3/31/18 Editor's Update from Jan Lisa Huttner: Members of FF2 Media's NYC team saw Outside In last night. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Edie Falco is now on our watch list for a Best Actress Oscar in 2019 🙂
From awkward interactions to fractured relationships, Lynn Shelton is a master at capturing modern day human comedies, frequently focusing on characters in a state of arrested development with films such as Laggies, Touchy-Feely, Hump-Day and Your Sister’s Sister. The last two co-starred fellow writer-director Mark Duplass, whose partner/brother Jay Duplass Shelton collaborated with on her first drama, Outside In. Duplass plays a recently paroled ex-convict whose high school teacher (Edie Falco) worked tirelessly to see him freed. Now back in the real world, he struggles to adapt to a dramatically different world as a man who went away just when he was entering his adulthood. Comic actor Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies) and Kaitlyn Dever (Laggies, Short Term 12) costar with Falco and Duplass, who also receives co-writing credit alongside Shelton.
Lesley Coffin: How did the collaboration between yourself and Jay Duplass come about? Who had the original premise for the film?
Lynn Shelton: The idea of a film about a man who’d spent 20 years of his life in prison had been swimming around in my head for a while. The backstory of these characters had been bouncing around for a while. But Jay was a huge muse for this film. I’d known him as a person for a while, and loved him. But then I saw him on Transparent and was just blown away by what a talented actor he was. I was just so struck by his emotional availability and the charisma he had on screen. I really wanted to work with him as an actor, and wrote to tell him that I’d be lightly stalking him until I can get him on set. And luckily, he seemed open to it, but it took us a few years to get together. I didn’t initially think of him for this role, because their life experiences are so different. But then I realized, it might be a really interesting challenge to give him and he was immediately drawn to the character. And by that time, I knew the backstory of the characters, the relationship he had with Edie’s character and why it hit her so hard when he got arrested. So we started from that point, but once he was on board, he was always engaged in the development process. And I’ve started several of my films that way, if I already have an actor in mind for a role or film, I like to work with them in developing the character and let them inspire me. So I sent the treatment back and forth to him for his input, and then at some point he asked to take a pass on the screenplay and eventually became a true co-writer.
Lesley Coffin: At what point did Edie Falco get involved?
Edie Falco: Very late, she was the last jewel of the crown. Kaitlyn I’d worked with on Laggies, and I knew I wanted to work with her again so I kind of developed this role with her in mind too. And I called her as soon as Jay signed on. I think Ben Schwartz was even signed on before Edie Falco. But it took a long, long time to find the perfect Carol. But Edie and Jay knew each other, and had worked together on the movie Landline, and they were really excited to work together again. Jay had fortunately charmed her too and she was impressed by what a good actor he was on that movie, even though they only worked together a couple of days. And she said she really liked the script and felt like this is the way real people talk and interact, and these roles don’t come along often for women over forty.
Lesley Coffin: Edie and Kaitlyn had great chemistry too as mother and daughter. Did they have an opportunity to work together before hand and discuss their characters’ backstory?
Lynn Shelton: They really didn’t, and I don’t think they’d even met beforehand we got on set. We didn’t have the budget for a lot of time on set that weren’t shooting days. And even if we had that time, I don’t like to work the material. Sam Rockwell was the rare example of an actor who really likes to run his lines beforehand and discuss beat by beat, but for the most part I don’t like to rehearse because you might capture a moment that just can’t be replicated. So any downtime I get with the cast is just about letting them be in each other’s presence and get comfortable around each other. That makes a huge difference for actors in developing a sense of intimacy and trust. Actors come to the set ready to open up to another actor and be emotionally available, and the actors I’ve had the privilege of working with have all come to set ready to work together and develop that chemistry. I’ve been lucky on this movie, with Rosemary DeWitt and Emily Blunt, with Kiera Knightly, Sam Rockwell, and Chloe Grace-Moretz, they all created this instant chemistry. I’m in awe of the actors I’ve had the opportunity to work with, they’ve all had sincere, open hearts.
Lesley Coffin: I’ve done two interviews with Jay Duplass and he’d been playing rather unlikable characters at that time, but you can see what a sweet guy he is underneath those characters.
Lynn Shelton: There is a wisdom in casting really warm, sweet actors to play unlikable parts. I think it adds a layer to their characters. Casting him in Transparent was so smart.
Lesley Coffin: Your previous films have probably all fallen into the genre of comedies, and this would be your first real drama. There is still humor in it at times, but for the most part it’s a pretty serious film. Developing this film, did you think about how to balance the dramatic tone to avoid a film that would feel like a downer or something depressing for the audience to sit through?
Lynn Shelton: I would agree with you that this is my first drama. Touchy-Feely was probably a dramatic comedy, but the rest of my films have all been comedies. I remember seeing an independent film by a friend of mine, and not laughing even once. And I loved it and admired it, but I realized I could never make a movie like that. It wasn’t a grim movie, but it was humorless. And I don’t think I have it in my DNA to make a movie like that, it’s not how I look at the world. And we hired Ben Schwartz thinking he could add a little humor to the film, but most of his onscreen time’s pretty dramatic.
Lesley Coffin: This is probably his most dramatic role in a film.
Lynn Shelton: Absolutely. It never felt right when he played things comedic. But it’s all about balance. I wanted to give the audience enough information about the lost 20 years that they felt like they were following the story but weren’t being given huge amounts of exposition. And we shot more comedic moments that I feel fit the story. I wanted any laugh to really feel earned. A scene towards the end I’d taken out early and put back in last minute was the chair wrapping scene, the second to last scene. And the original scene was much longer, and I really hated it because we’d had Ben go too big and over the top, and it just didn’t work. So we cut it down and now I think it provides a nice pay-off and leaves the audience feeling like there’s a little hope for these characters. Edie just saw the film at SXSW, and I sat next to her and when it was over, she fortunately said she loved it, but sweetly said she was impressed by how much I’d taken out. She knew she’d filmed longer scenes, but after watching how they played thought it was great that we started and stopped scenes when we did. And that happens a lot, you always write more than you need, film more than you need, and then when you’re editing and realize how much information comes through cinematically, you realize you can cut a lot without losing the story or characters. I didn’t want to dwell on Jay’s struggle to re-enter society, but I felt we needed to get a sense of what he’s going through. And the scene that people latch onto is that scene of him peeing in a cup in front of an officer of the law. It conveys so much to the audience, and there’s no dialogue, it’s just three shots.
Lesley Coffin: Regarding the things you decided to leave out, a lot of other filmmakers might be tempted to include flashbacks or a scene of the actual crime. Did you ever consider having a scene like that?
Lynn Shelton: No, I don’t feel scenes like that are necessary. I’ve never filmed a flashback, although who knows I might make a movie all about flashbacks next time. But I’m more interested in minimalist filmmaking that plants question marks in the audience’s mind and allows them to start to piece together this mystery. I believe that engages an audience and makes them more active participants. I never want an audience to check out or feel like I’m spoon feeding them. That would be wrong. In the second half of the film I kept adding nuggets to hint about what happened that night of the crime, and one of the last ideas I had was when he returns to the place it all happened and he’s in this rough emotional state, we added this auditory flashback. It is a flashback but it’s very impressionistic and all in his head, but the audience only sees his reaction to it.
Lesley Coffin: Compared to your other films, which had a bright and sunny look, this film has a very low key palette with blues and grays. When did you decided this film would have to look a little different?
Lynn Shelton: I always sit down with my DP pretty early on, and we bring our pile of DVDs or images that are inspiring the look we envision for the film. And I really wanted this film to feel like it had a strong sense of place. I wanted the audience to feel the rain and the grays and the greens they live around. This is about people in the deep, rural Northwest, not urban northwest. You can see foothills in the distance that are half clear-cut, the impact of people trying to conquer nature. And the house Kaitlyn’s character spends all her time in, half burned out, is a relic of nature trying to take it back. Because that represented the push and pull Jay and Edie’s characters are going through, knowing the boundaries they are supposed to stay within and the chaos of human emotions they want to express.
© Lesley Coffin (3/30/18) FF2 Media
Photos: Edie Falco and Jay Duplass in Outside In (Credit: Duplass Brothers Productions)