By Moira MacDonald / The Seattle Times
In the In Memorium segment of the 72nd annual Emmy Awards, local audiences saw a glimpse of a smiling face familiar to many: Lynn Shelton, a Seattle native and acclaimed filmmaker who received two posthumous Emmy nominations this year, for directing and producing Hulu’s limited series “Little Fires Everywhere.”
“We were all a bit shaken to see that,” said Shelton’s mother, Wendy Roedell, in a telephone interview Sunday night. Roedell watched the Emmys ceremony at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum with several of Shelton’s family members: father Mac Shelton, stepmother Frauke Rynd, and stepfather Alan Roedell. “None of us expected in our lives to see her being memorialized on screen.”
A first-time Emmy nominee, Shelton did not win her categories; the HBO action series “Watchmen” took both. But she would have been enormously honored to have been there, her parents said. In a written statement, her family described her as a “collaborator extraordinaire. She delighted in the results of the chemistry of creative people working together. As a solitary artist she wrote brilliant screenplays and created extraordinary stories and concepts. But it was her ability to bring out the best in her colleagues that set her apart.”
Shelton died in May of a blood disorder at the age of 54. She began making feature films in the mid-2000s, and she quickly established herself as a star of the local filmmaking community; later, her mostly made-in-Seattle films of human comedy achieved national recognition and distribution. Shelton’s feature films included “Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Laggies,” “Outside In,” and “Sword of Trust.” In the last few years of her career, she worked extensively in television, with directing credits that included “Mad Men,” “The Mindy Project,” “GLOW,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Good Place” and many more. Her trademark was a warmly collaborative way of working, of making the set a happy place to make art.
Her family said that “Little Fires Everywhere” — a story of mothers and daughters set in 1990s suburban Ohio, based on the novel by Celeste Ng — was a project close to her heart. A parent herself, Shelton was drawn to the project because it “involved mothers raising kids, and the relationship between mothers and their children as they grew older,” Mac Shelton said. Throughout the project, he said, Shelton became especially close to the young actors on the series: “She spent time with them on set and off set, to get to know them, to make them feel comfortable with her.”
Because of pandemic restrictions, the family has not been able to have a full-fledged memorial service for Shelton, but they have been hearing a chorus of memories of her over the past four months — including from fellow Emmy nominees they met last week in a private virtual reception. Many spoke of her “kindness and bigheartedness,” Mac Shelton said. “We just heard that over and over and over again, the past four months solid: she was just a joy to work with.”
“I think she made a big impression on the world and changed the way people think about how movies ought to be made,” Wendy Roedell said.
In their statement, the family noted that Shelton began to collaborate at age 3, telling her mother the stories in her head. “As an adult Lynn’s collaborations resulted in the creation and direction of eight feature films and numerous TV episodes. If she were alive today, she would declare her love for all of those collaborators for enabling her to become the woman who got nominated for an Emmy.”