Seattle/L.A. film producer Mel Eslyn, known for her work on Lynn Shelton films, was recently awarded the Piaget Producers Award at the Independent Spirit Awards — including a $25,000 grant.
Local independent film producer Mel Eslyn will never forget watching, as a kid, the music video for “Somewhere Out There,” from the 1986 animated film, “An American Tail.”
In that moment, something clicked.
“I just remember watching this music video and crying my eyes out and being like, ‘I don’t know what is happening internally inside of me, but I want to make other people feel that,’ ” she said, “and knowing this is what I want to do.”
Years later, Eslyn has turned that dream into reality, producing films featured at movie festivals from South by Southwest to Sundance. In February, she was awarded the Piaget Producers Award at the Independent Spirit Awards — think the Oscars of independent film — in Santa Monica, Calif.
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“It’s a very big deal,” said Beth Barrett, director of programming at the Seattle International Film Festival. “[Mel’s] extraordinary to work with and a very giving producer [who] really wants the project to succeed, but more than that she wants the people working on the projects to go on and succeed and do amazing things as well.”
Eslyn was a co-producer of Seattle director Lynn Shelton’s well-received 2011 film “Your Sister’s Sister,” filmed in the San Juans and starring Emily Blunt, and also worked on the time-travel comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” and another Shelton film, “Touchy Feely.”
The Producers Award, one of 17 categories at the Spirit Awards, includes an unrestricted grant of $25,000. Eslyn was chosen after submitting the 2014 film “The One I Love” — her favorite project — and this year’s “Lamb,” which centers on the relationship between a 50-year-old man and 11-year-old girl who embark on a road trip together.
She said she worked on “Lamb” for around two years, with more than half the crew hailing from Seattle and making the trek to Laramie, Wyo., for 18 days to shoot the film.
“I have never experienced a town where an airplane flies by and sprays the entire town because the mosquitoes are so thick,” she said of Laramie. “I am constantly being reminded that even though you will get to a point where you think you know what you’re doing, some curveball will come, and that was a big one.”
Eslyn describes the role of producer as “the cheerleader and the muscle behind the project, all at the same time.”
“It’s a process, especially when you’re not only the creative producer, but also the business and logistical producer,” she said. “You are really the driving force who is one of the first people on and last people off the project, and doing kind of everything from pushing it forward to making sure on the logistic side of things all the boxes are checked off and everyone is happy.”
Eslyn started working on film sets in the late 1990s at the age of 14. The Wisconsin native can still recall working as a production assistant for a horror film as a teen.
“My first task when I could drive on set was to go make copies of the script, and I remember driving to downtown Milwaukee and I didn’t know my way around, and finally getting [to the copy shop] and locking my keys in the car,” she said with a laugh. “I remember calling my dad in the store and I was three hours late with the script copies, and all they said to me was: ‘That was quick.’ ”
Eslyn has certainly come a long way since then. Her advice for emerging film producers and directors includes always seeking out good stories, seeking out good people, working your butt off, taking deep breaths, and lastly, always trusting your gut.
“I know the struggle of what it is to be an artist, especially in the indie film world,” she said. “Being able to be that champion or that person who carries out other people’s visions is very rewarding.”