AFI Remembers Trailblazer Lynn Shelton
“Anyone of you who are out there thinking that you can’t make a movie because nobody is stepping up to the plate and giving you money and permission to do it. You can. You can do it. You can empower yourself. You can pick up a camera. The technology is there. You can get your friends together and you can make a movie. You should do it. Now.”
– Lynn Shelton in her Independent Spirit Awards Speech
AFI was tremendously saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of innovative writer/director Lynn Shelton, who only just weeks ago joined AFI Fellows in an online Zoom seminar to impart what she had learned directing critically acclaimed independent films and helming prominent television series throughout her career.
Shelton exemplified the best in independent cinema and was a beloved member of the Seattle film community. She originally trained as an actor at the University of Washington before studying photography at New York’s School of Visual Arts. She came to directing late in life, inspired upon learning that French director Claire Denis had made her directorial debut at the age of 40 with CHOCOLAT.
Shelton made her name on candid, interpersonal dramas, premiering WE GO WAY BACK at Slamdance in 2006, which earned her the Grand Jury Prize, followed by MY EFFORTLESS BRILLIANCE, which premiered at SXSW. Her breakthrough HUMPDAY was met with critical acclaim at Sundance, won the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award and was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with Mark Duplass – whom she would later reteam with on YOUR SISTER’S SISTER. She often eschewed a traditional script approach for “a scriptment,” a hybrid of a script and a treatment which revealed her preference for naturalism and finding authentic moments, often spontaneously improvised, by her actors. Her later films include LAGGIES, TOUCHY FEELY, OUTSIDE IN and SWORD OF TRUST – her final film, which fittingly premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Shelton also brought her trademark nuance and insight into the human condition to her experience directing episodic series as varied as MAD MEN, MASTER OF NONE, GLOW and most recently LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s bestseller that stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Still, she continually returned to her original home base of Seattle for inspiration and community. While she built an impressive career in television, she continued mentoring and encouraging emerging filmmakers to shoot locally on a small budget, relying on trusted friends and collaborators, and upholding a DIY production approach to make inroads. All but her final feature film, 2019’s SWORD OF TRUST, were made in Washington with local film crews.
Watch clips from Shelton’s online conversation with AFI Fellows where she spoke about her pitching process and how she worked to bring authenticity and honesty to the story of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE. To honor Shelton, be sure to check out the list of projects below directed by the inquisitive and inspiring storyteller.
A Select Filmography From Writer/Director Lynn Shelton
WE GO WAY BACK (Kanopy)
MY EFFORTLESS BRILLIANCE (Amazon Prime)
MAD MEN (Netflix)
-Episode: “Hands and Knees” (Season 4)
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER (Amazon Prime)
NEW GIRL (Netflix)
-Episodes: “Injured” (Season 1); “Pepperwood” and “First Date” (Season 2); “Mars Landing” (Season 3); “Dice” (Season 4)
FRESH OFF THE BOAT (Hulu)
-Episodes: “Pilot,” “Persistent Romeo” and “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” (Season 1); “Family Business Trip,” “Shaquille O’Neal Motors,” “The Big 1-2,” “Tight Two” (Season 2); “Louisween” (Season 3) and “Four Funerals and a Wedding” (Season 4)
MASTER OF NONE (Netflix)
-Episodes: “Old People” and “Ladies and Gentleman” (Season 1)
-Episodes: “The Magpie” and “Threesomes” (Season 2); “Ashes to Ashes” (Season 3)
THE GOOD PLACE (Netflix)
-Episode: “What’s My Motivation” (Season 1)
-Episodes: “A Day” and “Marty Dobbs” (Season 2); You’re My Gran Torino” and “Catalina” (Season 3)
-Episodes: “The Liberal Chokehold” (Season 1); “Viking Funeral” and “Work the Leg” (Season 2); “Keep Ridin'” and “A Very GLOW Christmas” (Season 3)
OUTSIDE IN (Netflix)
SWORD OF TRUST (Hulu with Showtime)
THE MORNING SHOW (Apple TV+)
-Episode: “That Woman”
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE (Hulu)
-Episodes: “Find a Way,” “Duo,” “The Spider Web” and “The Spark”