Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the Set with Lynn Shelton

Mark Duplass and Lynn Shelton

Sometimes male bonding can be taken a little too far.
-- Humpday tagline

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Last night, through a series of neat coincidences, I ended up on the set of Lynn Shelton's upcoming film, Humpday. The shoot began on Sunday, 6/22, and had been in progress for four days when my friend and I arrived at the spacious Bal-
lard home of Matt Sullivan (founder of local independent label Light in the Attic).

We were met by line producer/unit publicist Steven Schardt and jack of all trades David Lipson (True Adolescents), who immediately made us feel welcome. It was just after 9pm. While the crew set up for their first scene and the sun disappeared over the horizon, we mingled in the backyard with Schardt, assistant director Jennifer Maas (Sullivan's girlfriend and housemate), second unit camera operator Megan Griffiths (The Guatemalan Handshake, Zoo), and actor Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project).

[joshua leonard]
Leonard at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival

Schardt, a filmmaker himself (see 2004 short Boutique with James Urbaniak), thought it best not to say too much about the plot, not to keep us in suspense, but because he thought the narrative would play best if you don't know exactly where it's going.

When I interviewed Leonard's co-star Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair) during this year's Seattle International Film Festival, he described it as "a dude movie," so I suspect it shares thematic elements with Shelton's previous full-length, My Effortless Brilliance, which revolves around three men (Sean Nelson, Basil Harris, and Calvin Reeder).

In this case, the principal cast features two men and one woman (Shelton and Trina Willard play minor supporting roles). In the first scene we caught, Andrew (Leonard) walks through the front door with cinematographer Ben Kasulke (Shelton's debut, We Go Way Back) following close behind. Leonard finds Monica (Shelton) waiting in the entryway with a welcoming smile on her face. He lifts her up, gives her a passionate kiss, and they walk, hand in hand, into the living room. Cut. We caught three takes.

After that, the three-man camera team moved to the second floor. (There
were around a dozen crew members altogether.) While they set up for the
next scene, Schardt, Lipson, and Maas filled us in on the production. In the
process, I learned that Maas has worked with Shelton before and that she's
also behind Wheedle's Groove: The Movie, a documentary about Seattle's soul
scene. Duplass showed up, and recognized me from SIFF, which was nice.
We all grabbed a few bites from the craft services table and had a chat.

Regarding Facebook, to which I've recently become addicted, Leonard said he
was wary of social networking sites, but Shelton is a believer (more in Facebook
than MySpace). In fact, it was through Facebook that I ended up on the set of Humpday, and Shelton's been doing a great job of providing regular updates
on her profile page. When I checked it earlier today, I noticed she had posted
the following: "Lynn Shelton has finished acting in her own film. Thank God."

Leonard became more enthusiastic on the subject of Scrabble. Duplass noted that
he made a short film (2004's Scrapple) in which a man and woman (Duplass and wife, Katie Aselton) play a game. (Things don't go well.) When I asked if it's possible to view it online, he recommended Atom Films and the Duplass Brothers website.

[puffy chair]
Star of the first Duplass movie

The conversation then moved on to poker (Leonard and Duplass are avid play-
ers, and made plans to get a game together later), and drug movies. I mention-
ed that I'd just been watching a documentary (Movin' on Up) about composer Curt-
is Mayfield, who regretted the way Superfly glamorized drug use. Mayfield says he wrote his songs to counteract the images on screen ("Freddy's Dead" and "Pusher-
man" aren't exactly pro-smack), but that his plan ultimately failed. Leonard said he thought all drug movies end up being pro-drugs in the end. I would have to agree.

The two men had such an easy rapport; I assumed they had met before. They
had. Duplass says he brought Leonard to Shelton's attention in the first place.
Afterwards, Duplass headed upstairs. He and Shelton talked about his scene for awhile, and then they started to roll. In this sequence, Ben (Duplass) enters the bathroom and shuts the door (we watched via Maas's monitor). Then he looks in
the mirror, runs his hand through his hair, and calls his wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore).
He's been drinking and explains that he shouldn't be driving. Some awkward chit-
chat follows. As Shelton later explained, "Alycia was on the other end of that call.
She was being filmed in the other key location (a few blocks away from Maas'
house) by Griffiths at the same time we were filming Mark in the bathroom."

We watched Duplass run through the scene three times. He changed his dialogue, but the gist of the conversation remained the same. I told Duplass I liked the off-the-cuff line about the cat and the mouse; it reminded me that he had said, earlier that evening, that he and Katie (his Puffy Chair co-star) are both allergic to cats.

After that, we mingled around some more while the crew set up in the bedroom
on the second floor. Schardt explained that they'd be shooting an intimate scene, and wouldn't be wrapping up until 3am in the morning. By this time, it was around 11pm. My friend and I decided to leave before shooting resumed at midnight.

Four actors and a camera person were going to be sharing a small space, so we would've gotten in the way. Nonetheless, Shelton recommended we take a look at the room, which was done up in filmy fabrics and blue lighting. While there, we had
a brief chat with Kasulke about free food at public events (everybody's favorite!).

Regarding that last scene, I appreciate the fact that no one asked us to leave.
As long as we stayed out of the way and didn't make any noise while Kasulke's camera was rolling, the Humpday crew didn't seem to mind our presence.

My Effortless Brilliance

And just so I wouldn't feel like too much of a freeloader-nibbling on goods from Cupcake Royale and the like--I washed a sinkful of dishes (I saw Leonard doing
the same shortly after we arrived). Maas was most appreciative. And since she had just made a tasty blueberry-peach cobbler for the crew, there was a lot to wash.

So, that was my first visit to a film set. Shelton was surprised to hear that, but I'd never been asked before; nor had I ever requested a visit (it never would've oc-
curred to me). I suspected a Shelton set would make for an accommodating en-
vironment, and that was exactly what I found. Everybody seemed to know what
they were supposed to do, and there were no arguments of any kind. For some observers, that might sound boring, but to me it felt like a relaxed house party
(and Leonard confirmed that Hollywood movie sets are a lot less interesting).

According to Schardt, Humpday represents a 10-day shoot, which is amazing by any standard. When I spoke with Duplass a few weeks ago, he said that his shoots us-
ually last around 19 days. And in case this report reads like a puff piece, I should note that I have no idea whether this micro-budget film will actually "work" or not.

Based on the quality of Shelton's previous efforts, though, I have faith. The scenes were intriguing, and since she's working with a more experienced cast, the movie might even attract more attention than We Go Way Back and My Effortless Brilliance despite--or maybe even because of--the fact that she made it on a smaller scale.

In the meantime, Mark and Jay Duplass's second feature, Baghead, opens
here on 8/8 (they're already into post-production on follow-up The Do-Deca-Pentathlon), while Leonard is in pre-production on his narrative debut, Spectac-
ular Regret
, with Danny Huston, Kelli Garner, and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.

Had I known at the time that Leonard, like Duplass, doubles as a writer/direc-
tor, I would've asked him about this project (or about his music documentary, Beautiful Losers), but I had no idea until I checked the IMDb (he also has a hell
of a lot more screen credits than The Blair Witch Project, including episodes of
CSI: Miami, Men of Honor, and Allison Anders' amazing Things Behind the Sun).

During SIFF, I asked Shelton to keep me apprised on her distribution plans regarding My Effortless Brilliance, and I'll update this post (or create a new one)
once I know more about where and when it'll be screening next. And as more information trickles out regarding Humpday, I'll add those details, as well.

Endnote: Click here for my Siffblog interview with Shelton and here for
my Tablet interview with Sullivan (his label is providing the music for Craig
Johnson's True Adolescents, which was filmed in the Northwest and features
Duplass and Frozen River's Melissa Leo). Images from Facebook, Fancast
(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images), The Puffy Chair, and Lynn Shelton.


  1. Sounds nice! You often can't tell how a film is going to turn out from the shoot, but having a drama-free set certainly is nicer than the opposite.
    Is Sullivan working as a producer or is he solely connected to the film via Jennifer Maas?
    Also, Isn't Maas's brother in The Black Angels?
    I would love to see Joshua Leonard's 'Beautiful Losers'. It totally sounds like my thing!

  2. As far as I can tell, Sullivan isn't involved with the film, other than providing one of the three sets (five people live in that Ballard house). I asked Maas if his label would be assisting with the soundtrack. She said it was too soon to say, but that someone Shelton knows has already written a song for it. I don't know if there's any connection between Jennifer and Alex Maas. As for "Beautiful Losers," I'm curious, too. I love Mike Mills ("Thumbsucker," Butter 08, etc.), and became intrigued when I saw that he was one of the participants.

  3. I should add that I just caught "Reprise" this weekend, and think it might also be your kind of thing. At the very least, you'll get a kick out of the Russ Meyer joke... It was directed by Joachim Trier, a young Norwegian filmmaker who happens to be related to Denmark's Lars von Trier (Lars added the "von," just like Joseph Sternberg before him). Trier is a bigger fan of the French New Wave, but he shares von Trier's enthusiasm for zestful narration (I'm thinking of "Erik Nietzsche"). The post-punk soundtrack is the icing on the cake.

  4. IFC has just announced the acquisition of "Brilliance," which they'll be releasing in August. It also screens in New York on 8/1 as part of the Rooftop Films series.