Lynn Shelton discusses 'Your Sister's Sister' starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt
When actor Mark Duplass approached director Lynn Shelton about an idea for a film, she was immediately intrigued. Shelton had worked with Duplass on her last project, Humpday, and was excited that he wanted to work with her again. The idea for a script was in its early stages: A young man grieving the death of his brother is sent by a female friend to a remote location to clear his head. Upon his arrival, he meets his friend's young, hot mother and has a romantic encounter that complicates his relationship with his friend.
Shelton loved the idea, but made two immediate adjustments to the storyline.
"The first thing I did was change it from a mom to a sister because I really wanted to explore sibling relationships," Shelton says. "I've seen so many incredibly fascinating love/hate, deep, rich relationships between sisters -- although my own is very boring and drama free, blessedly so!"
The second thing she changed was the film location to Washington because she lives in Seattle and loves the setting. She cast Duplass as Jack, the unhappy young man mourning the death of his brother Tom, and actress Emily Blunt as Tom's ex-girlfriend Iris who, concerned about Jack's well-being, sends him to her father's empty house to do some soul-searching. Rosemarie DeWitt, a late addition to the ensemble, was selected to play Hannah, Iris's half-sister who has a fling with Jack. The film follows the threesome's complicated relationship exploring love, loss, and sibling rivalry.
While this may sound like a typical romance film, Your Sister's Sister is far from what one might expect.
"I am really interested in films that take you on a journey around unexpected corners, but at the same time are always believable," says Shelton. "That's a really important balance for me. I don't want anything to feel like, 'Oh I could have seen that coming.' At the same time, it has to ring true and can't seem contrived or forced."
Part of that journey for Shelton was working with the actors to create relatable characters.
"It's this back-and-forth process developing the back story and the characters. We all shared stories from our own lives and observations that we've had about other humans," she says. "It's kind of a triple whammy because I'm establishing trust and intimacy with the actors during that development process, they're creating characters that can fit them like a glove, and they're also feeling like it's our project -- not just my project. They're becoming very engaged."
Another part of involving the actors meant asking them to improvise lines. Shelton says that she has directed scripted films, too, and her motto is "whatever works." In this case, she wrote 70 pages of dialogue but told the performers they didn't have to use it.
"I told the actors, 'If you love a line then by all means use it, but I don't want you to feel beholden to the order in which the lines come out or the exact wording. If you want to go completely off, just do it,'" Shelton says. "I'd say 70 to 80 percent of the film is improvised dialogue. I'm trying to create characters that feel like flesh and blood human beings having real conversations."
The film was shot in its entirety in just 12 days, and DeWitt was added to the cast just three days before they were set to start filming.
"I think that shooting in just 12 days took a few years off my life," says Shelton. "I didn't think we were going to get it in the can. I was terrified. I think I slept about two hours a night -- I was so worried -- but we managed to slip it in under the wire."
Shooting in such a brief amount of time was stressful, but it was also a rush.
"It's really exhilarating. It's such an intimate set -- there's only a dozen crew members and just three actors. We're in this bucolic atmosphere, and it was like film camp," she says.
Working with such a small cast also proved to be an enjoyable experience for the director.
"They [Duplass, Blunt, and DeWitt] are just so lovely," says Shelton. "They are funny, down to earth, and great collaborators. They were all equally engaged and willing to take risks."
Your Sister's Sister opens in theaters on June 29.
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