Ignore the fact that she has one foot in Los Angeles these days—director Lynn Shelton has not gone Hollywood. The Garfield High grad, who films naturalistic indies that play Sundance and Cannes, claims her heart remains in her hometown. Hours before her latest film opened May’s Seattle International Film Festival, Shelton called Seattle “so a part of me, and so in my blood and my bones.” Yet after seven movies set in the Northwest—including Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday, and Laggies—Shelton dared herself to look elsewhere. Filmed in Alabama, Sword of Trust (in theaters July 19) is a mostly improv caper starring Marc Maron as a pawn shop owner caught in a web of Civil War conspiracy theories. Still, as Shelton embarks on a 2020 Hulu series with Reese Witherspoon, she dreams of bringing productions back home. And no matter where her feet are planted, Shelton rejects the “spindly heels” of LA style: “I’d rather wear cowboy boots than sandals, even when it’s 100 degrees.” —AW
Every movie that I do, I try to give myself a new challenge. Working outside the Pacific Northwest felt like something that I needed to do. I know this region so well, it starts to feel a bit like I’m cheating.
The South does feel like a different planet. It’s just so different culturally, geographically. It was terrifying and surreal to shoot there.
Conspiracy theories have existed since the beginning of humankind. But we’re having a peak moment right now.
I wanted to show that conspiracy theories are a human frailty. It’s not just, you know, stupid people. Everybody has the ability to become a sucker.
I grew up right in Seattle, during the mandatory school busing period. I was bused from Maple Leaf to Garfield for high school. I’m so grateful for that; it was just the best social education I could have possibly achieved.
As soon as I tried to make a living at it, I had a falling out with acting. It complicated my relationship with my sense of self. And it started to feel, for me personally, like an exercise in narcissism.
I was ready to make a movie that would allow me to laugh on set. I’d always wanted to make a comedy that got a little outsized and wacky, but with emotionally grounded characters.
In improv, there’s this dynamic, organic, fresh, real quality of people genuinely reacting to other people. It’s so alive.
There was a period when I felt like I had almost a second full-time job, lobbying to get the film incentive program in Washington expanded so that I could bring a TV show here.
Shrill is a great example. It easily could have been set and shot in Washington state, but they had to do it in Portland. It doesn’t make any financial sense to go to a state that doesn’t have incentive money.
The Where’d You Go, Bernadette? film, I wanted to direct that so bad. I love that book so much, and I wanted it to shoot here most of all. I saw the [shot in Pittsburgh] trailer recently and it was just like…uhh, I dunno.
TV right now feels like where a vast chunk of the creative capital is; the financial capital, the promotional capital. I just wanted to work on something that has a little bit of muscle.
I threw my hat in the ring to be the director on this limited Hulu series, Little Fires Everywhere. It’s going to have me in Los Angeles for eight months straight. It’s where the work is—heartbreaking.
I love Seattle so much. I much prefer the green here, the gray, the skies, the clouds, the water, a new vista. Seattle sort of ruined me for anywhere else.