The Maidstone. East Hampton, NY.
Interview: Rob DeStefano

The Coens, Wachowskis, Afflecks, and Olsens… is there room for more siblings? We originally scoffed at the idea, but then remembered that Jay and Mark Duplass are a modern pair and were not a part of Duck Soup.

This fraternal collaboration both writes and directs their films, though the younger of the two, Mark, often takes center stage – most recognizable as Pete from the popular TV series The League; however, most prolific as Ben in Humpday. The duo made their first splash on the indie film scene with The Puffy Chair (2005), a road trip dramady that falls underneath the Mumblecore awning. The brothers’ use of improvisation, a handheld camera, and quirky yet heartfelt characters would become a staple of their craft, giving life to their later filmography: Baghead (2008), Cyrus (2010), and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (to be released Friday, March 16th). As their careers have expanded, so have their budgets and star power, but this seems to have had no adverse effect on these humble chums. IF had a chance to talk with them at an early screening of their newest film.

IF: I have a younger brother who is fifteen and starting to get into movies through me. Mark, did you find that Jay influenced you in this way when you two were growing up?

Mark Duplass: It’s hard to say. HBO was big when we were growing up, and it had just come into the house. It was at a time when they weren’t curating kids’ films during the day and adult films at night. They were playing Kramer vs Kramer and Annie Hall at ten in the morning. Jay and I were like, “Let’s just watch this!” And I think that had a big affect on us and what we do. We were watching sensitive, adult relationship dramadies while our daughters who are three and a half now are just watching Dora the Explorer. And so from a very early age, Jay and I were obsessed with the hilarious and dramatic intricacies of adult relationships. That never left us.

IF: Are your parents artistic in any way?

Jay Duplass: Not at all. Our dad’s a lawyer and our mom is a mom. She did some retail work. We didn’t even know, like, you can make movies for a living. We just thought that they come through the pipeline and show up at your house.

MD: We grew up in the suburbs, and we went to catholic high school, which was preparatory for pretty much just a business career.

IF: Did your parents try to steer you away from filmmaking?

MD: No. They’re awesome. They’re really supportive.

JD: If anything, they were encouraging us to keep doing what we were doing. Our whole family is like movie obsessed. On Christmas Day (interject MD: And every other day of the year) we go see movies together. It’s kind of our past time.

MD: It’s our thing. I think it was interesting for us growing up in an environment that didn’t necessarily foster filmmakers because it made it something we had to discover, and it made it a rebellion and something special and something unique. That kind of energy can be good. I think artists kind of need that on some level, that thing to bang your head against – like when you’re supposed to be studying for your Latin 4 exam but you’re up making weird music and trying to write a movie.

IF: What was your experience at a catholic high school, a place that might not have encouraged storytelling?

JD: First of all, you’re going to take Latin. Your electives are either ancient Greek or Spanish. (sarcastically) And so we were extremely rebellious in taking Spanish.

MD: The biggest decision is either regular Calculus or Calculus AP.

JD: That being said, I think we both loved high school and were in that mindset of just having fun, hanging out with a bunch of dudes, and playing sports.

MD: You don’t have to take a shower. You can fart freely because there are no girls around.

JD: Oh, absolutely!

MD: It’s an excellent environment

JD: People think it’s crazy, but it was so freeing that you never had to think about anything or worry about stuff. But like Mark was saying earlier, definitely when you dabbled in art and if you went and played a little bit of music or made a little film, you felt like you were reinventing the wheel. You really felt special. It took Mark and me a long, long time to get remotely decent at what we’re doing. We felt so special about what we were doing, and there was that fire that was constantly burning. It helped us get through all those years of not knowing whether we would make it or not.

IF: When did you start to attract attention? And how did The Puffy Chair come into play?

MD: We were trying to make some bigger films with crews, and they were unsuccessful. Then one day we said, “Let’s strip it down to the basics of how we used to make movies when we were little, which is Jay on the camera, me in front of it, no crew, no lighting.” We shot this twenty-minute short film called This is John, and it was improvised. That was our first movie that went to Sundance. It cost three dollars and it spoke volumes about what we should be focusing on. So The Puffy Chair was an extrapolation of that microcosm: let’s make a $15,000 feature with just us. And once we felt like we had our feet under us on how to make a movie, then we were like, “Now let’s see if we can bring in the movie stars and the studio and still do what we do.” It’s been a slow, upward arc from that one short film.

IF: What are your suggestions for today’s young filmmakers?

JD: We feel like it’s an amazing time to get into movies because you can make a movie on the weekend for free now. Maybe not completely for free. But if you borrow a 5D or just drop some money and buy a 5D and a microphone…

MD: Or just do stuff on your iPhone or iMovie.

JD: Yeah, really, because 99% of it is about story and acting. And that’s what it’s really about.

MD: If you would see our first short film that was in Sundance, you would be appalled. It looks and sounds like shit!

JD: There are dead pixels in it!

MD: It is the most lo-fi, unprofessional film in the world.

JD: There wasn’t even a microphone. It was shot with the onboard microphone in a consumer DV camera.

MD: But they saw something in us. They thought, “There’s a voice here that’s interesting.” So don’t worry about aesthetics as much as the story and the acting.

JD: Make lots and lots of stuff because I think people tend to obsess about getting it perfect. It’s a really complex art form. Your first film is going to suck! There’s no doubt about it. Just make it the best you can make it.

MD: And move on! Burry it!

JD: Hopefully you get thirty seconds out of it that are pretty interesting and you can learn something from that and move on. When people are lamenting about how hard it is – and it is hard – the answer is there’s no reason to not make one film a month for a year, and then just see what happens. Not only for ourselves but all of our friends who are getting paid to do this now, it really came from a certain level of quantity they produced, and they were willing to just keep diving back in because you’re never going to get it perfect on the first go.

IF: Now that you’re working with larger studios, do you find that they infringe on your creative process at all?

MD: It’s a tricky question. The short answer is, if you take care of yourself and you set it up correctly, you’ll be okay. For instance, with this movie [Jeff, Who Lives at Home], we brought them [the studio] the script and the actors, and it was all together. We gave them the opportunity to say “yes” or “no,” as opposed to developing the script long overtime. It’s important to keep a couple of solid cooks in the kitchen but not let everyone in there.

Click here for Jeff, Who Lives at Home showtimes and information.

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