Filmmaker discusses use of improvisation in 'Sister'

By Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comJanuary 23, 2013 

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton's second feature film Hump Day got raves at Sundance. Her third, Your Sister's Sister, opened last year's Seattle International Film Festival. It hit the art film circuit shortly after. On Jan. 25, the Battelle Film Club will show her movie.

I talked with Shelton about her movie.

Gary Wolcott: Your movie is mostly improvisation.

Lynn Shelton: Yes, 70 percent to 80 percent of it is completely off the script to one degree or another. I wanted the actors to have a launching point, a security blanket, so I wrote about 70 pages of dialogue and then said, 'Feel free to use a line if you like it, or if you want to go off the grid and just find your own way through the scene, that is totally fine as well.'

We didn't do any rehearsals because usually with improvisation, the first take is the best one. We knew what was going to happen in every scene and what the trajectory had to be emotionally. How they found their way through the beats of the scene was up to them. We'd turn two cameras on and just let them go for 10 minutes or 20 and sometimes 30.

GW: It's a very different way to make a movie.

LS: It's all in the quest for extreme naturalism. I want you to feel like you're dropping into these people's lives and that they're having real conversations. They're living and breathing, not like the people in some Hollywood films that don't really resonate. Sometimes that's OK, but I want to give the audience real people that seem true.

GW: That's true. Sometimes in films the characters talk at each other and not to each other.

LS: You can't get anymore in the moment than if you don't know what's going to come out of their mouths next. To be a real conversation, the characters have to be engaged. It's almost like setting up a false documentary.

GW: Who inspired you?

LS: Among others, Woody Allen. I love that he is able to base entire films on human conversation. You know, simple human interaction. And when it comes to other filmmakers, I love to see a movie that couldn't be made by anyone else. They inspire me to go make a film that no one else could make. I love films where things happen that are unexpected but believable.

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