GFF 2012 - Director Lynn Shelton on Your Sister’s Sister
The mumblecore icon talks about her latest film, which opens this year’s Glasgow Film Festival
Seattle-based filmmaker Lynn Shelton has specialised in revelling in the foibles of her characters across each of her four movies, so it’s no surprise to hear her say, 'People are flawed, that’s what I love about them... I want people to like characters because of their flaws.'
Jack (Mark Duplass), the central character in Your Sister’s Sister, Shelton’s latest picture, certainly fits that bill. We meet him cursing his friends and lashing out at what he sees as their hypocrisy as they mourn the death of his brother. Duplass also starred in Shelton’s last film Humpday, the story of two best friends who drunkenly agree to make a gay porn film together. The film won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and is one of the most successful films to come out of the American independent film scene known as ‘mumblecore’.
The movement encompasses a group of filmmakers including Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, and the Duplass brothers (Mark and Jay) whose films are characterised by their ultra-low budgets, use of improvisation, character driven relationship stories (usually shot over just a few days) and a cast made up of non-professional actors often playing a version of themselves.
It was Mark Duplass who first approached Shelton with the idea for Your Sister’s Sister. 'We had both been working on different stories,' says Shelton. 'I was working on a couple of projects that would have been my first foray into how mainstream filmmakers would work, producers giving me scripts and trying to attach names and Mark was being offered auditions for roles that were no guarantees and not exciting. He called me and said we had such a great time on Humpday why not make something else? He and his brother have a drawer full of ideas and this was one about a brother who loses his brother [and] was one they were never likely to develop so they gave it to me.'
Your Sister’s Sister became a hybrid project of sorts for Shelton. While she uses many of the techniques that defined mumblecore films, her latest effort is a far more mainstream picture, made with a more traditional script and with bona fide movie stars. It’s already won rave reviews at Toronto and Sundance film festivals and is the perfect film to open the Glasgow Film Festival: smart, funny, edgy, and unique.
Brit actress Emily Blunt plays Iris who invites best friend Jack to her family’s secluded island retreat after the death of his brother. There he unexpectedly encounters Iris’s half-sister Hannah, played by Rachel Getting Married and United States of Tara star Rosemarie DeWitt. Awkward beginnings lead to a drunk, tequila fuelled night with things complicated even further when Iris unexpectedly arrives the next morning.
One of the ways Shelton attracted stars to the picture was by offering them a more collaborative role in the making of the film. 'I had this idea in the back of my head, could I attract known actresses and see if they are intrigued by the process?' says Shelton. 'The process is the polar opposite to what I imagine was Emily’s experience on The Adjustment Bureau. This movie is shot in 12 days and where on a studio film you would act for maybe one hour a day, here they were doing ten, eleven hour days and the input of the actors would really make a difference.'
Shelton herself first moved to New York from Seattle to pursue a career in acting. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities and gaps between working she took up photography which then segued into filmmaking. Now though things have gone full circle as directors have begun to approach Shelton to be in front of the camera rather than behind it.
'All these roles are tiny roles,' she adds. 'Acting terrifies me, I don’t want to ruin other people’s movies. It is why I like to occasionally act – it reminds me that the hardest role on any film is being an actor. They have to try to access something that is precarious while also deal with the technical side.'
In sharp contrast Shelton makes working with actors and making movies seem like the easiest job in the world.
GFT, Glasgow, Thu 16 & Fri 17 Feb. Part of the Glasgow Film Festival.