Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) was no stranger to actor, writer, stand-up comedian and podcast host Marc Maron when she cast him in her new film Sword of Trust. She had already directed him in a few projects, including a couple of episodes of his namesake TV series Maron and his 2017 Netflix comedy special Marc Maron: Too Real. She was also a guest on his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron two months prior from officially getting hired. It turned out to be the perfect choice to say the least.

Sword of Trust is a heavily improvised and sharply written dark dramedy that comes up short in the homestretch, but not before delivering a handful of funny and memorable moments. Maron stars as Mel, a pawn shop owner in Birmingham, Alabama, who makes a deal with some customers after they offer to sell him a peculiar relic. The “prover item,” as it’s referred to later in the film, is a sword said to be proof that the South won the Civil War. It has been bequeathed by a Confederate soldier to his granddaughter Cynthia (Jillian Bell).

Mel and his employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) think Cynthia and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) are a pair of kooks for the yarn they spin — the women don’t buy her grandfather’s story either but need to make the sale. However, a quick internet search reveals a fringe group of conspiracy theorists who would pay top dollar for the weapon. After locating a buyer, Mel and the ladies decide to team up and split the money. But when the potential customer insists that he meets the sellers, Mel, Nathaniel, Cynthia and Mary find themselves riding in the back of a moving truck to an undisclosed location to do business with a probable racist.

On its surface, Sword of Trust is a whip-smart comedy that pokes fun of people who believe the Earth is flat and the existence of a shadow U.S. government. While much of the snarky script is ad-libbed, Shelton and co-writer Michael O’Brien (TV’s A.P. Bio) create a structure for the narrative that is deeper and more meaningful than an average satire. The emotional load is lifted by Maron, who expresses some of the most heartfelt and natural dialogue in a movie this year with an anecdote concerning a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend (Shelton) and the life he watched pass him by years ago.

Shelton’s film might cover revisionist history, but it’s also about the struggle to believe in something — or someone — when conflicting evidence is too convincing to ignore. Still, in Sword of Trust, Maron shows audiences how a little faith can go a long way.

Lynn Shelton – Laggies

November 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In her new independent dramedy “Laggies,” filmmaker Lynn Shelton has directed a movie she actually didn’t write herself for the first time in her 8-year career. “Laggies” follows a twenty-something slacker named Megan (Keira Knightley), who is experiencing a quarter-life crisis and trying to figure out what she is going to do with her life. When her boyfriend proposes to her, Megan decides to take a week off from the real world and lay low with Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), a 16-year-old friend she made during her quasi-meltdown. Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell), however, questions why a woman like Megan is hanging around with his teenage daughter.

During an interview with Shelton, the director of such films as “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” talked to me about how an emotional crisis like the one Megan is experience in “Laggies” can happen at any time in a person’s life. We also talked about what it was like directing a film written by someone else and whether or not she’d be interested in directing a superhero movie since DC Comics has made it clear they’re looking for a female director to helm their upcoming Wonder Woman film.

Did you experience your own quarter-life crisis like Megan does in the film? Were you still trying to figure things out at 25?

I was still trying to figure things out at 39, which is when I started making feature films. I feel like I had this very long route to figuring out what I was meant to do with my life – what my place in the world was meant to be. I relate quite personally to [Megan’s] story. Not only that, but I feel like the title “Laggies” is a little bit misleading because I think it implies some sort of failure to launch. I don’t think that’s what going on at all. I think what’s really going on is that she’s realizing that she marches to the beat of a different drummer. The story is about her figuring out what adulthood means to her and taking her time to figure out her own path.

I’m being kind of facetious when I asked this question, but now that you’re 49, do you anticipate going through a mid-life crisis? Is that something you can plan for?

I feel like the moment where you can ask questions like, “Who am I?” and “What is my place in the world?” and “Am I meeting the expectations I had for myself?” can happen to you at any point in life. For some people, that happens all the time. Most of us go through life day to day trying to get through our mundane existence. It takes some special moment to make us sit up and say, “Oh, wait a minute. Who am I? What’s going on here?” But I really think that can happen at any point in time. I’m sure it’ll happen to me again at some point or another. (Laughs) Right now I feel pretty solid with those questions. But I’m sure I’m just fooling myself and I’ll have to take stock of the situation again.

What about as a filmmaker? Do you feel like you know what kind of director you are? Have you found your voice yet or is that something you’re still exploring?

I like the idea that the body of work I have so far has something that kind of ties them together. In that sense, I guess you could say I have a “voice.” But one is always evolving as a person. I think I change from project to project. Each one is a unique animal. For each new project, I’ll sit down with my cinematographer and we’ll have a mini film festival and watch films that might instruct or inspire us or help us create a vocabulary. Those films are always different. There’s always a reset button for each project. I’m always trying to explore something new.

For “Laggies,” were there any specific films you looked at that helped inspire the story or the tone?

Not so much tonally, but in kind of a way where a relationship in a story isn’t supposed to work out on paper – mainly people making a connection to each other across boundaries. [Screenwriter] Andrea Seigel and I like the film “Harold and Maude.” That was an interesting touchstone for us. “The Graduate” was another reference point I had in my mind’s eye. Again, I feel like “Laggies” has nothing in common with those films in terms of their approach to the story. Yet, I feel they’re in the same canon in some ways of people in a search of how to write their own script and the way their lives play out.

You explored a theme in your first film, 2006’s “We Go Way Back,” where the lead character feels disappointed in herself. Do you feel Megan is in that same place? Is she disappointed in herself and where she is in life or is she content?

For me, Megan has been a sort of floater. She has been a passive passenger in her own life. She’s gone down the path of least resistance. She is surrounded by really loving friends and a boyfriend who adore her and have very specific ideas about the way that one should move towards adulthood. What’s happening to her is this creeping realization that her life is not working for her. She’s been floating down this river. This movie is the moment where she puts her feet down, stands up in the river and looks around and says, “No, this isn’t the right river.” It’s really about this moment where she takes agency of her life. In that regard, I guess you could say she’s disappointed in herself when she realizes that she’s just been floating along and hasn’t taken responsibility for what she really wants. She’s allowed other people to make decisions for her. But that disappointment leads to discovery.

“Laggies” is the first film that you didn’t write yourself. Do you still feel as connected to the work emotionally in comparison to your other projects?

Yeah, I do. It’s the reason I said yes to this script and not to other scripts. I’ve read a lot of scripts that my reps send to me consistently. I get really well written scripts with beautiful stories, but I have to feel really passionate about something to give however many years it will take to get it developed and funded and actually made. It’s quite an arduous process, so it’s not something I undertake lightly. The thing that happened to me when I read this script was so rare. I felt like, “Wow, I could’ve written this story!” I wish I had written this story. I went through a few drafts with the writer and gave her some notes, but, really, overall the script was in great shape. I felt connected to it immediately.

What if it was the other way around? Would you be open to write a script and have someone else direct it?

You know, I recently read an article by [director] Ingmar Bergman that he had written back in the 60s and he said that he only writes in order to direct. That is exactly how I feel. I don’t consider myself a screenwriter who can write from a typescript and sell it. Well, maybe I could do it, but I wouldn’t want to. It’s not something that interests me. It was interesting working with Andrea because she really is a writer. I would give her little assignments. For example, there was originally a dog in the film, but we couldn’t afford a dog and all the training we would’ve needed. It would’ve been too much trouble. So, I called her up and told her, “We need to change the dog to a tortoise. The tortoise doesn’t have to do anything and it’ll be a lot cheaper.” The next day, she had written all this funny stuff about the tortoise. That’s sort of an example of how fast she was with solving problems. For me, sitting down in a room by myself is kind of torture. (Laughs) It takes me a long time to come up with my own material. Anyway, the answer is no. I would never write anything for anyone else to direct.

Do you go out of your way as a female director to have a female crew on your set to work with? I read somewhere that the “Laggies” crew was mostly women. Is that important to you?

Well, I’ll tell you that overall I love the idea of women supporting one another in the industry. It’s something I think we have to start doing if we want to create more stakes for women in the industry and make sure there is a presence of females in the industry. I’m all for creating a new network as opposed to the old boy network. “Laggies” started out quite top heavy with women because the producer was a woman and the writer she was working with was a woman. When it came to me, there were already a lot of women involved. Then other producers started coming on board who were women. It started happening in this very organic way. I mean, there are still a lot of men like my cinematographer and my production designer that I’m still very loyal to. It’s important, but not so important that I’ll fire someone I’ve worked with for years in order to hire a woman instead. But it is an absolutely lovely thing when there is a lot of estrogen on set.

Although I know as an independent filmmaker, you’re pretty far removed from the movies Marvel and DC Comics have been putting out in recent years. However, both companies are planning to release a handful of female-lead superhero movies in the next few years and DC Comics, specifically, has said they’re looking for a female director for their Wonder Woman film. If an opportunity presented itself to you to do something like a comic-book inspired movie, would you like to try?

It would be something I’d like to do if it was the right project. I have a 15-year-old kid, so in the last few years I’ve seen just about every action movie out there, especially the comic-book movies. I really enjoyed a lot of them. Some of them I didn’t think were so great, but the ones I think are good I find highly enjoyable. It’s not a genre of movie that I dislike. For me, it would all come down to if there was something I could personally connect to. Is there something character based and interesting and authentic enough within that realm of fantasy? I’d have to feel genuinely drawn in to the characters in order for a film to work. That’s what makes me like one comic book movie over another. If I don’t feel like there is any resonance or humanity to it, then I’m just left cold. Blowing up stuff isn’t going to do it for me. I think it’s wonderful that there is a goal to make more female-driven action movies. With the success of films like “The Hunger Games,” it’s kind of a no-brainer. So, if there is an opportunity to have strong, interesting heroes and antiheroes who are of the female persuasion, that’s really exciting. Yeah, I’d be totally open to it, but it would have to be the right fit.

Humpday

March 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore
Directed by: Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”)
Written by: Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”)

It’s official. The fairly ambiguous subgenre known as mumblecore that reared its creative head a few years ago is the new face of independent film. For those of you who aren’t hip enough to know the term, don’t fret. There have only been a handful of films that could actually be categorized under the mumblecore umbrella and chances are you haven’t seen any of them unless, of course, you’ve sought them out as a true hardcore mumblecore fan.

“The Puffy Chair?” “Old Joy?” “Medicine for Melancholy?” Told you.

Basically, mumblecore is a do-it-yourself, ultra-cheap way of making a movie that features non-professional actors sometimes improvising dialogue-driven scripts. It has taken indie filmmaking back to its roots – back to a time when guys and gals with cameras weren’t stressing about how they were going to raise $2 million to make a cinematic labor of love.

Truth be told, mumblecore movies aren’t for everyone. But none has attempted to distance itself from the mainstream in terms of subject matter as much as Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday.” Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Humpday” is the perfect example of why films like this turn off close-minded moviegoers.

In “Humpday,” Ben (Mark Duplass, co-director/co-writer of fellow mumblecore film “Baghead”) and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) are awakened in the middle of the night by an unexpected guest. Ben’s longtime friend Andrew (Joshua Leonard) has returned back to town for a visit after spending a few years doing art projects in Mexico.

It’s been quite a while, but Andrew and Ben haven’t grown apart. Still, Andrew, who is sporting a Zach Galifianakis-esque beard, is living a bohemian lifestyle while Ben has settled down with his wife and now lives in a house with a white picket fence.

But when Andrew arrives, Ben begins to feel like he needs to prove to his pal that he is still the same carefree guy he was in the past. His chance to do this comes when they learn about a local amateur pornography film festival and decide they not only want to submit a film, they want to win. But to win, Andrew and Ben agree they need a groundbreaking idea for their erotic masterpiece. Their plan: have sex with each other (they’re convinced two straight guys have never had sex for the sake of art).

Cleverly written and rich with realistic dialogue, director Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”) captures all the awkward conversations and silences in profound and funny homoerotic ways. It’s an outlandish premise that works mainly because of the naturalness of Duplass and Leonard’s characters. While there is some over-exaggeration in parts of the film (and in Alycia Delmore’s performance), the risqué subject matter fits quite well with most of the overplayed scenes.