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Director Lynn Shelton, who brought an independent spirit to film and TV, dies at age 54

Lynn Shelton
Director Lynn Shelton
(Kevin P. Casey / For The Times)

Director Lynn Shelton, known for her prolific work on independent films like “Humpday” and “Sword of Trust” and on TV series such as “Mad Men” and “GLOW,” has died at age 54.

Shelton died Friday in Los Angeles as a result of a previously unidentified blood disorder, her publicist, Adam Kersh, confirmed.

Emerging out of the creative ferment of her native Seattle, Shelton established herself as a pioneer in the low-budget indie film movement that came to be known as mumblecore, bringing a naturalistic, intimate and often improvised approach to films like “We Go Way Back,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006, and her 2009 breakthrough “Humpday,” which earned strong notices at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award.

Actor and director Mark Duplass, who starred in “Humpday” and collaborated frequently with Shelton, paid tribute to her Saturday, writing on social media, “We made so many things together. I wish we had made more. Her boundless creative energy and infectious spirit were unrivaled. She made me better. We butted heads, made up, laughed, pushed each other. Like family. What a deep loss.”

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A onetime aspiring actress and photographer, Shelton did not begin her filmmaking career until her mid-30s. But she worked at a furious clip, directing eight features in 14 years alongside a busy career in television. Her 2011 comedic love triangle “Your Sister’s Sister,” starring Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt, won a Gotham Award for Best Acting Ensemble as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination for DeWitt.

Though approached to direct mainstream studio fare, including the Marvel superhero film “Black Widow,” Shelton stayed true to her indie roots with such small-scale films as “Touchy Feely,” “Laggies” and her most recent film, the wry comedy “Sword of Trust,” which premiered at the South by Southwest festival last year and was released last summer.

“I self-generated my work, and I never went around asking permission to make it,” Shelton told The Times in 2014 “The main reason women make inroads in independent film is that no one has to say, ‘I pick you.’ I’m not pounding on anybody’s door. I’m just making my own way. You can buy a camera for $1,500. It’s insane how easy it is to make a movie. You can make mistakes and throw it under the rug and keep going. You’re not dependent on other people allowing you to do it.”

Shelton kept mainstream Hollywood at arm’s length out of fear of compromising her idiosyncratic vision and sensibility.

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“They’ve sent me a continuous stream of scripts to see if something sparks,” Shelton told The Times. “At a certain point I was like, maybe we should just stop with sending me scripts. They were beautifully written, but it’s so, so rare that there’s any kind of overlap with me or an affinity for the writer’s voice... I wouldn’t want to make a film I’d be afraid to put my name on. It feels like the more millions involved the more likely it is that that’s going to happen unless you have some kind of protection or buffer.”

With television generally more receptive to her brand of smart adult-oriented fare, Shelton became one of the small screen’s most in-demand directors.

Her television work included numerous episodes for such series as “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Master of None,” “Casual,” “The Mindy Project,” “The Morning Show” and “GLOW.” She also directed Marc Maron’s recent comedy special “End Times Fun” and his previous special “Too Real” and was at work on a script with Maron for what was to be her next feature film. On May 7, Shelton and Maron spoke about that project in an Instagram Live interview with Indiewire, with Shelton describing it as a “domestic dramedy” centered on two brothers, one of whom is married.

According to Shelton’s publicist, Shelton is “survived by her son Milo Seal, her husband of many years Kevin Seal, her parents Wendy & Alan Roedell and David ‘Mac’ Shelton & Frauke Rynd. She is also survived by her brothers David Shelton, Robert Rynd and sister Tanya Rynd, as well as Marc Maron, with whom she spent the last year of her life.”


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