[FILM: Interview] Your Sister’s Sister
Lynn Shelton was 40 before she made her directing debut, and on her fourth feature she had her breakthrough moment with the bromantic comedy Humpday, which won her the Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2009. Created by Shelton specifically as a vehicle for writer-director-actor-producer Mark Duplass, Humpday was the start of a loose collaborative relationship between the two that led to Shelton’s fifth and most recent feature, Your Sister’s Sister.
Starring Emily Blunt, Duplass and indie actress-to-watch Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister revolves around a “love” triangle between one guy and two sisters who are each responding to loss in different ways. It combines Shelton’s trademark low production values and improv-laced performance with a bigger budget, more polished audiovisual sensibility, and more complex characters.
Shelton always knew she was destined to be a story teller – it was just the specifics that took a little time to iron out. Training first as an actor (her screen credits include small roles in ultra-indies Nights And Weekends, The Off Hours and the forthcoming Duplass-produced Safety Not Guaranteed), she was initially intimidated by filmmaking. “I remember trying to decide if I wanted to apply for acting graduate school or filmmaking graduate school and I was just too intimidated [by film],” she says. “All I knew was that it costs millions of dollars and I figured as a director you’d have to be responsible for somebody else’s millions of dollars, and it just terrified me.”
She eventually arrived at filmmaking via a discouraging stint as a working thespian in New York, followed by enrolment in a graduate photography course at the School Of Visual Arts, where she learned to edit and made her first short films. “I was 39 when I got the opportunity to make my first feature,” Shelton says. “That’s when I came into my own as an artist because I needed all the skill-sets I developed along the way: the relationship to acting and photography and editing [and] then also growing in maturity, and finally being ready and confident to lead a team.”
The original concept for Your Sister’s Sister was brought to Shelton by Duplass and, as with Humpday, the film was heavily devised. “I give [the actors] the parameters of a certain plot line and a specific structure to work within and then I give them a tremendous amount of freedom in terms of the actual words that they use and how they want to find their way through the beats of the scene,” Shelton explains.
Given this loose approach, it seems particularly miraculous that the film was shot in just 12 days, but Shelton has honed this way of working down to a fine art, in no small part due to her years working as an editor. “[During shooting] I am kind of tracking in my head – ‘Do I have everything I need in there somewhere between these three or four takes?’ – and then there’s some part of my brain that says, ‘Yeah, it’s in there somewhere, you can move on.’ It is a very efficient way of working. And then I got the extra validation on the sets of Madmen and New Girl, where the crew were like, ‘You’re really fast, you really know what you need, and you know when you have it and you know when to move on.’”
At a point where her career is taking off, and opportunities and projects are flowing her way, Shelton seems nevertheless unlikely to take the Hollywood route. “I’ll work with other people probably, and probably some bigger projects, but I’ll always come back and keep making these intimate little pieces because there is something so incredibly satisfying about working in this way.”
What: Your Sister’s Sister
When: In cinemas September 6