INTERVIEW: Lynn Shelton

I’ve often been told I have a face made for radio.  It’s an old joke but actually holds true in my case.  Lynn Shelton, on the other hand, probably belongs somewhere shy of an IMAX screen.  Warm, funny, easy on the eyes.  I had it all set that I was going to interview her on my radio show.  Frustratingly, that didn’t quite work out timing-wise (for the moment) but I couldn’t let the scheduled interview go to complete waste.

I was particularly interested in what life on a Lynn Shelton set was like.   Having seen all four of her feature films, and having long admired the humanity that comes off the screen, I was anxious to talk. Her characters are all written with warmth and wit; utterly believable.  There was estranged Eric (Basil Harris) & Dylan (Sean Nelson), trying to find common ground out in the woods in rural Washington in “My Effortless Brilliance”.  “Humpday” reunites old friends married Ben (Mark Duplass) & unanchored  Andrew (Joshua Leonard), who agree to make an amateur man-on-man porno even though neither man is homosexual.  In her latest comedy, “Your Sister’s Sister”,  Jack (Duplass), who recently lost his brother must grapple with his romantic feelings for his widowed sister-in-law, Iris (Emily Blunt), in spite of a one night fling he had with her lesbian sister, Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt).  If it sounds complicated —and it is— the whole thing is written and performed so smoothly that you won’t miss a step.

Filmwax: Congratulations on “Your Sister’s Sister”.  I saw it and really enjoyed it thoroughly.

Lynn Shelton: Oh great, thanks.

Filmwax:  What’s your secret in creating an environment on the set in order to get the kinds of performances you do with “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister”?

Shelton: Um, well I try to have as few bodies as possible, and really, the most important thing is the right bodies. The right people. So I’m really incredibly careful about who I bring into the crew family and just as careful as I am in casting the cast.

Filmwax: Do you mean literally who you allow to be on the set?

Shelton: Yeah, yeah. I’m talking about the d.p. (director of photography) and the sound guy.  Every single person.  I’ve been an artist all my life, and I didn’t come into my own as an artist until I discovered the collaboration of narrative filmmaking. And so, I’ve been using a lot of – I mean it was decades before I really figured out,  Like: “Oh, if you let go or let loose a little bit, open up your control freak nature and let other people into the process, like, wow! The things that can happen are pretty amazing.”

And I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is, and I think that, at its best, collaboration pushes. What’s great is when you have partners who are all pushing each other. They are all being the best that they can be. One of my collaborators recently told me that, he said: “You believed in me more than I believed in myself, and I’ve done better work because of it, and work I never would have done because of it.”  And that is it in a nutshell. I think that if everybody believes in each other, more than they even believe in themselves, then they end up sort of raising the bar.  Everybody just ends up, you know, getting the best out of each other. In order to do that, you have to have an incredibly emotionally safe environment.  Making art is a very risky venture – you’re putting a little piece of your soul out there for people to just like… you know, you’re laying yourself bare when you’re being creative. Read more