Humpday: A Kevin Smith-like Porn Comedy? Not at All

Humpday: Interview with Director Lynn Shelton

 

Lynn Shelton, whose third feature, Humpday, has played with great success at Sundance, Seattle, and Cannes Festivals, says she’s “always been interested in the boundaries of sexual identity and on how fluid or rigid those boundaries might be.” Magonlia will release this serio comedy July 10.

 

The dramatic tension—and squeamish humor—in Humpday comes from the fact that, as wild and open as they would like themselves to be, the two main characters are both so heavily invested in being straight that when they push the boundaries of their heterosexuality, it shakes them to the very core.

 

Humpday exists because I wanted to work with Mark Duplass, whom I’d met on the set of “True Adolescents”, a movie which he was acting in and I was shooting stills for. A month or so after that production wrapped in Seattle and Mark had gone back to LA, I called him and pitched the idea of a movie in which two straight friends would attempt to have sex together. He loved the concept and jumped on board the project immediately.

 

I’d originally envisioned Mark in the role of “Andrew”, the charismatic, nomadic artist, but Mark wanted to play the thoroughly domesticated “Ben”, who had a house and a job and a wife and who had left his wild days far behind him. I told Mark that if he played “Ben”, I’d need his help to find the right “Andrew”; Mark immediately thought Joshua Leonard would be perfect for the role. I brought on Alycia Delmore, a wonderful Seattle actress, to bring a much-needed three-dimensionality and sympathy to what could have been a thankless role: that of Ben’s wife, “Anna”.

 

I wanted Humpday to anchor its high concept storyline in excessive naturalism so that an audience member could believe that it would actually be possible for these characters to live out such an absurd weekend. In order to do that, the characters’ back stories and relationships had to be fully developed, and the film ends up taking on other themes because of that: the limits of intimacy within male friendship, the way our sense of self shifts in proximity to different people, the way the sudden appearance of an old friend can trigger a minor identity crisis by holding a mirror up to our lives, making us take stock of where we are and where we might have been…

 

I’ve been asked what, as a woman, interests me in making films about the relationships between men, and what might differentiate my feminine handling of such stories. I can’t say for sure how my womanhood affects my art but I can say that I’ve always been a close observer of the emotional life of people, and I’ve been particularly compelled and moved by characters who fervently want to connect with each other but who struggle deeply to do so.

 

Humpday is my third feature film as a writer/director and the culmination of my quest to find a deeply collaborative and organic way of making movies, one that emphasizes naturalistic writing and performances, as well as a tightly woven storyline exploring themes of identity and relationship.

 

Making my first feature film, We Go Way Back, converted me once and for all from a solo artist to a collaborative one, but I found myself frustrated by how a traditional film set can inhibit the central work of the project—that of the acting.

 

My second feature, My Effortless Brilliance, was my first experiment in an “upside-down” model of filmmaking; reducing the crew roster and equipment list to a minimum and inviting the actors in during the script development process, so that their insight into the characters could be utilized to full advantage. On set, the actors were given much more freedom to explore how a scene might play out and two cameras were employed to create instant coverage. In such a paradigm, the edit process becomes the final writing phase—much more so than with a tightly scripted film production.

 

 

 

 

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