Lynn Shelton: Seattle 'like the canvas that I paint everything on'

May 22, 2013

In all the films that she writes and directs, Lynn Shelton shines the spotlight on Seattle. 

Her latest project, "Touchy Feely", was filmed entirely in the city, mainly in the Central District and "all over Capitol Hill," according to Shelton. 

"I'm really, really excited about its local premiere,” she said of her film, which will be featured during the Seattle International Film Festival. In "Touchy Feely," a massage therapist finds herself overcome with a sudden aversion to bodily contact while her brother finds he’s got a healing touch for his dental patients.

Shelton says Seattle plays a role in the development of her films, from the writing process to selecting the perfect locations.

"I cast the locations; I think about it as casting locations,” she said, chuckling. “The casting of the locations are as important to me as casting the right actors to play the characters. When I start to write, I immediately am putting people in places, and I know all the places. It's like the canvas that I paint everything on."

Shelton admits she gets more jittery when showing her films at SIFF compared to, say, Sundance or Toronto.

"There's something about bringing it back to the hometown crowd. It must be that connection to my child self, of having gone to these same theaters. I can never believe it—I'm really showing something at this theater that meant so much to me when I was young,” she said.

Local film industry: Strong, with room to grow

Shelton says she's excited to be a "huge supporter and booster" of the film industry in Seattle and Washington state.

"We have an incredibly talented group of collaborators who call Seattle home. I live here. I love making movies here. It's in my bones. It's in my blood. In order for me to be able to continue doing that, I need to have those people who can also live here and make a decent living.

"We've got a film incentive program through Washington Filmworks, which is very competitive with other states. We need more money in that fund.  You know, 'Sleepless in Seattle,' it's estimated that it brought $100 million in tourism to the state and to the city in particular. So there's a lot of power to cinema,” she said.

Shelton would also like to see at least one sound stage built in Seattle to accommodate television production.

"I want to get a groundswell effort to figure out how to build and maintain a sound stage. I think that's another element that would bring more business here,” she said.

Over the past few years, Shelton began directing television shows. Her first venture was in Season Four of "Mad Men" on AMC. Shelton directed the episode "Hands and Knees." She also directed three episodes of "New Girl" on FOX, and just finished directing a pilot for CBS.

Up next: Biggest budget yet

Shelton will start directing her next movie next month. "Laggies" will star Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell, among others.

"It marks a lot of watershed things for me in my career. It's my first multi-million dollar production. It's also the first time that I'll make a movie from a script that I didn't write," she said. 

The original setting for the film was Orange County, Calif., but Shelton translated it to fit the Puget Sound region.

"We're going to be shooting in Mill Creek or Bellevue, or somewhere on the Eastside for part of it. And then some of it is also in Seattle,” she said. "It's all the same territory that all my films have been about. It's about relationships between people and relationships with yourself."

Despite her fast-growing career, Shelton plans to stay in Seattle.

"I always want to be based here even if I end up traveling. I have a husband, and I have a kid and a home. I'm really devoted to the area. I have no interest in moving. So, yeah, it's great to be able to do that. I feel so blessed."

You can catch "Touchy Feely" on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center and again Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Seattle. Shelton is scheduled to attend.

SIFF is presenting a forum on the status of the film industry in Washington, featuring Amy Lillard, executive director of Washington Filmworks, on Saturday, June 8, at the SIFF Film Center.