Celebrated independent film director Lynn Shelton—the mind behind Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister and My Effortless Brilliance —died Friday in Los Angeles as a result of a previously unidentified blood disorder, her publicist told THR on Saturday. She was 54.
Born in Ohio and raised in Seattle, Shelton started out as an aspiring actor and photographer. She was in her mid-30s when she finally ventured into filmmaking—first as an editor then a writer, producer, and director. Her first feature film, We Go Way Back, premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2006. The film was awarded the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Award for Best Cinematography, establishing Shelton as a indie film darling. That debut was followed up in 2008 with the South by Southwest premiere of My Effortless Brilliance and the 2009 theatrical release of Sundance standout Humpday. Shelton became known for working with small crews that were mostly made up of her friends, working with just story outlines, encouraging actors to improvise, and grounding surreal circumstances in a believable way. “Real life really is kinda incredible,” Shelton told The A.V. Club in a 2012 interview while promoting her fifth film as a director, Your Sister’s Sister. “The stories from people’s actual lives defy credibility. People’s lives are messy, humans are messy, and they’re flawed. Everyone tries their hardest, but things tend to not go easy. So maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to those stories. What I like is, there’s something in those stories that rings true to me. So my attraction is the challenge of taking something that looks a bit unbelievable on paper, and then making a movie that tells the story in a totally credible way, that makes you every step of the way go, ‘Yeah, I believe this.’”
While continuing to direct independent films Touchy Feely (2013), Laggies (2014), Outside In (2017), and Sword Of Trust (2019), Shelton also made a name for herself directing episodes of Mad Men, New Girl, and Master Of None. “With Mad Men, I remember lobbying so hard to be a guest director,” Shelton said in that 2012 interview. “I knew I was in the running, but when they actually gave me the job, I had this moment where I thought, ‘Oh God, I hope I can do this.’.... I was terrified, and it seemed impossible to get the amount of footage we needed. But I was told by so many people on Med Men and New Girl that I was the fastest director they’d ever seen. That gave me the confidence that we could make the film in 12 days.”
In 2017, Shelton directed Marc Maron in both GLOW and his Netflix comedy special, Marc Maron: Too Real. Shelton began dating Maron; the two went public with their relationship while promoting their film Sword Of Trust last year. Shelton—who is survived by her son, Milo—most recently directed 2019 episodes Apple TV+’s The Morning Show and Dickinson, as well as Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere. THR reports that she had been collaborating with Maron on a script for what was to be her next film.