In the following post, Talkhouse Film contributors and other filmmakers share their tributes to Lynn Shelton, who suddenly passed away on May 15, aged 54. Lynn was the brilliant writer-directors of films such as Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister and Laggies, and was also prolific in TV, most recently directing and executive producing Little Fires Everywhere. I first met Lynn in 2008, and she contributed to Talkhouse a number of times. It was always a joy to be in her orbit; she was warm, brilliant, hilarious, a true life force. I can think of no one who was more widely loved in independent film than Lynn. It seems impossibly cruel that she is no longer with us.
More remembrances will be added to this post as they come in. Feel free to leave your own tributes and memories in the comments section. – N.D.
Lynn Shelton was. I expected more words to follow in that sentence, but those first three words stopped me. She was. She is no longer. It’s impossible to process.
We were texting Thursday. We were planning a Zoom sing-a-long for tomorrow. Her belated wedding gift to me had just arrived in the mail Friday as she was rushed to the hospital.
She is. How is it that she now isn’t?
I have known Lynn for 15 years. We met when I was hired to be her 1st A.D. on her first feature film, We Go Way Back. It was a recurring joke, because as the years progressed and our friendship lasted and grew and became one of the most important relationships in both of our lives, we did go way back.
We collaborated frequently because we held so many shared philosophies about filmmaking and our creative community. We wrote together, a feature script and a television show that were never made but provided us an avenue to spend many treasured hours in the same place once we were both working as directors and weren’t sharing as many sets. We were present in all of each other’s work. We sought one another’s feedback on every project. She was my biggest fan, and I was hers.
The qualities that made Lynn a great filmmaker — empathy, compassion, humor, intelligence, sincerity — were the same ones that made her an irreplaceable friend. She had a big laugh that would burst out unabashedly, and she would also weep easily at both happy and sad moments. She was one of the world’s best audience members. She sang with abandon.
She found joy in a great many things. Only days ago she was encouraging me to revisit Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies because she was re-reading it and finding so much delight on every page. She sent me a picture of one of those pages with the following words underlined: “I’m in charge of a community that I need desperately and that needs me just as badly.” Those words break my heart today.
I am overcome with grief at losing my friend Lynn. I am devastated for all of those who loved her — her two sets of wonderful parents, her siblings, her husband of many years, her beloved son, her newfound partner, her innumerable friends, and any who found connection or comfort in her creative endeavors.
She lived with love, with passion, and with joy. She was and is no more. There is a toast someone offered me when I lost my mother a few years ago: “With, without, within.” I offer that toast to Lynn and to a world that deeply mourns her loss.
I am in a deep state of shock. Lynn Shelton was one of the greatest forces of nature I’ve ever encountered — a brilliant enthusiast to her core. She defined herself by the things that she loved, by the things that inspired her, by the people who meant the most to her and by her deep and boundless pride in her son. Her joy and her passion radiated like the fucking sun. I am forever grateful to Mark Duplass for introducing me to her over a decade ago.
Lynn and I had fallen out of touch for a while, but had just started chatting again recently. My daughter Wilder and I FaceTimed with her last week. Lynn was sitting on her porch, showing Wilder all the birds … they came up with names for each one. We all laughed – Lynn biggest of all. Jesus, could could that woman laugh. She was one for the ages. Rest in peace, dear friend.
This past weekend, we lost an incredibly talented director and one of my pals, Lynn Shelton. I woke up to the news and had a really tough time processing her passing. I first met Lynn in 2005 at Swim Cafe in Chicago. We were both acting in Joe Swanberg’s series Young American Bodies. Shortly after, we were dancing at Kris and Joe’s wedding and the fate of our friendship was sealed after she accidentally slapped me square in the face (see photo proof below).
Her glowing smile and joyous spirit were simply contagious and I immediately gravitated toward her. It was gratifying to watch such a deserving person’s career grow bigger and bigger over the years.
I would look forward to running into Lynn at film festivals around the world, from Seattle to Sundance. I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of her career-propelling feature, Humpday, at Sundance in 2009 with Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard. In Seattle in 2010 we had dinner before a screening of a film I acted in. We caught up and I picked her brain about directing her first major TV show — an episode of Mad Men. We later met up with her friend and fellow filmmaker badass (and one I also dearly adore), Megan Griffiths. Lynn clearly loved to surround herself with other talented, delightful souls.
Lynn was always very supportive and available, even when she was working on big projects. We were just starting to make plans for me to shadow her directing on an upcoming TV show.
Thank you for all of the gifts you have given the world and to me, personally. Rest in peace with gobs of love, Lynn.
Lynn has died. I don’t understand. Shock. Cannot understand. My heart goes out to her family, to her friends and to all who loved and knew her. My heart is with everyone in pain over this devastating loss. Lynn, her laugh. She was my mentor, the first woman doing what I dreamed of doing who took me under her wing. She dignified and freed you with her presence. When she was editing Sword of Trust, we walked around in a park for hours. I told her I had to make this movie and I didn’t have money or know how to do it but I just had to do it. She listened, gave advice, talked about how she was making her movies and connected me with her Seattle film family. She let me pick her up in my shitty car when she was done sound mixing and drive her around to get coffee and talk filmmaking – how shooting the movie was, talking the thrill of creating, the power of collaborating. We spoke about marriage, and movies, about trusting your intuition and above all about going for it – go, go, go. She was always curious, always looking for beauty. That first walk together, she stopped by this old car, struck by something. She took a picture and I did too; I wanted to see what she saw. The picture is of a woman laying on her belly, headfirst flying into the future, fierce, free. Lynn was a fairy godmother, letting me shadow her, embracing me at screenings, writing recommendations for directing workshops. She was a light for so many. She never went to film school, she made character-driven movies with humor and heart. She learned by doing. She laughed. She wore the best hats. She believed in the goodness of people and championed indie film and indie filmmakers. She supported the independent film community in ways that last lifetimes, that last forever. She’s touched so many. I am floored by her kindness and generosity. Still a bit in disbelief. Honored I got to spend some time with her. She’s an angel on all our shoulders now. She’s that woman flying into the future, fierce and free. Love you, Lynn. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make you proud. May we all live with her sense of joy, curiosity, and integrity. We must all carry the flame now.
“Changed my life” has become one of those phrases so overused and hyperbolized that the meaning is diluted and eventually lost. And though it ranks among the least of her accomplishments, Lynn Shelton did in fact change my life with her friendship, her confidence, her invitation to collaborate, her enthusiasm, her rigor, her curiosity, her advocacy of others, her fandom, her boundless capacity for joy, and her dazzling magnetism, which summoned a truly astonishing number of talented, brilliant artists and weirdos into her orbit, where it was a pleasure to spin. I loved her very much and I remain totally staggered by the cruel, random suddenness of her death. (The picture above is from the Independent Spirit Awards in 2009, when she won the Someone to Watch award for My Effortless Brilliance and insisted I come up on the stage to collect it with her.)
It absolutely breaks my heart to hear about Lynn Shelton passing. I was very lucky to have been directed by her in two episodes of Master of None, and I am still inspired by that experience. Everyone on the cast and crew fell in love with her work ethic, talent and kindness. She left a huge body of work for someone so young. Sending love to her family, friends and colleagues.
Above is my second ever picture on Facebook. When my short film Woman in Burka first played before a feature, I seriously lucked out. The film was My Effortless Brilliance by Lynn Shelton. I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful Lynn was to me. She introduced me to everyone and made that festival the time of my life. And then it happened a hundred more times since. She helped me so much when I made Gayby. Watching cuts. Giving me notes. Helping me find last-minute actors. We were just texting about Little Fires Everywhere, which she directed wonderfully. She was generous, kind, hilarious and effortlessly brilliant. I am heartbroken.
I am devastated and in shock that one of my very dearest and closest friends — family, really — a spectacular human being, a great artist, an amazing director, a funny, fun, crazy, wild, curious, generous and chimerical spirit who I spoke to all hours of the day and night about everything and anything in the world, and a helluva lot about writing and directing, has passed on.
My dear, dear Lynn.
I keep rereading our texts from just the other day — from Thursday night, “Hey baby.”
We started every conversation with “Hey baby…” or “Hey lover,” and ended with “I love you.”
We were supposed to do a “coffee talk” for Film independent on Thursday.
I’d sent her a long and detailed document on what we could talk about.
She called on Monday to say she’d started reading what I sent — it was long — which meant she hadn’t finished it; that charmed me as most things she did.
She said we’d just talk about whatever we talk about.
I wasn’t sure that was gonna work, but I was okay to do anything with Lynn anytime, anywhere, anyhow, any what — then we got to talking and talking and taking and laughing about what we’d talk about.
She kept saying, “This is so great! Let’s stop talking. This is the show.” We just kept talking. And laughing about something. Like we always did.
Then she said she’d been in bed since Wednesday — six days — and sick for a few weeks prior — bleeding, sleeping too much, high fevers, a cold that wouldn’t go away, and she’d fallen down the stairs and she had been going all over town (during the pandemic) to doctors to find out if she had cancer or something — but no one knew what she had. She said she felt she might die — she was trying to figure out who would take care of her if she should go home to stay with her mother.
I was alarmed and shocked to hear any and all of this.
I wanted to know what was wrong and if she needed to be in the hospital and why she would need to go all the way home to her mother in Seattle to be taken care of.
She asked if we should still do the film independent talk on Thursday — I said we should do whatever she wanted. If she wanted to do it, we should. If she didn’t, we shouldn’t. Her health is what mattered. She was going to see how she felt.
We texted throughout the week. She was very sick with high fever.
Thursday, I got a message from Film Independent that her people said she wanted to “soldier on.”
It wasn’t like her to communicate through “her people.” I contacted her asking how her health was and if she was being taken care of.
Late Thursday, she texted back. She had been having high fevers, become forgetful, losing her phone, and collapsing. She gave some more details and signed off her usual “hey baby.” “I love you.”
Late Friday, I got a call from a close friend – she’d collapsed and was in intensive care and intubated. We spoke on and off as she was put into a medically induced coma and her organs failed. Then she died.
My dear, dear friend, I love you so much.
I’m sorry you were not in the hospital sooner. I’m sorry for what you went through.
I can’t believe I’ll never talk to Lynn again. Never hear her response. Or that endless sprawl of monologue she could unleash at any moment. Never hear that laugh. THAT laugh. Oh, that laugh. I don’t want this to be true.
My dear Lynn. Hey baby, I’m staring at my garden where we spent so many days and evenings — wishing you were here, expecting you to come through the gate and change plans as you often did.
Say suddenly, “Let’s not go out to that party or that premiere (or whatever we had planned to go to), let’s just get takeout from What The Fish and hang out and cuddle and talk.”