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'It's a shame she's not here for it.' Seattle director Lynn Shelton up for posthumous Emmy

Steven Schardt
Courtesy of Megan Griffiths
Lynn Shelton (left) and Megan Griffiths (right) on the set of Shelton's film "Your Sister's Sister" in San Juan Islands, Wash., 2011.

Author’s note: My most memorable story from 2020 was about honoring the legacy of Seattle-based filmmaker and television director Lynn Shelton. She died unexpectedly in May. I talked with her friend and fellow filmmaker Megan Griffiths about the posthumous Emmy nomination Lynn received and about the efforts to honor her in the Seattle film community. Megan and I discussed the “Of A Certain Age” grant created in Lynn’s memory, which is being stewarded by the Northwest Film Forum. Since we spoke, the first grant was awarded to Caribbean-American filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon of Miami. Also, at the end of this post, you will find my interviews with Lynn Shelton from 2019 and 2013. (This story originally aired Sept. 18, 2020.)

The 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced on Sunday night. Seattle-based director Lynn Shelton was nominated for her first Emmy this year, for her work on the Hulu series "Little Fires Everywhere." It was a posthumous nomination. Shelton died unexpectedly in May. 

KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick talked with her friend and fellow filmmaker Megan Griffiths about Shelton's life and work.    

Listen to their conversation above, or read a transcript of it below. 

Kirsten Kendrick, KNKX: What was your reaction when you found out that Lynn had been nominated for her first Emmy?

Megan Griffiths, Seattle-based filmmaker: I was really thrilled for her. She did such strong work in that format. The only thing is I wish it had happened when she could be here to appreciate it because she loved what she would call an “attagirl” from people. You know, just affirmation that her work was appreciated and that people understood and saw what she was doing. And I think she would've just been so over the moon about it. So it's beautiful that it's happening. It's just a shame that she's not here for it.

KNKX: When did you first meet Lynn Shelton?

Lynn Shelton (left) and Megan Griffiths (right) on the set of "$5 Cover: Seattle" in 2009.
Credit Kyle Johnson / Courtesy of Megan Griffiths
Courtesy of Megan Griffiths
Lynn Shelton (left) and Megan Griffiths (right) on the set of "$5 Cover: Seattle" in 2009.

Griffiths: I was hired to be her first assistant director on her first feature film, which was called “We Go Way Back.” And we bonded pretty tightly on that production because she wasn't accustomed to having a crew. She had been working in sort of short, somewhat experimental documentaries, personal documentaries. And I was sort of new to the job of first A.D. So we were both learning together and figuring out what parts of the system we liked and which parts we didn't. And so we just shared philosophy on that. We stayed friends and worked together in all sorts of capacities over the years.

KNKX: You made a video after Lynn died. It was a celebration of her. I've watched it a bunch of times and one thing that stays with me is a comment by actor Joshua Leonard from Lynn's movie “Humpday.”

Joshua Leonard: Lynn directed the way that she lived her life — as a deep and pure enthusiast for people’s best potential. She really had the ability to love you into being your best self.”

Griffiths: He was so honest and vulnerable about how he doubted Lynn based on her approach, which was so open and loving and fun. And he had this preconception of, like, that wasn't what made a serious filmmaker. So she couldn't possibly be good at her job. And so having to sort of reckon with that assumption that he was making when he saw the movie and was so floored by it. It was really lovely to hear that. And recognizing people's best potential and trying to elevate that was something that she had a real gift for.

KNKX: That was also true for the crew she worked with. I know on some of the movie sets, she had the whole cast and crew living in the same house.

Griffiths: When we were on “Your Sister’s Sister,” we always ate at the same table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we just spent the whole time together. And it was in this beautiful environment. It's sort of in competition with her MTV series "$5 Cover" for being my favorite set experience.

KNKX: You’re mentioning MTV's "$5 Cover" series, where Lynn directed the project about Seattle's music scene. Music was such a huge part of her life and her work. And it was just so touching in that tribute to hear some members of that project come together virtually to sing the song “Old Hound” with the singer of the Moondoggies is Kevin Murphy.

Griffiths: Yeah. I loved putting that together. Everybody was so ready to sing along and be part of that moment. And for me, just seeing all those faces again, because it's been 11 years since we made that project, but it really created this bridge between the Seattle film scene and the Seattle music scene and Lynn's influence on it that sort of brought that community together and has this sort of cross pollination between film and music in Seattle.

KNKX: There are a lot of great memories of Lynn Shelton being shared by her friends and people she worked with. And there are also things being established in her memory, including the Northwest Film Forum establishing a grant. It's for a certain kind of filmmaker like Lynn. Can you tell me more about that?

Griffiths: Yeah. It’s called the “Of A Certain Age” grant. And it is designed for women and nonbinary filmmakers who are 39 years of age or older who have not yet made their first narrative feature. And it was designed around the kind of filmmaker that Lynn was. Because when we met on “We Go Way Back,” she was 39 years old. The movie was released when she was 40. And that is not common in this industry, that someone comes into their career at that late stage and then achieves the level of success that Lynn achieved. She was just prolific and she had such a voice and such an impact. And we just wanted to celebrate other filmmakers who might be in that same position and hopefully elevate some voices who are currently not getting heard. And I have been so blown away by the level of talent and the diversity of voices, and it's really shown a spotlight on the need that there is for a grant like this.

KNKX: We've talked a lot about Lynn’s film work, but you were also mentioning she was a prolific television director. She seemed to have the same impact on the actors in that medium and brought that same collaborative process to each episode she directed.

Griffiths: Yeah, it's kind of a challenge to do that in television. I've worked in both of those mediums also. And, you know, when it's your feature, you have a lot of control over the environment that you build and the people that you bring in to that environment. It's a bubble, you know. And with a TV show, you're dropping into somebody else's bubble and like somebody else is put together all the pieces and you're just kind of landing in the middle of it and taking the wheel for a while. And, you know, I think Lynn just had confidence in what she was going to do. She worked quickly. She worked happily. She was very grateful to be there. And I think she didn't take for granted that, you know, anyone's time or energy. So I think actors and crew all just felt really appreciated on her set and safe under her eye. And she was able to bring that, you know, her own safe and free bubble from her feature work to her TV work.

KNKX: Are you planning to watch the Emmys?

Griffiths: Yeah, of course. I haven't always been religious about watching the Emmys. But this year I wouldn't miss it.

KNKX: What do you think will be going through your mind as you watch, especially the category Lynn’s nominated for?

Griffiths: Probably kind of bittersweet, I have to say. I mean, of course, it'll be celebratory if she wins, but for her not to be able to be here to accept it is, is really sad.

KNKX: Megan, I want to thank you for taking the time to share your memories of Lynn.

Griffiths: My pleasure.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.