Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews, Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton Goes Way Back

Fandor co-founder Jonathan Marlow and director Lynn Shelton are in attendance at Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival on Saturday, September 26 to present a 35mm screenings of Shelton’s debut feature, We Go Way Back, the same day it makes its streaming debut on Fandor. It’s a preview of the tenth anniversary theatrical release that’ll occur early in 2016, presented by Fandor and Factory 25. – Ed.

Lynn Shelton made her debut feature, We Go Way Back, after a decade of honing her skills. With a master’s degree in photography and years of experience as a stage actress, the Seattle-based artist taught herself filmmaking by making experimental films and documentaries and editing the features of other local filmmakers. She credits Claire Denis with inspiring her, at the age of thirty-seven, to have the faith to follow her muse and make a feature film. With financing from a Seattle non-profit production company, she made We Go Way Back on a tiny budget and with a cast and crew of professionals from her Seattle home. It won the Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006 and launched a career that, to date, has remained defiantly independent. Her budgets have since gotten bigger and her casts more famous (Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt in Your Sister’s Sister, Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz in Laggies) yet she has remained not only independent but local, shooting in Seattle with area crews. At least for her features. Between movies she, like many fellow indie filmmakers, directs episodes of TV shows, from Mad Men to The Mindy Project andFresh Off the Boat.

We Go Way Back is the story of a young actress in her twenties (Amber Hubert) who is in a kind of emotional stupor as she struggles to make her way as a professional actress at the expense of her own sense of self. But Shelton tosses in a high concept twist: her thirteen-year-old self, present in letters full of confidence and creativity and ambition that she wrote to her future self, arrives in the flesh. What could be a Lynch-ian bend in time and space and identity, however, is played with naturalistic calm. She’s not here to judge, only to heal and center her emotionally fractured older self.

I first interviewed Shelton in 2008, soon after her second feature, My Effortless Brilliance, premiered at SXSW. I had just seen We Go Way Back and was excited to discuss it with her. We’ve talked many times since but this is the only time we really delved into her first film.

Sean Axmaker: You came out of theater, and you had edited some features before you directed We Go Way Back, including Hedda Gabler. In We Go Way Back, the main character, Kate (Amber Hubert), is cast in the lead of ‘Hedda Gabler’ and it’s a production that is going right off the rails. Is there anything autobiographical in that, or is this just your nightmare of the worst possible theater experience that you could think of?

Lynn Shelton: [Laughs.] The director is an amalgamation of many acting teachers and directors that I’ve encountered. I started acting when I was about eleven and kept on acting through my twenties and it was like an addiction. I was always in a show, so I encountered lots and lots of different personalities through the years. None of them were quite as misguided as poor Bob’s character but there is also some practicality to it. I needed a role in western classic theater that might be recognizable to a certain set so that it would be a big deal—because this is her first big role, so she needs to be offered this great part, and I needed to write the script in five weeks and I knew that play really, really well. I knew the lines by heart, so it was expedient. But there are a lot of interesting challenges to playing Hedda anyway. This is obviously very condensed and exaggerated but the kernel of the story is totally autobiographical.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Posted in: Directors, Interviews, Lynn Shelton

Interview: Lynn Shelton on “My Effortless Brilliance”

[I interviewed Lynn Shelton in Seattle on May 17, 2008, to talk about her then new film, My Effortless Brilliance, and her debut feature, We Go Way Back. This interview was originally published on GreenCine on May 24, 2008. Since this interview, Shelton made Humpday, which was chosen to play in the exclusive competition at Sundance 2009 and was quickly scooped up as the festival’s first film sale, and won the Acura Someone to Watch Award for My Effortless Brilliance at the 2009 Spirit Awards. I revisited the interview for Parallax View in 2009.].

Lynn Shelton
Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton is part of a hardy breed: the regional filmmaker who creates feature films within a community far outside the L.A.-centered base. That means casts, crews, locations, post-production and even financing is all locally based. Her debut feature, We Go Way Back, made after a decade of honing her skills on experimental films and documentaries and editing the features of other local filmmakers, won the Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2006. Her second film, My Effortless Brilliance premiered at SXSW in 2008 and gets it hometown premiere during the opening weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Both of these films are small, intimate, character-based pictures. We Go Way Back, the story of a young actress in a kind of emotional stupor as she struggles to make her way as an actress at the expense of her own sense of self, tosses in a high concept twist – her 13-year-old self, present in letters written to her future self full of confidence and creativity and ambition, arrives in the flesh. What could be a Lynchian bend in time and space and identity, however, is played with naturalistic calm. She’s not here to judge, only to heal and center her emotionally fractured older self. My Effortless Brilliance shifts to male relationships, specifically the “break-up” of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Sean Nelson – singer, songwriter, former frontman for Harvey Danger and, in the interest of disclosure, my friend and colleague), a novelist struggling to repeat the success of his first book, attempts to reconnect. His motivations are less out of affection than ego – dude, he was dumped! The film’s reception was mixed, which may have as much to do with the seeming lack of narrative drive and plotting and its undeniable similarities to Old Joy as with the discomforting portrait of male relationships. Yet I found the texture of the relationships and the sly humor winning and was impressed with the performances, especially Nelson, who’s a natural in the role, subtly establishing the sense of ego and vulnerability and self-aggrandizement in the character with brave intimacy. Shelton’s observations of male relationships and the rhythms of old friends falling into old patterns are spot on, helped immensely, surely, by the collaboration of the cast, who played the scenes without a script, only an outline.

I met Lynn Shelton for breakfast at Mae’s on Phinney Ridge (a great little breakfast spot near both of us) and, starting out over cups of green tea (“I love it,” she said – our first connection made), she launched into the history of how she started making features and where My Effortless Brilliance came from.

We Go Way Back is the quintessential chick flick and My Effortless Brilliance really is the quintessential guy flick,” she began. “I’ve yet to meet a guy who does not like my new movie. And there are a lot of people who like it, but there are some who just can’t find a way into it. They just can’t relate to it, basically. And We Go Way Back is the exact opposite. Every woman has a very homogeneous sense of love for this movie. A lot of men love it too, but sometimes men are just like, ‘Whatever.’ It’s really, really interesting. So I like that dichotomy.”

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Posted in: Horror, Interviews

George Romero Surveys the Dead

[I conducted this phone interview with George Romero on October 5, 2005, in anticipation of the DVD release of Land of the Dead. It was originally published on GreenCine on October 18, 2005.]

36 years after shocking audiences with the unprecedented Night of the Living Dead and changing the face of American horror for good, and 20 years after his ambitious but budget-starved third installment Day of the Dead, George A. Romero returned to the genre with the fourth film in his epic series of society as we know it devoured by the hungry dead: Land of the Dead.

Though Night of the Living Dead and the sequel Dawn of the Dead are best know for pushing the boundaries of onscreen gore and reducing the body human into so much meat, gristle, and blood to be devoured by the hungry hordes, Night also connected with audiences when the horrors of Vietnam were first being seen on TV and Dawn evolved into a biting satire of consumer culture. In other hands, a zombie movie is just a zombie movie, but Land of the Dead, a horror film laced with rife with social commentary, political satire, and black humor, is not just a return to the genre he practically single-handedly created (or at least definitively redefined), but a return to form.

Romero’s commentary is pointed, to say the least. He sets the film in a literal gated community called Fiddler’s Green, a veritable feudal kingdom where class structure is strictly enforced and businessman warlord Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) rules. Brutal games and circuses are provided to distract the disenfranchised in the slums around the glowing glass tower where the rich and powerful live in luxury, and a militia keeps the poor contained as well as the city protected from the stenches. You can only take the metaphors so far, but loaded dialogue like “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” (bellowed by Kaufman when he’s extorted by a former thug that he’s just fired for daring to step up in class) keeps the satirical edge front and center. It may not be subtle, but how then how subtle can you be in a film that features scenes of mankind devouring itself?

In an all-too-brief phone interview, arranged in conjunction with the DVD release of Land of the Dead, we discussed his new film, the origins of his epic zombie series, and the marriage of horror and political commentary.

What’s different about the new “Director’s Cut” of Land of the Dead on DVD?

It’s not that remarkable, I’d have to see. I think the fans will be pleased because there are obviously a couple of gore effects that Greg [Nicotero] threw in there that I wouldn’t even have tried to get past the MPAA with an R. But mostly it’s the same film. I think that what’s the most fun about it are the extras. The guys from Shaun of the Dead came and shot a little film while they were on the set and Leguizamo made a little film of his own while he was on the set. I think that’s really the most fun, getting a glimpse behind the scenes. The intention of the film itself hasn’t changed. There are a couple of scenes that run a little longer, a couple of gore effects that we had to trim to get the R—the MPAA will never tell you to cut a scene, they’ll only say to cut some framage—and there are couple of scenes that we didn’t even try to put in the R because we knew they would never get through. But the intention of the film hasn’t changed. I was actually very happy. I keep saying I think I got away with murder. We defied the MPAA this time. The film was pretty much what I wanted it to be even in the theatrical release.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Interview: Linas Phillips, Nonthreatening Triple Threat

Linas Phillips is probably better known to fans of American indie cinema as an actor than as a filmmaker. A graduate of New York University’s Experimental Theatre Wing, he co-starred with Jay Duplass in Manson Family Vacation (2015) as the Charles Manson-obsessed character who drags his estranged brother on a tour of Mason murder sites. Phillips has supporting roles in Craig Johnson’s True Adolescents (2009, starring Mark Duplass) and his buddy Todd Rohal‘s Uncle Kent 2 (2015), and he appeared in the HBO shows Togetherness, working again with the Duplass brothers, and Eastbound and Down, with director David Gordon Green.

In 2006, after moving from the East Coast to Seattle, Phillips directed his first film, the non-fiction feature Walking to Werner. He became an active member of the Seattle independent scene, constantly developing projects and working with other local filmmakers trying to get their films made. “I originally came here because I wanted to change my life,” he explained. “I just checked out, I stopped everything I was doing in my life, like babysitting work and performing, and I decided I was going to learn to be a filmmaker. It was great to be in a whole new city while you are re-identifying yourself.”

Continue reading at Keyframe

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Interview: Megan Griffiths takes ‘The Night Stalker’ to Lifetime

Bellamy Young in ‘The Night Stalker’

The Night Stalker, the fourth feature by Seattle-based filmmaker Megan Griffiths, is skipping theaters almost entirely to premiere on the Lifetime Network and stream on Lifetime Movies, their online subscription service.

That wasn’t always the plan. The film was made as an independent feature with the intention of a theatrical release. “You like the idea of having it on a large screen,” says Griffiths, a Seattle-based filmmaker who grew up in Southern California during the reign of terror of Richard Ramirez. But increasingly audiences are turning to cable, and VOD and streaming services, for their new movies. Many independent films arrive on VOD day-and-date with their theatrical debut.

The Night Stalker made its world debut at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 4 and began a limited theatrical run in Southern California theaters a week later, but for the rest of the country it debuts at 9pm on Sunday, June 12 on the Lifetime Channel and then becomes the newest addition to Lifetime Movies.

Griffiths discusses the trade-off, including the benefits, of releasing her new film to Lifetime, a channel with a great track record for supporting women filmmakers, in the second part of my interview with Megan Griffiths (part one is here).

Sean Axmaker: Tell me about the brief theatrical release for The Night Stalker. Is it only on Southern California?

Megan Griffiths: Yes. It’s opening in Orange County, which is an area where Ramirez had a lot of impact, and there’s a legacy to that there where a lot of people are familiar with him and interested in his story and we figured it made sense to bring the story back there for this limited theatrical release. We always wanted to get some sort of theatrical run but it is getting trickier these days.

SA: You shot this as an independent feature and I assume you always had your eye on a theatrical release.

MG: It’s funny because I always say that there isn’t anybody who got into film to have their movies watched on a phone or an iPad. You like the idea of having it on a large screen where it’s so immersive and you’re in the dark and no one’s on their phones or checking their E-mails during the movie. That’s really the way you want people to watch, where they’re focused and into it, and as soon as you leave the theater all that goes out the window and people watch in this half-registered way. Ideal world scenario is that everybody is riveted, you have their undivided attention, and we’re naturally moving away from that, which is kind of sad. I’ve been going to a lot of screenings at SIFF and marveling at how full every screening has been and how much there is still an audience that at least comes out once a year to fill theaters and watch movies. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve had those experiences at festivals but I’ve almost never had the experience of a full theater even on an opening weekend for a movie just because of the nature of all the different competition for people’s attention.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews, Seattle Screens

Lost—and Found—Ark: ‘Raiders’ Revisited

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Their story is now legend. In 1982, twelve-year-old friends Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb started shooting a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark on a borrowed VHS camcorder in their small Mississippi town. Chris played Indiana Jones, Eric directed and played Belloq, and Jayson manned the camera, edited the footage, and brainstormed the special effects. They spent every summer vacation for seven years completing the film (every scene except one: the fight around the airplane with spinning propellers), by which time they had fallen out and weren’t even speaking to one another. Completed in 1989, it was practically forgotten until VHS copies started making their way to film buffs and movie collectors. Filmmaker Eli Roth brought a copy for an unannounced screening at the 2002 Butt-Numb-a-Thon and the underground legend exploded. In the years since, Chris and Eric traveled around the country for special screenings of their fan film.

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen and inspired by the book by Alan Eisenstock, will be the closest most people will get to seeing that astounding piece of DIY spectacle—the film was never meant to be seen outside of the friends who made it and what twelve-year-old thinks to get a waiver from the creators of the original film? It features clips from the film and outtakes from the production that show not only the spirit of the endeavor but the potentially life-threatening situations the boys put themselves through to do the shoot, as well as new interviews with the Chris, Eric, Jayson, their parents (God bless the mothers of these kids, who believed in their dreams, even if they worried about their methods), and other members of the cast and crew. And it’s built around the crazy impulse to finish the film decades later. Chris and Eric raised money in a Kickstarter campaign to get that last scene. It turned out to be just as dangerous an undertaking as the most reckless things they did as kids.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Megan Griffiths: A fascination with ‘The Night Stalker’

Lou Diamond Phillips is Richard Ramirez in ‘The Night Stalker’

Megan Griffiths debuts her fourth feature, The Night Stalker, at the Seattle International film Festival on Saturday, June 4. It’s the story of Richard Ramirez, who was branded The Night Stalker during his 14 month reign of terror in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1984 and 1985, but it’s just as much about how his actions reverberated through the culture of Southern California.

“Everyone who I’ve encountered who lived in California at all in the eighties have these visceral memories of that summer,” recalls Griffiths. “I lived in Riverside and he never came to Riverside but it felt like he could.” The story made national headlines but he the effect on those living in Southern California was immediate and powerful “I didn’t remember seeing that explored and I was interested in that and wanted to explore it.”

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Ramirez at age 53, after spending 23 years on death row, and he looks eerily like the real-life Ramirez, and Bellamy Young (Scandal) is a lawyer named Kit, a fictional character created for the film who interviews Ramirez in the hopes of getting a confession to murder he was never prosecuted for. Ramirez demands a trade, that she spill her own secrets, and the film becomes as much if not more about her. Chelle Sherrill plays the young Kit and Benjamin Barrett is the 26-year-old Richard Ramirez.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Directors, Interviews

Jeppe Rønde’s Trueness to Life, and Death

‘Bridgend’

Bridgend is a horror film, but not in the traditional sense. The horror is that the events of Bridgend, a rural county in South Wales, occurred in real life and continue to do so. Between January 2007 and February 2012, at least seventy-nine suicides were reported in this small county, most of them teenagers, most of them by hanging. They left no suicide notes and, though the media have suggested some kind of suicide pact or death cult, to this day there is no explanation.

Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde spent six years traveling back and forth from his home in Denmark to Bridgend, getting to know the people and letting them get to know him. The locals had a deep distrust of outsiders because of years of tabloid reporters exploiting their tragedy, but they opened up to Rønde. Their stories and experiences became the core of his script—though he was a documentary filmmaker by profession and practice, he chose to channel their stories into a dramatic feature—and they even allowed him to shoot the film on location in Bridgend. Many of the kids he got to know appear in small roles in the film.

“When you read that seventy-nine hung themselves in the end of the film, that’s the only official number I could use. The problem is it’s a lot higher,” he explained. “The kids tell me every time one dies and we hear about it in the news, there were two or three that were kept out of the public eye. And on top comes all the people that tried to do it but failed. Sometimes it was several a day, over months, in such a small community.”

Continue reading at Keyframe

Posted in: Actors, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Remembering Adrienne Shelly (1966-2006)

Adrienne Shelly in ‘Trust’

Actress, playwright, stage director and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly made a big splash in the small pond of eighties American indie cinema as the offbeat lead in The Unbelievable Truth (1989), which introduced both Shelly and filmmaker Hal Hartley to audiences. Their sensibilities were a perfect match and they reteamed for Trust (1990), but while their careers parted after this, they remained remarkably parallel. Like Hartley, she purposely avoided the Hollywood game. Remaining on the East Coast, the diminutive, red-headed actress largely committed herself to idiosyncratic indie films (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, 1992, Sleep With Me, 1994) with occasional guest-starring gigs in East Coast-based TV shows like Homicide and Law and Order. She had come from the stage and continued writing, directing and performing in the independent theater scene in New York, and she made the leap to filmmaker with her feature directorial debut, Sudden Manhattan (1996), a film very much in the brainy, talking, wryly absurd vein of Hartley, but with a different perspective.

Shelly was poised to finally break into mainstream filmmaking on her own terms with her third feature film, Waitress (2007), when she was murdered in November 2006, the victim of a senseless homicide. The film, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion and featuring Shelly in a sweet supporting role, debuted at Sundance months later to great reviews and landed a major distribution deal.

In 2000 I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing her when she accompanied I’ll Take You There, her sophomore feature as a director, to the Seattle International Film Festival. It was her third appearance at the festival she called her favorite (at least she said so to me: “I just find it to be so friendly and really just about the filmmaking”) and she gave me nearly an hour of her time, talking about the features and short films she directed, her beginnings with Hal Hartley, and her work on the New York stage. She laughed easily and often while remembering details and describing events from the shoot, and seemed genuinely appreciative that someone had invested so much into her films. “Sometimes you write something and you know that there is another meaning behind it and you wonder if anyone is going to get it, is going to see it,” she said near the end of our interview. “It’s nice that you picked up on all this.”

Sean Axmaker: How were you cast in Hal Hartley’s films? You had never been in a film before The Unbelievable Truth.

Adrienne Shelly: It was a freak thing. I sent my head shot to his office. There was an ad in the newspaper called Backstage, this was two months before he started casting for The Unbelievable Truth, and the office that he was using at the time was being shared by several different companies and one of them, I guess they were making music videos, and I had sent my head shot in. It was a fluke. When I first started, I used to send my head shot around. And someone held up my picture and said, ‘Why not audition her?’ They actually put another ad in Backstage that I didn’t see, specifically for the movie, and I never would have sent my head shot in for that because it said, ‘We need a model type,’ and I never thought of myself as a model type. I’m so small and, you know, not a model type. So I never would have gotten the part unless I had sent in my head shot in for this other thing, for this music video.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Posted in: by Andrew Wright, Contributors, Horror, Interviews

Interview: Robert Eggers on ‘The Witch’

‘The Witch’

“In the early modern period,” begins Robert Eggers, writer and director of the deeply unsettling The Witch, “the real world and the fairy tale world were the same thing.” It’s an appropriately Once Upon a Time preamble for discussing the film, in which a devouter-than-thou family of New England Puritans venture past the outskirts of civilization, only to attract the attention of a primal—and terrifyingly implacable—force. “These days, the evil witch is more of a Halloween decoration,” Eggers says, “so we have to go back to the 17th century and be in that mindset to believe again. In that time, the idea of an evil witch was a given, like, a tree is a tree, a rock is a rock.”

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury