“I’m a firm believer in writing for the resources you have at your disposal,” explained filmmaker Lynn Shelton, recently making the case for thinking about cost at the very beginning of a project, even when the script is being written. “We shot this film in ten days,” she said last month, talking about her new film, “Humpday,” during an Apple Store Soho event alongside co-stars Mark Duplass, and Joshua Leonard. “If the schedule would’ve been any longer, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We had these guys [stars Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard] for twelve days. We shot it in Seattle. They live in LA, but they came up to Seattle. I put them in my dad’s house.”
Shelton’s Sundance smash “Humpday” is in theaters this weekend after generating strong early notices for its compelling story, told with a shoestring budget. Magnolia picked up the film shortly after its world premiere screening and it’s been hopping across the globe since then. “‘Humpday’ has since gone to numerous festivals and events including Cannes, Edinburgh, Provincetown, Seattle, Los Angeles, and recently Rooftop Films in New York City, before settling down into the upcoming theatrical release.
As indieWIRE reported during the film’s debut at Sundance, Shelton’s idea for “Humpday” emerged from a conversation she had with fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg who was apparently gushing about some of the gay films he’d seen at Seattle’s Hump fest. Similarly in “Humpday,” the two guys (filmmaker and actors Duplass and Leonard) decide to shoot and enter their straight-gay porn film in the Seattle festival. As a result of the experience, Shelton naturally, has a lot to say about making quality films that don’t break the bank.
To keep it cheap on the shoot, she said, “We shot on two Panasonic HVX200’s on P2 cards in the 720p format. We edited on Final Cut Pro. We had two 1TB drives to back up the media immediately. We had very few people on set and we used the resources I had at my disposal. A friend of mine donated his house to us for two weeks and we used it for Anna and Ben’s house. My first AD donated her house for the Dionysus scenes. There weren’t very many locations to begin with, but they were all easy to acquire cheap or free. And then in lieu of cash, everyone who worked on the film got points. So everyone took home a part of the film.” On a lighter note, Shelton joked about how she managed to get the budget down even further, “I cut out the scene with the elephant and the hot air balloon.”
Seasoned indie director Mark Duplass was quick to warn against taking all of Shelton’s advice as good for everyone. “If you are that filmmaker who wants to be doing ‘Days of Heaven’-like things, don’t do that cheaply. It’s just not gonna look good.” He added, “Usually, your first things are gonna suck. Make a bunch of five minute shorts. Make them only cost $30 because you’re borrowing equipment.”
Shelton continued, “I’m a control freak, so it was difficult for me to come to such a completely collaborative way of working. But I found that the more collaborative I become, the better the end product. Choosing the right people, the cast and the crew. If one person is off, the whole balance is off. If you pick the right people, you can give them your complete trust. The other place I exert my control is in the edit room. Having a background in editing is really essential for this process.” A former editing instructor, Shelton suggested that aspiring editors take the time to do a simple exercise: deconstruct a scene, looking at how many shots are within it, how many camera angles are in it, how the cuts progress. Looking at scenes this way will force anyone to realize that these scenes, which are usually taken for granted, actually come together very mechanically. Her unconventional approach to film is colored by the fact that she was never enrolled in a film program, “I considered applying to grad school for film when I was in my early twenties. I decided to try to go to acting grad school instead. I was in the theater for many years. All I knew was I loved film that it cost millions of dollars to make a film, and that as a director, I would be responsible for somebody else’s millions of dollars. And it just terrified me. I went to the School of Visual Arts for photography and started doing video and never went back.”
So much has been said about “Humpday”‘s commentary on sexuality, specifically so-called “straight male” sexuality. “Humpday” has been called a “bromance” in just about every review written about it. But what does all this mean to Shelton? “I’ve always been interested in people’s personal boundaries. There was a period of time in my life where I thought everyone was bisexual. You know, it’s all cultural stigma. And I think that’s because I’m basically bisexual. I don’t live as a bisexual. I’m married and I’ve been monogamous for many many years. But I can see that I could have easily fallen in love with a woman. There actually is a very broad spectrum of sexual identities and boundaries. I don’t think this movie is about that. It came from this idea of wanting to A friend of mine, filmmaker Joe Swanberg went to see Hump, which is an actual amateur porn festival featured in this movie and he could not stop talking for three days about the gay porn he had seen. And I thought that it was very adorable. If it had been anyone else, I don’t know if they would’ve done this. And I started thinking about the relationship between straight guys and gayness. Even though it’s not cool to be homophobic, thank god, a straight guy could have lots of gay friends, could be progressive about the idea of gayness, and still want everyone to know that he is straight. And he reassures himself that he is straight. I’ve also witnessed very deep, compassionate relationships between straight men.” And because of all of these sexual politics, it is up to word of mouth and stellar reviews to get these straight men, Shelton’s target demographic, to see her film.
To listen to the interview between with Lynn Shelton, Mark Duplass, and Joshua Leonard, moderated by indieWIRE‘s Eugene Hernandez, click here.