Exclusive: Lynn Shelton To Direct Adaptation Of Mishna Wolff's Memoir 'I'm Down'

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by Oliver Lyttelton
April 29, 2013 12:33 PM
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Lynn Shelton is nothing if not prolific. Since her 2006 feature debut "We Go Way Back," she's made five films, and since "Humpday" became a crossover hit, she's only gotten busier. That film was followed by "Your Sister's Sister" in 2011, and barely a year later, she was back with another feature, "Touchy Feely," which premiered at Sundance back in January. And in between all of that (plus occasional cameos in the likes of "Safety Not Guaranteed" and "Prince Avalanche"), she's become an in-demand TV director, with her work including episodes of "Mad Men," "Ben & Kate" and "New Girl."

There's no sign of letting up any time soon, as Shelton revealed when we caught up with her at Sundance London over the weekend, where she was supporting the international premiere of the distinctive and excellent "Touchy Feely." She's currently prepping to shoot her next film, "Laggies," but we asked if her adaptation of Joshua Ferris' "Then We Came To The End," was still a going concern. As it turns out, it's not, but it's been swapped out for a different project, which could follow "Laggies." "We parted ways [on 'Then We Came To The End'], a while back. It was really sad. But I'm in development on another project with the producer, Anne Carey ['Adventureland,' 'The American'], so all is well."

And that project? An adaptation of Mishna Wolff's acclaimed and best-selling memoir "I'm Down," which appealed in part because of Shelton's connection to the material. "It's set in Seattle [Shelton's home]; the writer Mishna Wolff, grew up in Seattle as well, so it's about her navigating as a white girl in this black culture, and just as she's figured that out, she gets plucked out and put into a different setting, with these very erudite white people, trying to navigate these two worlds. It's all about identity, it's so fantastic. I'm ten years older than her, but I was bussed in from the white neighborhood to the black neighborhood, so I felt a great affinity to the material. She wrote this memoir a few years ago, and then got into the Sundance Labs to turn it into a script, but ended up having a family. So it took a long time, but finally about a year ago, they felt it was in good enough shape, and brought it to me, and we've been rewriting and rewriting, and we're just about ready to start going out to actors. So maybe that'll be my next project [after 'Laggies']"

Shelton's keeping busy elsewhere too, telling us she's just shot a pilot for CBSone that stars "Will & Grace" and "Smash" star Debra Messing, and known at one point as "Mother's Day." "It's a CBS single-camera half-hour comedy," Shelton told us, "a late pick-up, so I lucked out, 'cause my impression is that CBS doesn't like to hire people who haven't done pilots before, but most of their tried-and-true directors were already taken up. So when the writers ['Sex and the City' veterans Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky] started lobbying for me, based on their liking my last couple of films, I happened to be in LA doing a 'New Girl' episode, so I was able to meet with the studio and the network," Shelton explained. "And I think they called absolutely everybody I'd worked with in television, and I guess got some pretty good feedback, 'cause they hired me. I couldn't believe they hired me! But I had like a day between coming back from LA and going to New York for six weeks. It now has a temporary title, 'See Gabby Run,' but I'm not sure if it's going to stick or not. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. I'm used to showing up as a guest director, doing an episode on a show that has everything set, the look and the feel, so it was really fun to be a part of creating that initial template."

We wondered, given that some of her peers and collaborators like the Duplass Brothers have moved into TV, if the experience had given her the desire to create her own series, but Shelton has reservations. "I've seen the lives of creators," she said, "and it's not really hugely appealing to me. No sleep, not ever leaving your office, being totally obsessive, it looks very daunting...  I wouldn't mind being a producing director. Eventually I could see being a creator, but only if it shot in Seattle. I have a family, and I want to keep them. And I like boosting Seattle, we don't have a TV show at the moment."

But that said, she is attached to direct another pilot over at HBO, which will mark a reteam with "Laggies" writer Andrea Seigel. "[She] pitched a pilot, asked me to be attached as a director, and HBO bought it, so she's developing it now. So hopefully we'll shoot that in the next year. Because she brought me on so early, it's been an even more collaborative experience. I really enjoy that, It's called 'Terrible Infants,' three couples who each have newish babies," she said. "It's their lives, but in a way that people in that era of their lives aren't normally portrayed. It's very HBO, straightforward, extremely funny, but very real. She's a brilliant writer, she's so funny. I can't wait to do this movie with her."

As for "Laggies," that's set to shoot in June, with a cast that currently includes Anne Hathaway, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Moretz and Mark Webber. For more on that film, and on "Touchy Feely," stay tuned for the rest of our interview with Shelton later in the week.


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