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Mark Duplass: How Lynn Shelton’s Work Showed ‘Both the Sadness and Joy of Life’

Lynn Shelton Obit Remembered
Magnolia Pictures/Photofest

Lynn Shelton had an unrivaled allegiance to the Seattle film community and to Washington state. Most people trying to make their way in independent film would move their ass down to Los Angeles, but Lynn never forgot where she came from. She would drive down in her Kia Soul and stay in our guesthouse or at a friend’s in order to direct TV shows and get the money she needed to go back to Seattle to make the movies she wanted to make.

When she pitched me “Humpday,” I was married and had a young child. I wanted to stay in L.A. and shoot, but she was steadfast that we should make it in Seattle. And she was right. Being there, she had all these creative people around her, and it elevated the film. When my brother, Jay, worked with her on “Outside In,” I told him, “Go wherever she wants you to go, but just know, she’s going to drag you to Seattle.”

Lynn got a much later start as a filmmaker [directing her first feature at age 40]. Maybe that explains her zest for wanting to get things done and why she was able to make so many movies in such a short period of time. She built and designed each project to be so cheap that no one could stop us.

“When my brother, Jay, worked with her on ‘Outside In,’ I told him, ‘Go wherever she wants you to go, but just know, she’s going to drag you to Seattle.’”
Mark Duplass

I struggled for so long to make decent films, and when I started, many of the stories I told were too close to home. They were very male-centric, and the female characters were not as strong. When we made “Humpday,” it may have starred two dudes, but we spent just as much time fleshing out the third, female, character and making sure she was just as well-rounded. That did something to my consciousness.

It’s hard to say what makes people connect with art, but when you look at the qualities of Lynn and her work, you can see she was obsessed with people and interpersonal dynamics. She’d look at the darkness of life, but in a way where you could still throw back your head and have a cackle. There was a lot of love and beauty to her films.

What attracted me to her as a person and as an artist was she was able to illuminate nuanced human behavior in a way that showed both the sadness and the joy of life. —As told to Brent Lang

Mark Duplass worked with Lynn Shelton on “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister.” Shelton died May 15 of a blood disorder at the age of 54.