From Columbia University to the Columbia River: Portland Filmmakers Return Home to Shoot their Thesis Films



From the Northwest Film Center:

For emerging filmmakers, the film scenes in New York City and Portland are more closely connected than one might think.   Just ask Lena Rudnick, a graduate student in the prestigious Columbia University MFA program in film directing, who got her start as a student at the Northwest Film Center.  Like salmon who come home to spawn in the same river each year, when it came time for Rudnick to shoot her final film of the year, she returned to Portland,  where easy permitting, equipment access, crew, and location ambience readily combined to trump shooting in the Big Apple.

“The community here is so relaxed and supportive,” Lena says.  “I put in a city request to shoot at Sauvie Island, and they got back to me in just two days and offered a discount. That would never have happened in New York.”  Lena also found support from casting agencies, equipment rental house Picture This, and her old friends at the Northwest Film Center.  From the Film Center student pool and some old Portland friends, she assembled a top-notch crew, all of whom volunteered to work for free.

Her project, an “8-12 exercise”,  is a film that each student has to direct based on a fellow classmate’s original screenplay. These projects will be edited in August and critiqued in the Fall in front of a small panel of professors like Eric Mendelsohn, who won the directing award at Sundance this year and Tom Kalin, who directed Savage Grace.  Lena chose a screenplay entitled SHORTCAKE, by Calgary-born student Berkley Brady, which was an examination of the bond between a brother and sister.  She felt the story had a Portland feel, and she appealed to Berkley, who is producing the film, to let her shoot the film in Portland.

The Northwest Film Center pedigree has benefitted Rudnick in other ways.  At Columbia, students are expected to begin shooting films the very first day of class.  “There were some people in my class who had never held a camera,” Lena remembers.  “I already had a leg up.  Taking classes at the Film Center gave me a clear advantage my first day.”

Though Rudnick didn’t expect to know anyone in New York, she soon discovered amongst her 65 classmates two other fellow Northwest Film Center alums, Lara Gallagher and Andrew Ellmaker.  Bonds were immediately formed. “The Film Center was the place we got started, the place that prepared us for the program at Columbia,” says Lena.  In such an intensive program, which requires students to write and direct six screenplays in one year, having classmates to depend on for feedback and crew assistance was an invaluable plus.

With Rudnick’s encouragement, Gallagher and Ellmaker both also decided to shoot their final projects in Portland as well this summer, capitalizing on the production and emotional support they could provide for each other.

SHORTCAKE, directed by Lena Rudnick, is being filmed over the next three days, July 19 – 21, in Portland locations Sauvie Island and North Portland.  The production includes six principal actors and twenty extras.  On Monday, July 19, they will be filming a hippie wedding scene on Sauvie Island.  It doesn’t get any more Portland than that.

Andrew Ellmaker is shooting his film, 10 YEAR OLD PIZZA, in downtown Portland and on the Hawthorne Bridge, July 28-31st. His script is written by Lara Gallagher, who directed her film, STAGE 2, shooting around various Portland locations, between July 8-11th.

All three films are due back at Columbia in early September, though Lena plans to have a Portland screening in the fall.  With 10% of the graduating class presenting work of a decidedly Portland bent, the connections between Portland and New York are sure to apparent.  Maybe these salmon will continue to spawn in their stream of origin for many years to come.

Northwest Film Center, nwfilm.org

Story by Kristy Conrad, Ellen Thomas, Jessica Lyness

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