During the first decade of Lynn Shelton’s career, it was nearly impossible to find her on a set without cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke by her side. Shelton, the writer-director known for prolific work in the indie film world with “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Laggies,” “Humpday,” among others, and her recent successes directing top-tier television shows like “Little Fires Everywhere” and “GLOW,” died Friday from a previously unidentified blood disorder.
Kasulke, who met her 20 years ago in the scrappy Seattle filmmaking scene, shot all her feature films from 2005 to 2014, beginning with the first, “We Go Way Back,” up to “Laggies.” “Everything [we did on set] was for the comfort of the performance and the actors in the hope of getting at the truth of the scene,” says Kasulke, who texted with Shelton just last Wednesday about what she thought was a case of the flue she was getting over.
“If people watch her movies, they’re about people being really vulnerable and being awkward and evolving on their terms and embracing how messy it is to be a human being and getting better because of that not despite it,” Kasulke says.
Kasulke believes this was Shelton’s forté — her ability to create an atmosphere of comfort so that everyone wanted to give their all, no matter the situation. She worked hard at building a family of filmmakers in Seattle in the early aughts, a place that Kasulke says a lot of people moved to, but few were actually from there.
And though Shelton was born in Ohio, she landed in the Pacific Northwest when she was very young. “She made it effortless to create an awesome family of people to work with and be around,” says Kasulke, who’s been on a Zoom conference call every night at 6:30 since Shelton’s death with dozens of members of this makeshift family. “She made everyone feel included and valued; she set the bar so high for how to collaborate on making movies.”
Back in 2005, Kasulke says that he and Shelton’s working relationship meshed over shared obsessions of Lynne Ramsay and Ellen Kuras’ work, and the music of Lou Reed, David Bowie and Elvis Costello.
The bond was sealed while simultaneously celebrating and freaking out that their dream opportunity — their first feature film — was happening later in their lives than they’d hoped.
Kasulke was 27 and Shelton was 39, but the wisdom that comes with age allowed her to empathize with him, despite the obvious hurdles she was facing.
“There were many, but one of my favorite things about Lynn is that she was a really easy laugh,” says Kasulke, who recently just premiered his own directorial debut with “Banana Split” — a task he learned a great deal about from Shelton. “Anyone will tell you this, but you could make her laugh very hard for a long time with minimal effort. It was gratifying.”
Though the last six years have seen the pair’s careers parallel each other in terms of scope and success, Kasulke says it was only due to timing and scheduling that they hadn’t collaborated again.
Recently, they’d very briefly talked about the project she was in early development stages on with her partner, comedian and actor Marc Maron. “I would’ve worked with her for the rest of my life,” says Kasulke. “I’m sad that we won’t get to do another one, but I’m so happy that I was in the right place in the universe and she was in the right place and we got to create this thing together and that it was at a time when people were receptive to the types of movies she made.”