All in the Family

Lynn Shelton on directing Your Sister’s Sister

As she herself puts it, Lynn Shelton has made three movies in a row featuring three characters in one location. This goes a long way in explaining not only her priorities as a filmmaker (the actor is king) but also what her movies feel like: focused and precise but still subject to eruptions.

2008's My Effortless Brilliance is a razor-sharp examination of two old friends, now grown apart with pent up neuroses, and a strange third party in a woodland cabin. 2009's Humpday follows another pair of old pals who manage to turn an outlandish, drunken dare into an equally absurd, unspoken competition to see which of the two has been able to best avoid growing up.

Since Humpday, Shelton has directed an online project for MTV called "$5 Cover: Seattle." She's also landed a few high-profile TV jobs, directing an episode of “New Girl” this year and an episode of “Mad Men” last year. TV, where directors change frequently and producers, actors and writers hold much of the control, is quite different from Shelton's brand of personal, low-budget moviemaking.

This may explain why her new film, Your Sister's Sister, feels like such a refinement of her previous work. It's as spontaneous and organic as the others but with a newfound layer of polish and without a single wasted moment in the whole 90 minutes.

Here's how it unfolds. Jack (Humpday star Mark Duplass) is mourning on the anniversary of his brother's death. His best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), sees that Jack is spiraling into a void of self-pity and sends him off to her father's secluded cabin, which is a bike trek and ferry ride away in the woods.

Upon arriving, he's surprised to find Iris' older sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has just left her girlfriend of seven years. Although she came to the cabin for her own regenerative solitude, she finds in Jack a welcome drinking buddy and strange bedfellow (literally).

It's when Iris unexpectedly shows up to join them that things begin to really get tangled. Old loves begin competing with secret and forbidden loves. Unshakable sibling solidarity threatens to clash with the most devoted of BFFs.

Besides how spot-on these relationships feel, and how funny it is (this is Duplass' best performance to date), what's really interesting is the way it explores what actually differentiates a friend, sibling and lover and how it describes the different ways we interact with these roles and how we inhabit and exchange them for ourselves.

Duplass and his brother Jay have a similarly admirable body of work as directors under their belts, including this year's Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Eager to team up with Shelton again, he brought the seed for Your Sister's Sister to her. Shelton explains, “It was pretty much the launching point, like the kernel of the film." But, “when [Jack] gets there, in [Duplass'] original conception, it was going to be the best friend's mother he encountered. It would be a sort of mother/daughter twisted love triangle."

This changed quickly, and so began the intensive process of improvising and brainstorming with the actors and of writing and rewriting the script. “We had about an eight or nine month period of development. I would figure out what was going to happen in the plot, but I was also talking a lot with the actors. Every two or three weeks we would convene on the phone and discuss the characters' backstories. I wanted the actors involved in that, so they could feel invested in the project and also so they could just create characters that felt like a second skin that they could just put on, like a suit, and just be that character as naturalistically as possible.”

The original choice for the role of Iris, Rachel Weisz, had to drop out just a few days before shooting started. This is where DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married, “Mad Men”), came in.

“She caught up pretty quick," says Shelton. “The good thing was that we had all that: we had the eight or nine months of development, and I wrote it all down. So I had this bible, which was each characters' backstory and all the relationships in the movie. When we cast Rose, I was able to just transmit that. I was able to give her that and give her these 70 pages of dialogue, and the outline. But none of the dialogue was ever meant to be set in stone.”

She continues, “I basically told the actors, if you like a line, go ahead and use it. If you want to re-word it, that's fine. Or if you want to go just completely off the grid, and just find another way to do the scene, that's totally fine too. One of my kid's old teachers used to say that her job was to create this very sturdy, very strong, but invisible container for the work to take place in. I really feel like I'm doing the same thing as a director and filmmaker: creating this emotionally safe space. And there are boundaries, there are very specific limitations, because I need all of this content to take place, and it has to be molded in some way.”

Your Sister's Sister is the third film Shelton has shot on the more flexible and increasingly impressive HD video format, as opposed to film. “It's really nice to have the endless takes. You don't need to worry about stopping at all. I mean, I can shoot as long as I want, basically. I still love my films to end up on film. I would really rather see them projected on film, although it doesn't really look terrible projected on HD either. But shooting on [film] is just so... I'd rather just put the money somewhere else, frankly, you know? Usually we're going to have a limited budget. The cameras arereally great now, and you can get a really beautiful image on HD.”

That is proven early and often in Your Sister's Sister, thanks to the images of her longtime director of photography, Ben Kasulke. He's worked with her on nearly every project since she began and is just one of several longstanding collaborations.

“Geographically I love it," Shelton says of Seattle, itself the biggest thread connecting all of her work. “But I also really love the filmmaking community, and I feel extremely rooted creatively and grateful towards it. I have this family of people that I've worked with; incredibly talented people, and we've all evolved together as artists.”

Such hometown teamwork will be on display again soon in Shelton's newest project Touchy Feely, which stars DeWitt and Ellen Page, among others, and has just recently finished shooting. “I'm expecting to be premiering it sometime in 2013, hopefully at a festival of some note. And its a departure. [In Touchy Feely we have] an ensemble cast, multiple storylines... it'll have a totally different feel to it, I think, and I'm excited about trying something new.”

Your Sister's Sister opens Friday, July 6th at Film Streams, 1340 Mike Fahey Street. Check filmstreams.org for tickets and showtimes.

posted at 10:35 pm
on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

All In The Family

Family band Eisley is on the road again Eisley, a Tyler, Texas-based five-piece, indie-pop band is, despite the relative youth of its members (ranging 20-28) is well acquainted with the vagaries and frustrations of the music business. While most bands spend years (if not decades) touring in cramped busses, taking rest stop sink showers and scratching by to get to the next show, Eisley traveled a different road. After clubbing on weekends around the Lone Star state the band (consisting of four siblings and one cousin) was signed to major label Warner Brothers and enlisted to tour as an opener for Coldplay. Aside from the stint with Coldplay, Eisley opened shows for the likes of Snow Patrol, New Found Glory, Hot Hot Heat and Mutemath. “I guess it has been kind of a quick ride,” says guitarist/vocalist/older sister Chauntelle DuPree. “We signed with Warner Brother back in 2003 and it was really a roller coaster back then. Things have really slowed down in the last three years. Our contract ended in 2007 and we were trying to figure out if we wanted to stay with the label or leave and they begged us and begged us to stay so we finally re-signed. So they gave us money to do another record and after they heard it they said ‘On second thought we’re not going to be able to do as much for the record as we thought we could. You guys are welcome to go but we are going to need a percentage back.’ Then the percentage kept getting higher and higher, plus we were all kind of going through some personal stuff, both good and bad.” “So that was tough,” she adds. “We wanted to tour but there was no money to do it and we were just kind of waiting for the label to figure out what was going on. Things are great now. We’re almost done with Warner Brothers and the new record will be coming out on Equal Vision Records. It’s like we got this fresh, brand new start. We’re a baby band again.” With two proper full-lengths and a host of EPs to their credit, including 2003’s Marvelous Things, which was recorded in Omaha with local producer Mike Mogis, the members of Eisley know their way around the recording process. On its most recent EP, Fire Kite, the band works with memorable hooks, sparse vocals and a host of intriguing arrangements to make a songs that are capable of staying in your head after the first listen but manage to become something more complex and evolved the more you listen; aging like a fine French cheese. Band members often refer to themselves as brothers and sisters, the close travel quarters and large amounts of time together lend the relationships an air of familiarity that perhaps goes beyond friendship. But for Eisley, it truly is a family affair. Along with Chauntelle, the band features sister Stacy DuPree on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Sherri DuPree-Bemis on guitar and vocals, Weston DuPree on drums and cousin Garron DuPree holding down bass duties. With their father serving as band manager and Chauntelle’s husband acting as tour manager, the band likes to keep everything close to the nest. “I think that we’re maybe a little unique from some siblings because we are really best friends,” Chauntelle says. “We’re like a bunch of clones. We have the same sense of humor, we like the same music and movies. We all realize that what we have is really something very special and we don’t want to mess it up.” Eisley plays The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., Monday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. Ives The Band and Christie DuPree will open the show and tickets are $12. Visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 01:45 pm
on Wednesday, November 03rd, 2010

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