The coming-of-age comedy “Laggies,” starring Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz, was originally set in Orange County, and scheduled to be filmed in California, or maybe Atlanta. But fate — and local filmmaker Lynn Shelton — had other plans.
“We were talking about shooting in all these different places, and I somehow managed to convince them and the stars aligned for us to bring it here,” said Shelton in a hometown interview just before the film’s local premiere last month. “Laggies” was shot in summer 2013, at various locations in and around Seattle, and had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January.
The comedy, which opens here Friday, is the latest step in a career that now combines Shelton’s trademark made-in-Seattle features (which also include “Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Touchy Feely”) with freelance television work. Though still based here, Shelton’s a frequent visitor to Los Angeles, where she’s directed episodes of “Mad Men,” “Ben and Kate,” “The New Girl” and most recently “The Mindy Project.” (“I love her!” enthused Shelton, of creator/star Mindy Kaling, whose show just began its third season. “Ever since it started I’ve been trying to get on that show.” )
“Laggies,” long in the works, was a big departure for Shelton: It’s her first feature that she didn’t write herself, and it’s by far the her largest production. (She estimates that her 2011 film, “Your Sister’s Sister,” had about 16 people in its entire cast and crew; “Laggies,” by comparison, employed “60 to 70” people per day.) Years ago, Shelton read and loved Andrea Seigel’s screenplay about Megan (Knightley), a woman in her late 20s who experiences a kind of arrested development by hanging out with a teenager, Annika (Moretz).
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But the road to production was long and complicated. “We had Paul Rudd attached [to play the main character’s love interest]; we lost him. We had Anne Hathaway [to play the lead role]; we lost her. And then financing was all sketchy … ” All finally worked out, but “when I was on the set finally I had to pinch myself.”
Bringing “Laggies” to Seattle meant that Shelton could work with some of her longtime local collaborators: among them, cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, lighting technician Jeremy Mackie, production designer John Lavin, set decorator Tania Kupczak (who was the production designer for Shelton’s first feature, 2006’s “We Go Way Back”).
“It’s just this sort of family that keeps evolving,” said Shelton.
Knightley, interviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival for the film’s premiere there last month, appreciated the close-knit vibe of the “Laggies” set. “[Shelton’s] crew are so unbelievably loyal to her, and she’s unbelievably loyal to them,” she said. “It’s very intoxicating when you walk into that. There’s a huge air of respect and love between all these people. You instantly feel like you’re part of the family … You have to feel like you’re in a very safe environment in order to try different things, and it’s something that not a lot of film directors are very good at creating. She’s sensational at creating it.”
Having never visited the Northwest before, Knightley immersed herself in local color; staying during the shoot in a rented houseboat on Lake Washington — “I’d seen ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ and I thought, if I’m going to Seattle I want a houseboat!” (She didn’t get the actual “Sleepless” houseboat, but was nonetheless delighted with the experience.)
For Shelton, a native, “Laggies” was a chance to explore parts of the city that she hadn’t filmed before — always with an eye for geographic authenticity. Megan and Annika shop for a dress at the Northgate Nordstrom (“a huge coup,” said Shelton; it’s rare that the store allows film crews): Precisely where Annika, whose house is in Olympic Manor northeast of Ballard, would likely go. For a scene that takes place outside a police station — that’s the actual North Seattle Police Precinct, and its real sign. The characters attend a wedding at the Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass, and a party on the Skansonia Ferry.
And Shelton expanded her eye to the suburbs around Seattle, as Megan is an Eastside native; shooting in neighborhoods in Bellevue, Mill Creek, Bothell and Renton. “I really wanted to set up this dichotomy of the Eastside versus the Westside,” she said, using “newer, brighter colors in keeping with the newer developments and the newer feeling of the Eastside.”
Next up for Shelton? She’s got three movie projects simmering: one a “comedy/caper” that she’s writing with fellow Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths, another “that’s kind of on the same scale as ‘Laggies,’” and another that hearkens back to the small-scale, highly improvised style of Shelton’s earlier films. “I want them all to happen, but I don’t know which one will hit first.”
All will, she hopes, be shot in Seattle, though she’s concerned that the state incentive program, “which has allowed so many people to keep making a living here as film professionals,” may need additional funding. (The incentive program helps out with costs for films made in Washington state, but its pot is small, says Shelton, when compared to similar programs in other states.) More TV work is on tap as well, including a few episodes of the upcoming new ABC series “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The sheer size of “Laggies” (the film had “big trailers, dressing rooms, transport — stuff I never had before”) has made Shelton all the more confident that she can tackle any kind of production. “It was exciting to have all that stuff for a movie, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable. I felt like my experiences with television have made me a better director, because I’ve had so many challenges thrown at me that I would never have given myself.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org