Best Documentary Oscar. Glen Ellyn's Caryn Capotosto served as associate producer.

      Jo Lawry, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer are three backup singers profiled in "Twenty Feet From Stardom," up for the Best Documentary Oscar. Glen Ellyn's Caryn Capotosto served as associate producer.

  • Video: "20 Feet" trailer

 
 

Maybe, just maybe, the Fox network's reality TV series "Yearbook" had a bigger impact on Caryn Capotosto than she originally thought.

Fox shot "Yearbook" episodes at Glenbard West High School when Capotosto was a student there.

"I seriously think the filming of the first reality show 'Yearbook' at Glenbard West may have subconsciously stuck with me," she confessed.

She's in the documentary-making business herself these days and was the associate producer on Morgan Neville's "20 Feet From Stardom" -- nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. As an associate producer, however, she does not get a prized statuette if the movie wins Sunday night.

"I just feel so lucky," she said. "I had no idea how professional these women were."

"These women" would be the subject of the documentary: the unheralded black backup singers used to help make hit singles for mostly white musicians.

Neville's musical documentary is an entertaining work of compensatory justice, shining a long-overdue light on talented performers kept in the shadows, performers such as Darlene Love and Mary Clayton.

"It's been amazing, how they are finally getting recognition beyond the circle of producers who've worked with them in the past," Capotosto said. "The wider public is getting to know who they are, these dedicated and wonderful people."

Capotosto never had loop dreams of making documentaries while a little girl in Iowa, where she was born. In sixth grade, she and her family moved to Glen Ellyn. After graduating from Glenbard West in 1993, she shot off to school in Kansas for a year before returning to Chicago to study photography at Columbia College.

Then came working on her master's degree in contemporary art at the University of Chicago. But still no documentary interest.

Not until Capotosto and a friend started working on a doc titled "Come on Down!" about the TV game show "The Price is Right."

"We grew up with 'The Price is Right.' It was something we already knew about," she said. "It was less journalism and more just relating to people and letting them tell their story."

At one point, Capotosto confessed, they entertained the idea of writing a fictional screenplay based on characters in the game show. For inspiration, they went to Los Angeles to see the show themselves. They made a startling discovery.

"We realized the moment we got there, we didn't need to make any characters up," she said. "These people were already quirky and fun and so interesting and so into that show that we realized the story is right here! We'll have something people can relate to and it'll be fun."

Capotosto moved to Los Angeles. Within three years, she landed the job of her dreams at Tremolo Productions, a small doc company specializing in music and owned by Neville.

"It was the perfect company for me to be at," she said. "I just saw a job listing and went for it. I'm so lucky to work on all the projects that come through the door here. It's really a joy and very rewarding."

At Tremolo, Capotosto served as the production coordinator on the doc "Crossfire Hurricane" (2013), about the early career of The Rolling Stones. She also produced a doc for the Getty Museum about the Pacific Standard Time Initiative surveying the history of Southern California art.

Meanwhile, she married a Glen Ellyn guy from her old high school, Paul Simms, although the two never dated until after college.

Simms' parents still live in Glen Ellyn, so Capotosto frequently returns to her suburban hometown. Her parents have retired and moved to Florida.

Capotosto said being in Los Angeles has given her an appreciation for the character of Chicago area people.

"I would definitely say they're hardworking and genuine," she said. "And just down to earth. Real. You know?"

Can she spot a Chicagoan from a mile away?

"Yes," she said. "They can spot me, too!"

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who you think would make a good column feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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