The Portland 48 Hour Film Project: A Diary

With only 48 hours, an all-woman team assembles a thriller about an ambitious actress who starts to have some unnerving experiences before a big audition.

Unit production manager Shivon van Allen

For 11 years, the 48 Hour Film Project has taken to cities around the world. In each location, teams receive a genre selected at random, along with a prop, quote and character at 7 pm Friday, and they race to complete a short film by 7:30 pm Sunday. Winners go on to compete at a national level, with finalists screened at Cannes. For aspiring filmmakers, winning the 48HFP is like finding Willy Wonka's golden ticket.

But in all the years since the 48HFP began, there has never been—to the best of our knowledge, which extensive Google searches support—an all-woman team. My friend Lucila Cejas has been keeping tabs on female filmmaking badasses, and this year I was lucky enough to be invited to join Team XX—a group that included a producer at KGW, a cinematographer who has worked for GQ and J. Crew, experienced actresses whose ages span three generations, and grad students in the University of Oregon's multimedia journalism program. Chasing Ghosts, our film about an ambitious actress who starts to have some unnerving experiences before a big audition was made last weekend. It—and all the other Portland-produced films—will screen at the Hollywood Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 6-7.

Here's how it all went down. 



6:56 pm

I pull up in front of Lucila's house. Lucila and the unit production manager, Shivon Van Allen, have gone to pick up our genre and elements. As I'm setting up my laptop, my phone dings. Our genre is "thriller/suspense." Holy hell. We're jumping right in.

7:05 pm

Katie O'Reilly—house manager and assistant to the director, Lucila—has our actresses' headshots and possible locations on the kitchen table. Virginia Vickery, another writer and the script supervisor, arrives just as Lucila texts me the other necessary elements. The prop is a mirror, the character is "Tina DuMonde, a racer," and the quote is, "I looked at it a long time before I saw it." We are going to crush this thing. A few minutes later, Lucila, Shivon and the third writer, Christian Henry, arrive.

7:45 pm

Virginia: "I just Googled 'reasons to kidnap someone.'"

8:56 pm

Kia Geraths, the director of photography, and Nora Campbell, the photographer, arrive. I think they're disappointed that we're still flailing around. We have several different plot ideas, but nothing seems exciting. Kia and Lucila explain that my carjacking plot will be a nightmare to shoot. I sulk.  

9:40 pm

Christian: "Should we agree that if we haven't come up with a good idea by 10:45, we should just pick the best one and go with it?"

9:43 pm

We all agree on a story. It was the fear that did it.

11:23 pm

The Google document is a nightmare of multiple colored cursors and typos. After two hours of frantic scribbling, we've fleshed out a script. Sure, some of the stage directions are "X says something bitchy" and "Y babbles on," but I think we can all agree: We are geniuses. Kia and Lucila print out a draft and start planning the shot list. We are about five hours ahead of schedule. I thought we'd be writing until 5 am but instead, I am in bed by 12:30.


9:13 am

I arrive production at the Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver. Summer Hatfield, the production designer, has been awake since 3 am with Kia and Lucila. The actresses and crew are set up in the bar upstairs and have been here for more than an hour.

10:15 am

We spend some time figuring out a creepy smile for Laura Welsh, our lead actress. When she does settle on one, I'm surprised to find it genuinely disturbing.

11:34 am

We're filming downstairs in the main theater. Laura has had about an hour to memorize and sing this song, but she's soldiering on admirably. The HVAC in the theater is adding some intriguing jungle noises to the creepy ambiance.

1:22 pm

We arrive at the second location, at the top of the Indigo in downtown Portland. Here we meet Katelyn Black, who is assisting Kia and Summer with the camera work. Nina Callard is doing the sound engineering. In between takes, I watch a soccer game between the LA Galaxy and the Timbers.

Director Lucila Cejas and actress Laura Welsh
Photo by Nora Fisher

2:42 pm

There is a universal unspoken decision to stop into Blue Star Donuts on the way to our next location. The line is startlingly long for a Saturday in the mid-afternoon, but everyone wishes us luck.

3:02 pm

It is blazing hot at the third location, Cornell Farm in southwest Portland. Summer, Kia and Nina look like they're going to faint. Actually, everyone looks that way.

4:55 pm

Everyone gets back to the house for dinner. Summer's stomach is starting to hurt, and Katelyn and Lucila race around for Pepto-Bismol and ginger tea. We are going to do whatever it takes to keep that girl going. Katelyn's Rottweiler Stevie, the team's mascot, volunteers to snuggle.

Stevie the dog
Photo by Nora Fisher

5:50 pm

Filming begins on the final scenes at Lucila's house. We are so far ahead of schedule.

Virginia: "Everything went so smooth!"

Actress Janae Werner: "That's because women are running the show!"

Lucila: "I want to show up an hour early at drop-off when no one's there and take a selfie."

7:41 pm

Done shooting! The entire cast and crew gather around Lucila's kitchen table and takes celebratory shots of blackberry vodka. We did it! Summer and Katelyn vanish upstairs to Lucila's office to continue editing. Kia goes home to pass out and Nina heads off to another job. Good grief.



1 pm

I get to Lucila's house and Katelyn is downstairs in her pajamas. She's been here all night, logging, editing and working on audio. "If you want stuff to put in your blog post, you can write that at 2 am I had to kick Stevie out of the room for farting," she says. Summer and Kia got back early this morning. Once again, we all lock them in the office to edit with Lucila while Katie, Virginia and I watch Game of Thrones.

3:39 pm

All the dialogue has been officially saved! Kia's going to render!

Katelyn: "You're awesome!"

Kia: "No, you're awesome! Everyone's awesome!"

3:53 pm

"Audio fucks you over every time," someone says. I don't really know what's happened, but it's not good. Kia and Katelyn save a preliminary copy. I go downstairs to help fill out paperwork.

5:01 pm

The team sees the first cut for the first time. I underestimated how thrilling this would be. Now we're nervously waiting for the graphic designer to send the credits. Lucila issues an ultimatum via smartphone: "They have to be here by 5:30 or we're moving on without them!" They get here at 5:26 and Kia inserts the credits, no problem. "Fuck yeah, she did that in 30 seconds!" someone says.

5:42 pm

There's an error in rendering. The schedule has us leaving at 6:30 to make sure we can get to Alberta Street, park and turn in the film by 7:30. The atmosphere in the house is tense. At 5:58 pm, we watch the entire final cut, with credits. Kia finds two more things to fix. Now everyone is silent.

6:33 pm

We're running around, testing DVDs, looking for an extra flash drive. Freakout! We were supposed to have left three minutes ago. Katie starts the car and I run out behind her. A few minutes later, Lucila bursts out the front door, waving an envelope.

7:05 pm

Got to the Mash Tun! Lucila and Katie get drinks. We take pictures and congratulate ourselves. There are no selfies. 

7:29 pm

We realize we've turned in the wrong backup. Rob Hatch, the producer of the festival, announces there are five more minutes, so Lucila sprints back to the car to pick up the flash drive. Sweet jeebus.

7:34 pm

Everyone counts down as the final competitors are racing in. Five…four…three…two…one! It's over. Until Wednesday, anyway.

GO: The Portland 48 Hour Film Project is at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 7 and 9:30 pm Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 6-7. Team XX's Chasing Ghosts plays during Group B (9:30 pm Wednesday). $9. Tickets here.

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