Interview with Lynn Shelton

The director of Outside In talks to Jeremy Cropf about working with Jay Duplass and Edie Falco.

Lynn Shelton

Lynn talks to us about her process for developing the script with Jay Duplass, her decision to film the movie in Granite Falls, and her thoughts on the importance of filming movies in the states in which they are actually set.

What was it that compelled you to tell this story, where did this idea originate from?

Well, it was a couple of different things: the idea of the characters and their relationship with something and really the backstory leading up to the start. It's an idea that had been kicking around in various forms in my head for quite a while. And then as many of my films actually start, when I actually sit and start writing a treatment, it often starts because of some muse of an actor, because I'm one of those directors who's obsessed with certain actors. And I have this little list, a little wish list of people I really, really just get lit up by and want to work with really badly, and especially if I had any connection to them and get to know them at all, I will often tell them: "look, I'm going to be pitching you something at some point and I'm really hoping that we'll work together." And it's happened a few times now, and with Jay I saw him in "Transparent," that was really the first time I saw him act, and I was just blown away. I didn't know he had any interest in acting, and then all of a sudden he's just BOOM! He's on the screen, charismatic, emotionally available, incredible range. And basically what I pitched to him was the backstory.

Like I said I knew exactly what had happened with the previous twenty years, I just sort of very clearly visualized the kind of place I wanted to set it in, what had happened, what their relationship is like and how it evolved over those twenty years of mostly just letter writing, you know, no physicality at all, and how it had grown really deep and really genuine with a true soul connection, but you know, grew under these very specific circumstances. So anyway, I knew all that and then, and one of the reasons why I was really intrigued by that was that I really love to explore relationships that are not... convenient, and that are not suppose to happen, not just two people who can't, who are previously committed to other people, not an affair. And again without any ability to touch much less barely see each other. So I thought that was sort of beautiful too.

Can you talk little bit about the role that Jay played in helping to craft the overall script, and was that something that was intentional? Did you know going into it that you wanted to work with him, or did that kind of happen in the creative process?

When I work with actors, especially in this particular scenario where I sort of created a role in a movie for an actor, especially in that circumstance, I will want the input of that actor as I develop the treatment. And the idea is that the more we get to know who this character really is, what their backstory is, what their history is, and what their relationship is to the other people in the movie, it'll feed directly into the believability of, you know, I'll know how to write each scene, I'll know how that person talks, I'll know how to write the movie. And he was very engaged from the beginning and I said: "I want your notes, I want your input, I want to hear what you want to bring to this role." He was already researching the experience of these kind of characters, of folks getting out of prison, by watching a lot of documentaries and interviews, and then actually meeting a couple of them and really getting a sense of the ways that people are affected by the experience, he was doing that already and I was sharing the treatment and developing it and he was giving his input along the way. And he was always engaged from the beginning, and after a few months of that and the treatment developed , and then I turned it into a script, and it was actually a real script, and that was happening for a while, and he asked if he could take a pass on the script instead of just giving me ideas and notes, and that really started the process of us just passing the script back and forth. It became a true co-writing experience in the last few months.

At what point did Edie get involved with the film and what did she bring to this character and help shape the dynamic with her and Jay?

She came on actually quite late in the process. It was really finding the perfect Carol was a journey, and I was so incredibly grateful that she was available. And willing to come, she generally likes to stick close to home, which is NY city, because her kids are there, she's got a couple of kids, and she doesn't generally like to do stuff across the country. Luckily, we didn't need her for a huge number of days because it was a short shoot. So that was really lucky, but her other thing was that you mentioned that she and Jay were in the same movie Landline and they had only a couple of scenes together, I think they spent a couple days on set, but they just really hit it off, they really found each other, which I'm not at all surprised because they're both incredibly personable, and warm and charming. And I think that was a huge draw for her because she already had an implicit sense of trust around Jay and was excited with the idea to work with him. But she really liked the script too. She said she felt like it was the way real people talk, the way they really acted, she believed everything, she thought it was a really interesting sort of nuanced character study, character based narrative that she really like a lot. And there really aren't a lot of roles that are as emotionally rich and layered as Carol gets to be for women of her age. There're just are not. And that was really appealing as well.

All of your films Humpday, Touchy Feely, were shot in Seattle, Your Sister's Sister was shot on the San Juan Islands. Can you talk about how shooting this film in Granite Falls area was different? What was better for production working in Seattle or on the San Juan Islands?

First of all, thank you for noticing the specificity of my films. It's a really important thing for me. I don't know if it came from the trauma or from being annoyed as a kid watching a movie being set in Seattle and maybe even shot in Seattle, but there'd be some montage of John Cusack running in Wallingford one minute and Kirkland the next minute: what the heck is going on? I hated that! It drove me crazy, this mish-mash of neighborhoods, you know? I wanted it to be all really clear, so when some Seattleite saw it they would recognize every neighborhood connected to another neighborhood. It's really silly, but it's a huge thing for me. I was really excited to find a small area where you can feel the struggle of people's lives a little bit more than a flashy urban area like Seattle has become. A little bit economically depressed with a lot of nature around it, and I just wanted to embed ourselves there, and we really did. 

Want to Listen to the Full Interview?

This is an excerpt from a conversation recorded for our official podcast. To hear everything Lynn had to say, check out SIFFcast!

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