Shelton: Indie talent attracts stars

10 Directors to Watch 2012: Lynn Shelton

Age: 46
Homebase: Seattle
Inspired by: Many filmmakers, but especially Claire Denis. “She’s a woman, obviously,” Shelton notes. “But she also didn’t make her first feature until she was 40. And when I was in my mid-30s, I saw her speak, and it made me realize that it wasn’t too late for me.”
Reps: Agents: Rich Klubeck, David Flynn (UTA); Manager: Rosalie Swedlin (Anonymous Content); Lawyer: Robert Offer (Sloane Offer Weber & Dern)

After directing three below-the-radar indies, Lynn Shelton is making a considerable leap forward with her latest feature, “Your Sister’s Sister.” Starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass, the film debuted at Toronto last fall and is set to screen at Sundance later this month.

“Sister” comes five years after Shelton’s first feature, “We Go Way Back,” won the grand jury prize at the 2006 Slamdance film fest. Though making that pic convinced Shelton that directing was her calling, she was also frustrated by the way working on a film set took her focus away from the actors. So, with her second feature, 2008’s “My Effortless Brilliance,” Shelton opted to focus on a “performance-centered set.”

“I wanted to create an experience that felt extremely naturalistic,” she explains. “It was all about trying to capture genuine authenticity.”

Shelton wanted to give her actors a real opportunity to develop their characters in tandem with her.

“As I got to know who the characters were via this relationship with the actors, I could figure out how they would believably behave in each scene,” she says. “Then I could fill out the script. It was a very collaborative process in the months leading up to production.”

This quest for naturalism paid off with Shelton’s well-received 2009 follow-up, “Humpday,” and carries forward to “Your Sister’s Sister,” the first of Shelton’s films to feature recognizable stars.

With “Sister,” Shelton says, “I tried to expand the visual style and create a little more visual sophistication. And while the set is bigger … it still kept in place that very collaborative sensibility with the actors.”

Moving ahead, Shelton has been delving into more traditionally scripted work. That includes directing an episode of TV’s “Mad Men” and a new feature called “Laggies,” based on a screenplay by Andrea Siegel. But she’s also excited to keep working in the mode she developed through her earlier indies.

“I think my next evolutionary step is to expand beyond just having three characters and one location, which seems to be my M.O., to more of an ensemble cast and a slightly more expanded film,” she laughs.

10 Directors to Watch
Zal Batmanglij |

Valerie Donzelli | Gareth Evans | Philippe Falardeau | Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy & Scott Waugh | Gerardo Naranjo | Matt Piedmont | Michael R. Roskam | Lynn Shelton | Benh Zeitlin