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What Is Going On and Why Are We Here?
by Karen Pecota

Filmmaker Lynn Shelton could carry any panel discussion all by herself when talking about a passionate project. Her communication style is invigorating! The sparkle that makes her shine is her personal pizzazz that she puts into each expression when talking about her films. Together with the panel moderator Brent Hoff, editor of Wolphin, Shelton engages in a dialogue about why she is featured at Sundance 2010. Hoff’s opening question for Shelton, “What is going on and why are we here?” was the green light for her to tell the story of a collaboration with MTV and her latest film $5 Cover: Seattle.

Shelton recalls that it was exactly one year ago while attending the Sundance Film Festival 2009 with her third feature film, Humpday, that MTV approached her to direct an internet film series. Her feature film Humpday was the talk of the town during the 2009 festival. Truthfully, she was not ready to discuss future projects even with MTV. She was in the mood to savor the moment as a first-time Sundance attendee and winner. Initially, pondering the idea, Shelton felt like it was not a good fit esthetically and explained, “…because my stuff is super raw and MTV is real graphic, glossy, and artsy”. She continued to say, “I wasn’t sure if a web-series was something I wanted to work on as a follow up from my Sundance experience.” Later, the excitement grew the more she contemplated the opportunity afforded her. The people from MTV refused to take “no” for an answer but gave her some space to think about the idea. The deciding factor was the encouragement from Craig Brewer, another Sundance alumnus (Hustle and Flow 2005) whose career was launched much the same way Shelton’s was from the Sundance stamp of approval for the Indie film market. Brewer created the first web series called $5 Cover: Memphis. He is a Memphis local and loves his city.

The basic idea for the project is that one paints a portrait of a metropolis through the eyes, ears and heart of the local music scene. To establish the city’s local music scene, one first has to find undiscovered musicians and showcase their real lives. This fact attracted Shelton to the project. The outcome is to showcase the underground music culture in its raw form portrayed by a local (Lynn Shelton). Her raw style of filming is what MTV envisioned for the success of her assignment. Shelton was enamored with the idea that it was going to be a great thing for Seattle. While traveling Europe in 2009 on a PR-tour with her film Humpday, she learned that people had a very limited knowledge of Seattle besides coffee, Space Needle, Nirvana and Jimmy Hendricks. She realized that with the MTV assignment she could have an impact to expand the Seattle image using an appealing format.

Shelton was given full creative control for the project with only a few structural objectives to be met from MTV production studio. She chose the bands as well as, created her own structural outline and framework. The Memphis film series was similar but yet different to Seattle’s in that Brewer worked with a few real actors but most of the characters/musicians played themselves and their own lives. Brewer however, wrote the storyline and script for his characters to act out based on inspirations from their experiences. Shelton’s film series resembles more of a documentary because she used her characters and re-created the actual musicians’ stories shared with her.

Shelton did not have to start from scratch after a brief view of Brewer’s project but, in a way, she chose to do so. It was important for her to make the Seattle version different and true to its own culture. Her research opened her eyes to an attractive Seattle sub-culture whose passion is to make music and germinate with other styles foreign to their own. A new discovery for Shelton was the variety of music and bands, lyrics to their songs, and scenes of Seattle available as subjects for her project. She followed twelve bands around town and filmed them for one whole weekend. She traveled the streets they walked and the bars in which they performed to understand their social scene. She noted that ‘the world is small’ in this particular Seattle sub-culture circle. They all know and are supportive of one another; they attend to each others shows; they are really excited about each others work and often glean from fellow musicians and styles (although different) as well as, they know the other bands’ lyrics and often sing along during performances. Shelton was pleased that she could show a real variety pack of folks but the task to narrow down her band subjects was difficult. This was her criteria:

*Each band had to be already connected to somebody organically in the scene. She started with two people she knew from her favorite band The Lights and asked them a series of questions: Where do you like to hang out?, What clubs do you like to go to?, What clubs do you like to perform in?, Whose music are you excited about?, Whom do you know?, Whom do you deemed “cool” characters?, What side projects are you working on?, etc.
1. Very carefully she chose bands that would be easy to work with after talking with musicians and performers.
2. The band had to have a performance gene pool, have public appeal and attract an audience for an undiscovered band.
3. Shelton had to get behind their music.
4. She chose bands with different stripes, i.e., style or genre.
5. She had to be with cool (awesome, stable and fun) people she could work with, who were willing to be apart of the project--no crazies
6. She chose a melting pot of people--variety of personalities, color of skin, gender, ethnic origins.
7. She was careful to not divulge venues if groups wanted to remain anonymous and she wanted to show the local music stores because these places regularly hold live concerts, i.e., Easy Street Records.
8. she wanted a thread that tied all the bands together somehow (this thread is a visual graphic on the $5 Cover: Seattle site)

Hoff inquired about the look of the web-series and Shelton explained, “Structurally, it is twelve web cam episodes that will be played only on the internet. When pulled together they are the length of a feature film. Each episode will be seven to ten minutes in length. You can watch a single episode and thoroughly enjoy it; but, it is better to watch all of the episodes at one sitting because each episode builds off of one another.” The panel audience was privy to three episodes. They were well received and enjoyed the differences. They understood the reason for watching all episodes in sequence as well as in one sitting. Shelton adds, “If I did this as a typical feature film it wouldn’t have worked…using the twelve episodes, each band has their moment to shine sharing how the bands collaborate and how that develops. AND, when you watch the episode #11 with The Moondoogies, you can click to a link that takes you to a mini-documentary about them directed by John Coates and learn even more about the band. My film web series is just the starting point for a multitude of Seattle artists to showcase their work to other links that take you to twenty-two extra documentaries about Seattle.” Shelton adds, “…do watch the mini-documentaries by Coates because they are beautiful, dreamy, and romantic with a fantasy bent. You will not get my episodes and his docs confused because they are so different. The docs validate the authenticity of the series…” Applause from the audience ended the time with Shelton and Hoff that seemed to fly rapidly by due to a fabulous presentation.

Websites to visit connected with this project: