Lori Lerner Gray presents film award named after late son

Lori Lerner Gray is shown at the Reel Loud Film & Arts Festival at UC Santa Barbara in May. She presented the festival's Scott Wells Golden Reel Award, named for her son. Photo Courtesy of Lori Gray.

Lori Lerner Gray presented the Scott Wells Golden Reel Award at UC Santa Barbara’s Reel Loud Film & Arts Festival on May 26 in memory of her son Scott Wells — a UCSB alumnus who died 10 years ago from colon cancer. The award was established shortly after his death, and has been presented at the university every year since. 

Scott Wells grew up in Malibu, attending Webster and Juan Cabrillo schools. He graduated from Agoura High School (before Malibu High was built), earned a degree in film studies from UCSB, and then founded Orinox Productions, a boutique commercial production company, in 2003. He produced regional advertising and music videos; produced and directed several short films, including “Serial,” “Chameleon” and “Soldier of the Sun”; and produced the full-length feature film “Out West,” starring Sean Astin and Daniel Baldwin.

“He was a struggling filmmaker diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 32,” his mother said. “He had so many things going on when cancer cut him down. I always thought he’d make it, in more ways than one.”

Wells passed away at age 35 at his parents’ home following a heroic two-year battle with colon cancer. Just 10 days before his death, Scott married the love of his life, Limor Gottlieb, in a private ceremony in Malibu. His son, Henry Roztoczynski, is now 13 and lives in Chicago. 

Lerner Gray, her husband Larry Gray of Malibu, and Scott’s father Bill Wells of Calabasas, decided almost immediately after Scott’s passing that they would continue to honor him each year by helping to support Reel Loud Film Festival and the UCSB film program. They established the Scott Wells Memorial Fund, which pays for two annual UCSB awards: The Scott Wells Golden Reel Award and the Scott Wells Best Director award.

“It’s my way of sustaining his spirit and his passion; and paying it forward, and recognizing student talent,” Lerner Gray said in a phone interview. “The most important thing to me is recognizing their talent and passion, and hoping they’ll be able to fulfill their destiny.”

The winner of The Scott Wells Golden Reel Award this year was the short film “Fleeting,” directed by Peter Figueria (The Best Director award was bestowed just last week at UCSB graduation ceremonies to Brie Peterson for her film “Lady Scout Cookies”). 

Lerner Gray was there to present the award to Figueria in person at the film festival. This marked the first year she personally presented the award — the first nine years, Scott’s younger sister Rachel Gray had done the honors.

“It was time for me, at 10 years, to do this,” Lerner Gray said.

In her brief speech at the festival, Lerner Gray told the audience, “Scott loved film and had so much passion and creativity, and I hope you get out there and continue to bring that passion and creativity with you as you strive to make the word a better place by always following your heart with focus and determination.”

In addition to presenting the award, Lerner Gray also took the opportunity to use some of her on-stage time to give a “PSA” (public service announcement) about colon cancer. 

“Just take two minutes to Google ‘colon cancer,’ she told the film students. “It’s on the rise among young people. In 2018, the American Cancer Society recommended that the first routine colonoscopy screening take place at age 45 rather than age 50. Being informed might one day help save the life of someone you love.” 

She pointed out that there was no history of colon cancer in Scott Wells’ family. 

Lerner Gray believes that if her son had been better informed about the warning signs of colon cancer, he may have gone to a doctor earlier and caught it.

A former LA radio broadcaster, Lerner Gray is now a volunteer child loss facilitator with griefHaven.org, located in Pacific Palisades. The group is dedicated to helping parents navigate the world of child loss; and provides child and spousal loss support groups on Zoom.

“There’s no word in English for a parent who’s lost a child,” Lerner Gray explained. “It took me six months [after Scott’s death] to make the call to them, and for me, it was a lifeline. All of the therapists have firsthand experience with loss.”