by Benjamin Sepinuch
Highly regarded by her peers for her steadfast loyalty to both her community and her unique artistic sensibilities, Lynn Shelton fully capitalized on her vast array of talents to become a major influence on the independent film scene, often contributing to every stage of a project’s production. Without an easy path to this kind of career, she forged her own through pure creative exploration and grew into a prominent and inspiring figure for both audiences and aspiring filmmakers. After growing up in Seattle, Shelton attended both Oberlin College and the University of Washington School of Drama before moving to Manhattan for the School of Visual Arts. Attracted to filmmaking but lacking the confidence, experience, or opportunities for film school to pursue a career in the medium, Shelton found inspiration in the story of iconic French director Claire Denis. She returned to Seattle in 1999 and started finding work as an editor while developing her voice in experimental shorts.
Shelton’s break came in 2004 when she received funding for her first feature, We Go Way Back, which premiered at Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, taking home awards for cinematography and the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. Shelton wrote, directed, and edited the film, which she shot in Seattle. On the festival circuit, she met and befriended renowned mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg, whose approach to screenwriting and direction would influence her next film, My Effortless Brilliance. This project earned Shelton the Someone to Watch Award at the 2009 Film Independent Spirit Awards, putting her firmly on the map for those interested in independent cinema. Following this, she put out perhaps her best known work, Humpday, an unconventional comedy that would be the first of her collaborations with Mark Duplass, another figure of the mumblecore movement. Humpday marks a significant development in Shelton’s career, garnering praise for its offbeat and incisive look at homophobia, taking home a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, among several other awards, and inspiring a French remake.
Despite this success, Shelton stayed firmly rooted in Seattle’s independent scene. Her 2011 film, Your Sister’s Sister, which starred Duplass alongside Emily Blunt, was once again shot locally and opened the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival, making her the first hometown filmmaker to have a project do so. Maintaining working relationships with her early collaborators, she also appeared as an actress in several other movies shot in the area. She remained in Washington for the production of her next three films, while also comfortably transitioning into the world of TV to direct episodes of popular shows such as Mad Men, New Girl, and Master of None, as well as several projects involving her romantic partner, the popular stand-up turned actor Marc Maron, for whom she recently directed a Netflix comedy special. Shortly following the release of this project, Maron announced that Shelton had passed away tragically at the age of 54.
While her career was cut short by devastating misfortune, Shelton will be remembered as an important figure of the Seattle film community, where she was beloved for her friendly, collaborative spirit as well as her joyful pursuit of comedy and building compelling characters. Lauded by her friends and colleagues for the welcoming and experimental environment she established on set, Shelton accomplished a great deal in just two decades of film work and will continue to serve as an inspiration for storytellers with unique perspectives and limited resources, particularly those from the Seattle area. Her films will also stand on their own as charming and engaging features of the American independent movie scene that deliver a distinct and insightful perspective.
We Go Way Back (2006) - writer/director/editor
My Effortless Brilliance (2008) - writer/director/producer/editor
Humpday (2009) - writer/director/producer
Your Sister’s Sister (2011) - writer/director/executive producer
Touchy Feely (2013) - writer/director/editor
Laggies (2014) - director
Outside In (2017) - writer/director
Sword of Trust (2019) - writer/director/producer