Before directing an episode of “Mad Men” in 2006, Lynn Shelton was the ultimate indie film outsider. “I had been in the hinterlands making movies,” recalls the Seattle-based writer-director. “I never went to film school; I never worked in L.A.; I never worked with a union crew; I never worked on a soundstage. Suddenly, I felt: ‘Now I am playing with the grownups.’?”
But the no-budget filmmaker (“We Go Way Back,” “My Effortless Brilliance”) and mumblecore actress (Joe Swanberg’s Web series “Young American Bodies,” among others), caught the industry’s eye with her third directorial outing, 2009’s “Humpday,” a comedy about two male friends who set out to prove their hipness by making a gay porno together. The pic won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance.
Mark Duplass, who stars in “Humpday” and Shelton’s follow-up “Your Sister’s Sister,” says Shelton’s love and empathy for her characters is what convinces the thesps who play them to abandon all reserve. “Actors will almost always follow her headlong into the abyss,” he says. “I sure as hell do.”
Shelton initially worried her transition to television would be difficult. “But not only did my skill sets transfer, it was a great fit,” she says, “because I’ve made three movies in a row that all took under two weeks to make, and that’s what TV is about: quality and speed.”
Shelton is certainly speedy. After making “Your Sister’s Sister,” which also stars Rosemary Dewitt and Emily Blunt, she’s in post on a fifth film, “Touchy Feely,” a multipart narrative with Dewitt and Ellen Page. She also signed on to direct her second episode of Fox’s “New Girl,” and is prepping another feature, “Laggies,” set to star Paul Rudd and Rebecca Hall, for Anonymous Content — “my first multimillion movie,” she says.
While she acknowledges working with a bigger budget will be a nice leap, Shelton doesn’t want to forego the intimate, improvisational comedic dramas that have defined her career so far.
“I’m not looking to do a $20 million movie just because it’s a $20 million movie,” she says. “Because I didn’t get here until I was 39, I don’t want to give a year and half of my life to projects that I’m not passionate about.”