Lynn Shelton Does Mad Men Good

Last summer, Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton was tapped to direct an episode of Mad Men. (Typing "squee!!" here would be an understatement.) Acclaimed for writing and directing the small and lovely—not to mention award-winning—films We Go Way Back, My Effortless Brilliance and Humpday, Shelton is also known for her improvisational techniques. (Her scripts are usually fairly loose, so she can allow the actors to feel out scenes until they hit upon what works best.) I chatted with Lynn briefly via email just before her episode aired on September 26 (Season 4, Episode 10, called "Hands and Knees," written by Jonathan Abrahams and Matthew Weiner) about her behind-the-scenes experience in Tinseltown.

BD: How did you end up getting selected to direct the episode?

LS: I had a meeting with Scott Hornbacher (executive producer) after he saw my film Humpday and liked it. Then a few weeks later I got a call that Matt Weiner (executive producer/creator/show runner) wanted to meet with me. Being a superfan of the show, I was beside myself just to meet with him! I guess the meeting went all right because I got the gig.

BD: Were you given a script in advance that you followed verbatim? Or were you able to use the improvisation techniques you've used with such success in your films?

LS: There is zero improv on this show; the writer is god, and the script is the bible. I took on the whole endeavor as an enormously enjoyable challenge. It is an incredible privilege to direct someone else's vision, when that vision is as exquisite as Mr. Weiner's.

BD: How did that feel, compared to improvisation?

LS: When the writing excellent, and the actors are talented and used to working in that way, adhering strictly to a script is not a chore.

BD: Were the actors on set familiar with your work? Or were they just told something along the lines of, "We're bringing in this very cool director from Seattle to handle this episode..."

LS: I frankly don't think any of the actors knew me or my work from Adam. They were all exceedingly professional and amazing to work with nonetheless, thank god.

BD: On the set, which actor seemed least like his or her character?

LS: Well, none of the actors are like their characters, really. But the biggest disconnect between actor and character has to belong to Vincent Kartheiser who plays Pete Campbell.

BD: Did the experience make you want to do more TV directing? Or did you learn you prefer filmmaking?

LS: I had an absolutely thrilling time working on Mad Men. I came away from the experience with a huge respect for how talented everyone is and how hard everyone works and for how much they accomplish under an enormous amount of pressure. I don't think I could be a TV director full time, but I would definitely entertain doing it again under the right circumstances, in between movie projects. It was a blast!

BD: Now that you're back in Seattle, what's next?

LS: I've got a few things cooking. $5 Cover Seattle, the web series I wrote and directed for MTV is finally launching later this fall, and I'm working on a feature project (Josh Ferris' Then We Came to the End), with Anne Carey and Ted Hope that Focus Features is set to produce.

BD: Did the Mad Men wardrobe people let you bring home any