When Marc Carlini ’97 wrote the script for his movie “She’s in Portland,” he didn’t intend to base it on his friendship with James Rizzo ’96. But when Rizzo read the early drafts, he noticed unmistakable similarities. The movie is a story about two friends who go on separate paths in their lives but end up reuniting and helping each other get on track with their lives — a story that holds more than a few echoes of their own friendship. The movie
debuted Sept. 25 and stars Minka Kelly, Tommy Dewey, and Francois Arnaud. Another Episcopal graduate, Lindsay Wolfington Collins ’97, served as music supervisor and secured all the music, including songs from Lord Huron and Twinsmith.
The movie is the story of two college friends, Wes and Luke, now in their 30s and leading very different lives. Wes is a career-focused East Coast family man, and Luke is a struggling artist in Los Angeles. But when Wes extends a work trip to visit his friend, the two wind up setting out on a road trip to Portland, Ore., to find Luke’s “one that got away.”
“Marc and I have had a really unique friendship that’s had a lot of interesting chapters,” Rizzo says, “It wasn’t written purposefully this way, but there are so many parallels between our paths and the storyline. It touches on a personal level; it feels so much like it’s our story.”
Traces of Rizzo’s life can be seen in Wes’s story. Rizzo, executive producer of the movie, attended Bucknell University and later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. After three years, he returned to Washington, D.C., where he started in real-estate investment, earned a master’s from MIT, and began working in private equity. Soon after, Rizzo became a partner in a global private-equity firm. He currently is working on a master’s at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with plans to go into foreign policy.
Carlini, who wrote and directed the movie, always dreamed of getting into the film industry and becoming an artist — like Luke. He attended Georgetown and, while he took a few film classes, he ultimately got a bachelor’s in finance. Afterward, bucking the expectation that he pursue a conventional career, he followed a passion born of a few Georgetown film classes and enrolled in Florida State University’s MFA program in film production. Upon graduating, Carlini moved to Los Angeles. Rizzo was still in the city at the time, and the two reunited, with Carlini working as a freelance video editor, including on music videos for artists such as Paramore and Gavin Degraw.
It was then that Carlini also started writing the script that would become “She’s in Portland.” Captivated by the stunning beauty of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, he knew that he wanted to set his movie there. “I remember telling myself that I wanted to make a movie that takes place all along the Pacific Coast Highway, as if it’s another character in the movie,” he says. The film features astonishing roadside views of California’s iconic beaches and towering seaside cliffs that serve as the backdrop for Wes and Luke’s relationship-defining journey.
“A lot of my films from film school were these buddy films,” Carlini says. “I don’t know if it had anything to do with some of the movies that I grew up with in the ’90s, or just the fact that I have two brothers and a lot of close friends, but I felt like I had a voice in that lane.”
The film industry’s notoriously grueling reputation held true for Carlini and Rizzo, and producing “She’s in Portland” had its fair share of challenges. It was filmed over a relatively short period of 24 days along the highway, guerrilla-style, with a small crew of filmmakers and a tight budget. During a stretch of several days, the crew was forced, due to mudslides that closed sections of the road, to camp out in tents in an uninhabited section of Big Sur.
“It’s been such a long journey, and especially making an independent film,” Carlini says. “It’s a soul-sucking experience in many ways. So to be on the other side of the mountain, there’s a tremendous amount of pride that we stuck with it.”
Carlini and Rizzo’s friendship, which began at Episcopal and has grown over the years, proved a strong foundation for their professional relationship. “Marc and I love each other; we are like brothers,” Rizzo says. “There are times when we scream at each other, and we’re at each other’s throats. But soon, we’re right back to normal. Ultimately, that was a great way to work together because we were able to be honest, but not hold anything against each other.”
Carlini says Rizzo ultimately gave him the strength to make “She’s in Portland” a reality. “He’s always made me feel like what I am doing is right, and I’m on the right path. He just believes in me, and has been such a huge support system,” Carlini says.
“She’s in Portland” is available to stream on iTunes, Amazon, onDemand, Dish and DirectTV. Releasing a film during the Covid-19 pandemic proved challenging, but there were silver linings. “There’s something interesting about the current situation that we’re living in, where this movie fulfills people’s interest in taking road trips. These two guys connect with a bunch of strangers along the way, and that human connection is what we don’t have much of right now,” Carlini says.
It turns out that a road-trip movie was just what viewers wanted during the pandemic-induced lockdown. One IMDB reviewer writes, “A road trip movie after being stuck inside for months? Count me in!” In addition, Carlini says, the fact that many larger studios have halted releasing new pictures until they can be screened in theaters “opens up an opportunity for a film like this — a smaller indie film that needs as much exposure as possible — to get a little more banner space and people can come across it more easily.”