Humpday: Lynn Shelton
After dabbling in poetry and acting, Lynn Shelton finally found her calling as a director. With a strong background in editing, Shelton hasn’t shied away from taking the reins on all of her film projects. We chatted to the multi-dimensional director about her fourth film, Humpday – the ultimate bromance…
LOVEFiLM: Where did you get the inspiration for the plot from?
Lynn Shelton: The lead for the film was Mark Duplass, who plays Ben the married guy. We have mutual friends in the film community and he’s a filmmaker as well. He came to my city, Seattle, to act in another film and I volunteered to be the set photographer so I could hang out with Mark, and we really hit it off.
Sometimes the best film comes out of the simple idea of just taking characters that are really well drawn and putting them into a situation that is completely out of their comfort zone, and seeing how it plays out. I loved that idea, I couldn’t think of anything more discomforting than two straight guys in that situation.
LF: Is it true that most of the scenes weren’t scripted?
LS: It’s not exactly accurate - all the dialogue was improvised. I wanted a film that didn’t feel written, but at the same time I wanted structure. I wanted a really strong narrative drive and that classic experience you have where you think: “what is going to happen next?”
I have a very unorthodox way of putting together a film. I invite the actors into the process, where they can be happily involved in the development of their own characters. On set we have a very structured outline and we know exactly what is going to happen in every scene. LF: Did you always have that ending in mind?
LS: We did have this extremely structured outline so we knew what was happening up until the hotel room scene. We decided to keep that open ended.
We shot the rest of the movie in order and that was very rare and luxurious and when we got to that scene, I said,“I need you guys to completely live out this scene”. We left any preconceptions at the door. Ben and Andrew dictated the scene for us, there wasn’t any other way. We really were trying to be as honest as possible.
LF: Do you think audiences will be shocked by the concept of two heterosexual men open to having sex?
LS: I think they’ll find it ridiculous. I wasn’t interested in making a Farelly brothers style comedy. I only wanted to attempt to make the film if we could be up to the challenge of trying to make it believable. I wanted people to walk out of the theatre thinking, “I never thought I would say this but I can totally see how two guys like that would spend a weekend together”. That was my goal.
LF: It also felt very humorous...
LS: Yeah, the interesting thing is that I wasn’t attempting to make a comedy. I never wanted to play it for laughs or jokes. I knew there was opportunity for humour. I think the laughter comes from the fact we are playing it very straight. So we actually had to enact the scenes as a serious drama. Nervous fidgeting in seats in a communal environment tends to turn into laughter really beautifully.
LF: This was your first appearance in one of your own films, how did that come about?
LS: It came about because I got stumped about who to cast as Monica. I’d gotten really attached to her and didn’t want to give her up to anyone else. Mark actually suggested that I play her myself. It was really fun but I discovered that unless you have everything well in place beforehand, you can’t really direct at the same time. It was a huge learning experience which I took away from this project with me. Every film I do gives me some huge lesson and that was the big one in this.
LF: You say you met Mark previously on another project, but how did you cast Joshua Leonard?
LS: When I first pitched the project to Mark, I saw him as the Andrew character - the adventuring and charismatic guy - but when he said he wanted to play the domesticated dude that immediately shifted the whole movie in my head.
I needed Mark’s help finding his match because I didn’t have anybody else in mind. Then a couple of days later he said he’d found one actor in particular who would be really great, and it was Josh Leonard.
We worked to make it feel like they’d known each other a long time. We spent an enormous amount of time on back story, in incredible detail. How they had met, the incredible adventures they had had together and that really helped to give them some context.
LF: Would you say this film is about identify and self discovery?
LS: Absolutely. It’s about how fluid or rigid the boundaries of those people’s sexual identities are. It takes a back seat to a lot of other layers. For me the film is really about friendship, it’s about marriage and the relationship we have with our self.
It’s also about coming to terms with how the image of who you are doesn’t always match who you have turned out to be. And all this really happens to both of them. It happens to Ben when he sees this mirror of an old friend. So it is absolutely about identity and having an identity crisis and saying, is this really who I am?
LF: How did you feel about winning the Super Jury prize at Sundance?
LS: Oh my god it was spectacular! I had such an amazing experience there, I felt really loved, I felt a lot of love from the audiences and from the programmers. We just felt like this underdog. To be nominated at all was an honour.
LF: What do you envisage audiences will take away from watching Humpday?
LS: I really hope they have good time and that they laugh and that they are biting their nails. I hope that it provides good dinner conversations. I really hope people talk about it that night and the next, and the day after that.Jennifer Trevorrow
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