Lynn Shelton

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Lynn Shelton
Shelton in 2012
Born(1965-08-27)August 27, 1965[1]
DiedMay 15, 2020(2020-05-15) (aged 54)
EducationOberlin College
University of Washington (BA)
School of Visual Arts (MFA)
Years active1987–2020
(m. 1993; div. 2019)
PartnerMarc Maron (2019–2020; her death)

Lynn Shelton (August 27, 1965 – May 15, 2020)[2] was an American filmmaker, known for writing, directing, and producing such films as Humpday and Your Sister's Sister.[3] She was associated with the mumblecore genre.[4]

Early life[edit]

Shelton was born in Oberlin, Ohio,[2] and raised in Seattle, Washington.[3] She described herself as having been audacious as a young girl, but having lost confidence in her creativity in adolescence.[5] This experience contributed to a theme she explored in her 2005 film We Go Way Back.[6]

Shelton attended Garfield High School. After high school, Shelton attended Oberlin College in Ohio and then the University of Washington School of Drama. She then moved to New York and followed the Master's of Fine Arts program in photography and related media at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Her thesis advisor was Peggy Ahwesh.[7]

She began working in the film industry as a film editor and made a series of experimental short films which have been described as "accomplished" and providing the basis for the "subtle, almost anthropological scrutiny" brought to bear in her later works.[5]

Among the jobs she held to support her film career was working aboard a fishing trawler in the Bering Sea.[7]

Film and television career[edit]

Shelton had wanted to be a director, but was worried that being in her mid-30s, it was too late to begin. When she saw French director Claire Denis speak at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum in 2003, Denis revealed she was 40 when she directed her first feature film, and that revelation made Shelton realize that she still had plenty of time.[8]

In 2004, Shelton began writing and directing her first feature film, We Go Way Back. Described as "polished" and "impressionistic", the film depicts a 23-year-old actress, Kate, confronted by her 13-year-old self. The dialog between the older and younger Kates begins in memory, and then climaxes in an apparitional experience with the specter of her own, repressed, precocious youth.[5] We Go Way Back premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006.

In 2008, Shelton's dark comedy My Effortless Brilliance played at South by Southwest and Maryland Film Festival.[9]

Her film Humpday premiered at Sundance, was acquired by Magnolia Pictures, and has been shown at Cannes, SIFF, South by Southwest and other film festivals. It opened in theaters in New York and Seattle on July 10, 2009.[10]

Her film Your Sister's Sister premiered in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film starred Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mark Duplass.[11] When asked about exploring the relationship between sisters in a 2012 interview with FF2 Media's Jan Lisa Huttner, Shelton said:

Everybody has had that experience of going home for Thanksgiving and starting to act ten years old again because they're in the same situation with their parents and their siblings. So you get back into this rut again of who you were when you were first becoming a grownup. It's not until you get out that you can break out of those bonds, but we still get trapped by them when we return.[12]

Touchy Feely premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2013, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It starred Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, and Elliot Page.[13]

Laggies was the first film Shelton directed that she had not also written. The film starred Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz, and premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where it was acquired by A24 Films.

In 2015, Shelton was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Director's Branch.

In 2017, her film Outside In premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. It starred Jay Duplass, Edie Falco, Kaitlyn Dever, and Ben Schwartz.[14]

Her 2019 comedy Sword of Trust had its world premiere at South by Southwest. In it, Cynthia (Jillian Bell) inherits a sword from her deceased grandfather, which he believed proves the South won the Civil War.[15]

Shelton has directed episodes for TV shows since 2009 including The Good Place, GLOW, New Girl, Mad Men, Casual and, in 2020, the Hulu miniseries Little Fires Everywhere, starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.[16][17]

Shelton described her approach to comedy as doing the opposite:

When we were on set, it was really essential that none of us—not the actors or myself either—think that we're in "a comedy", because that's when I find (especially with improvisation) you start reaching for jokes. You start sort of "soft-shoeing", and trying to entertain people, and I don't want that. I want us to just always be playing to the truth of the scene and I really have no idea how many laughs there are going to be. We're playing it so straight that it's really hard to tell the forest for the trees.[12]

A week prior to her death, Shelton revealed she was in the process of co-writing a dramatic film with Marc Maron.[18]


Shelton cited directors Claire Denis, Woody Allen, and Ingmar Bergman as influences.[3][19]

In a 2020 post made on her Instagram page, Shelton clipped a picture from the movie You Can Count on Me (2000), written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. The caption she wrote—"I don't know if I could ever make a film as perfect and incredible as this one, but boy oh boy would I like to try"—strongly suggests that the film (and perhaps Lonergan) had a profound influence on her decision to become a filmmaker.

Personal life[edit]

Shelton came out as bisexual in 2012.[20] She was married to actor Kevin Seal,[3][21] with whom she had a son, Milo Seal.[22] Shelton was in a relationship with stand-up comedian Marc Maron at the time of her death.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

Shelton died of acute myeloid leukemia in Los Angeles on May 15, 2020, at age 54,[2][23][24] after several days of ill health.[25]

In 2020, Northwest Film Forum and Duplass Brothers Productions launched the Lynn Shelton "Of a Certain Age" Grant. This $25,000 unrestricted cash grant supports a woman or non-binary US-based filmmaker, age 39 or older, who has yet to direct a narrative feature.[26] The grant's details are inspired by Shelton's own path as a filmmaker.

In August 2020, The American Cinematheque hosted an online tribute event for Shelton, featuring Gillian Jacobs, Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, and more.[27]


Films directed by Lynn Shelton
Year Title Notes
2006 We Go Way Back
2008 What the Funny
2008 My Effortless Brilliance
2009 Humpday
2011 Your Sister's Sister
2013 Touchy Feely
2014 Laggies
2017 Outside In
2019 Sword of Trust
Films with acting by Lynn Shelton
Year Title Role Notes
2008 Nights and Weekends Mattie's sister
2008 Moving Leah
2009 Humpday Monica
2011 The Off Hours Danielle
2012 Safety Not Guaranteed Uptight Mom
2013 Lucky Them Lisa
2019 Sword of Trust Deirdre

As film editor[edit]

As producer[edit]

Television directing credits for Lynn Shelton
Year Title Notes
2010 Mad Men Episode: "Hands and Knees"
2012 Ben and Kate Episode: "The Trip"
2012–14 New Girl 5 episodes
2014–15 The Mindy Project 2 episodes
2015–16 Fresh Off the Boat 7 episodes
2015 Master of None 2 episodes
2016 Maron 2 episodes
2016 Casual 2 episodes
2016 Shameless Episode: "Paradise Lost"
2017 Marc Maron: Too Real Standup special
2017 Ghosted Episode: "Bee-Mo"
2017 Santa Clarita Diet Episode: "Strange or Just Inconsiderate?"
2017–18 Love 4 episodes
2017–19 GLOW 5 episodes
2018–19 A.P. Bio 2 episodes
2019 Dickinson 2 episodes
2019 The Morning Show Episode: "That Woman"
2020 Marc Maron: End Times Fun Standup special
2020 Little Fires Everywhere 4 episodes

As an actress[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award nominations for Lynn Shelton
Year Award Category Title Result Ref.
2006 Slamdance Film Festival Grand Jury Award We Go Way Back Won [28]
2008 Atlanta Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Direction My Effortless Brilliance Won [29]
2009 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize Humpday Won [30]
Grand Jury Prize Nominated
2010 Independent Spirit Awards Someone to Watch Award My Effortless Brilliance Won [31]
2017 Independent Spirit Awards The BONNIE Award Herself Nominated [32]
2020 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Limited Series Little Fires Everywhere Nominated [33]
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Nominated
2021 Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film Nominated [34]
  • 2008 – Genius Award for lifetime achievement from The Stranger newspaper[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lattanzio, Ryan (May 16, 2020). "Lynn Shelton Dies: 'Humpday,' 'GLOW,' 'Little Fires Everywhere' Director Was 54". IndieWire. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Bailey, Jason (May 16, 2020). "Lynn Shelton, Director of Intimate Comic Dramas, Dies at 54". The New York Times. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Rochlin, Margy (May 4, 2012). "Scriptless in Seattle: A Filmmaker's Map". The New York Times. Retrieved December 25, 2014.
  4. ^ "Arts Remembrance: Lynn Shelton, Rising Star of Independent Film". The Arts Fuse. May 20, 2020. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Orange, Michelle (July 2, 2009). "She's a Director Who's Just Another Dude". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 2, 2019.
  6. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (April 28, 2011). "We Go Way Back (2005): When Past and Present Collide". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Annie Wagner. "Lynn Shelton". The Stranger.
  8. ^ Shelton on Denis, Hell Is For Hyphenates, September 30, 2014
  9. ^ My Effortless Brilliance, retrieved April 24, 2020
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (July 9, 2009). "Humpday (2009): Putting a Bromance to an Erotic Test". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 28, 2014.
  11. ^ Your Sister's Sister, retrieved April 24, 2020
  12. ^ a b Huttner, Jan Lisa (May 24, 2012). "Jan Chats With Writer/Director Lynn Shelton" (PDF). FF2 Media. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  13. ^ Touchy Feely, retrieved April 24, 2020
  14. ^ Outside In, retrieved April 24, 2020
  15. ^ Sword of Trust, retrieved April 24, 2020
  16. ^ "Lynn Shelton". IMDb. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  17. ^ "Director Lynn Shelton dies suddenly at 54: Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling share tributes". May 18, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  18. ^ Lattanzio, Ryan (May 8, 2020). "Marc Maron and Lynn Shelton Are Writing a Movie Inspired by '70s Films, Tarkovsky, 'Toni Erdmann' — IndieWire Live". IndieWire. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  19. ^ "Q&A with Lynn Shelton". anthemmagazine. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  20. ^ Rathe, Adam (May 25, 2012). "Catching Up With Lynn Shelton". Out.
  21. ^ Bendix, Trish (June 14, 2012). "Morning Brew - Thurs. June 14: Kristina Maria's Sapphic sauna music video, director Lynn Shelton on sexuality". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
  22. ^ Fradkin, Lori (September 5, 2013). "Filmmaker Lynn Shelton: 'There's This Real Deliciousness To Being Able To Do Exactly What You Want To Do'". Huffington Post.
  23. ^ Lang, Brent (May 16, 2020). "Lynn Shelton, Director of 'Humpday' and 'Little Fires Everywhere,' Dies at 54". Variety.
  24. ^ Bennett, Anita (May 16, 2020). "Lynn Shelton Dies: 'Humpday' And 'Your Sister's Sister' Director Was 54". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  25. ^ Sharf, Zack (May 18, 2020). "Marc Maron Honors Lynn Shelton in Emotional 'WTF' Episode: 'I Was Better in Her Gaze'". IndieWire. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  26. ^ "Lynn Shelton "Of A Certain Age" Grant awarded to Miami-based Caribbean-American Filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon". Cinema Femme. October 28, 2020. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  27. ^ "Lynn Shelton to Be Honored by The American Cinematheque". Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  28. ^ Lynn Shelton, 'Humpday', Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2009.
  29. ^ About The Filmmaker Archived January 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine,
  30. ^ Sundance 2009: "Push" and "We Live in Public" Take the Top Prizes Archived January 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "". Archived from the original on April 12, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2009.
  32. ^ "". March 3, 2018. Retrieved November 2, 2022.
  33. ^ Grobar, Matt (July 28, 2020). "Fred Willard And Director Lynn Shelton Earn Posthumous Emmy Nominations For 'Modern Family' And 'Little Fires Everywhere'". Deadline. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  34. ^ "DGA Announces Nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television, Commercials and Documentary for 2020". Directors Guild of America. March 8, 2021. Retrieved March 8, 2021.

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