On October 25 at The Film Independent Forum held at the DGA in Los Angeles, writer-director Lynn Shelton chatted with fellow actress-turned-filmmaker Ileana Douglas. After a clip reel highlighting Shelton’s films, which include “Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Touchy Feely” and “Laggies,” Douglas asked Shelton about whether she identifies as a “woman filmmaker.”
“I guess I have mixed feelings about it,” explained Shelton. “I am a woman. I don’t feel like I need to be George Sand and hide behind anything. I don’t have to pretend to be a guy.”
Shelton said that “the weirdest question I ever get asked is ‘what does it feel like to be a woman director?’ I have nothing to compare it to. I have no idea what it feels like to be a male director.”
Because she is based in Seattle, Shelton said she has largely been sheltered from any overtly sexist treatment. “I’ve made all my movies up there in this regional wonderland, in this very progressive place and time where it’s a very female-driven industry up there — producers and directors who are women make up at least half of the force up there of creativity,” she explained. “So if you’re a male DP and you have a problem with women in authority, you’re not going to work. It’s a very feminist environment in general.”
Shelton said she “never felt being a woman was a hindrance,” particularly when she started out as a micro-budget director. “You just pick up a camera and make your movie,” she said.
But she got a different perspective when she was on a panel at a regional film festival in the South where several female filmmakers “had these horror stories,” Shelton said. “One woman said she had to transform herself into this raging bitch to get anything done because the guys on the set would just not listen to her.”
That experience helped Shelton understand why people ask about what it means to be a female filmmaker. “Acknowledging the diversity issue is important,” she said.
Below are more highlights from the conversation and watch the full video above.
On writing roles for women
“I steal this from Mike Leigh, the British director who makes some really beautiful roles for women and is asked what is that about. I’m interested in people. I love writing for women. But I love writing for men as well. But I’m aware there are less female protagonists and I realize I should focus more in that direction because there is a dearth,” said Shelton. “I am endlessly fascinated by humans.”
On having her films remade in French
Both “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” have been adapted by French filmmakers. “It’s surreal,” said Shelton. “There aren’t a lot of American films that have been remade in French. There are a lot that go the other way. Maybe I should go to Paris and make my next film and skip the interim step.”
On Seattle being a character in her films
“Part of the reason that I set my films in Seattle is because I know it so well,” said Shelton. “I know each neighborhood and so many little streets and the characters of each of them. It’s a way to fill the characters [in my films] out — Where do they live? Where did they grow up? What part of the city?”
Filming is so much easier when you “know the region,” said Shelton, who added “I’m also very city-proud. I love that region of the world and I really do have this desire to share it.”
On the importance of film festivals
“I didn’t know [Sundance] would be such a life-changer,” said Shelton. After “Humpday” premiered at Sundance in 2009, Shelton landed an agent. “I never thought I’d be able to make a living doing what I’m doing. It really was because of Sundance,” she said.
But getting into Sundance isn’t essential. Other festivals can be just as helpful. “Lena Dunham never went to Sundance,” said Shelton. “‘Tiny Furniture’ was at SXSW. [Sundance is] not for everybody, but it was sure a life-changer for me.”