Originally ran on FilmThreat.com on 01/24/08
After a few truly great short films, writer/director brothers Jay and Mark Duplass smacked a homerun with their perceptive and sweet feature “The Puffy Chair.” The film pushed the brothers forward into the spotlight and from reports all across the internets, they were in a good spot to be welcomed into the golden gates of Hollywood. So which bandied about studio flick did the Duplass’s settle on? None. They went right back to work doing it their way with the self-made and financed film, “Baghead.”
We had a chance to see the film and chat with the Brothers Duplass at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and here’s all the sordid details.
I think a good jumping off point is to ask “WHAT WAS YOUR BUDGET?!!?” Just kidding. How were you able to sell people (actors, producers, friends) on the idea of a movie about a group of desperate actors and a “Baghead?”
Jay Duplass: Drugs. Expensive ones. Lots of them.
Mark Duplass: Everyone who read this script knew we that if we handled it correctly, we had the potential to make something really great, original, and new… or, we could f**k up and make a total piece of crap. So, there was an energy on set of everyone putting their best ideas together to make “Baghead” into something special and unique.
Jay: While on drugs.
The cast is really solid. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided on those 4 people?
Jay: We’re really big on writing for people we know and casting amongst our circle of friends whenever possible. We’ve known Steve Zissis (Chad) since high school (he was the lead in our short “The Intervention”) and have felt for years that he is the next great undiscovered talent.
Mark: I worked with Greta Gerwig (Michelle) on “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and knew right away she could nail this part. Also, Ross Partridge (Matt) is one of our new favorite friends and actors right now.
Jay: And we found Elise Muller (Catherine) by sheer luck in a casting call…
“Baghead” is a pretty big departure for you guys as Mark, you’re not in the film and you’ve been in all the other Duplass Brothers films. Why did you decide to stay behind the camera?
Mark: I almost played one of the parts, but I’ve been in a lot of our movies and didn’t want to come off as “look how cute I am! I’m in EVERY movie!” Plus, we thought it was better if the dudes in “Baghead” were a little older. After all, this is a movie about desperate actors trying to achieve glory before they go off to the glue factory. Clearly I’m too young and hot to pull that off. Especially when I successfully hide my receding hairline.
One of the many things I love about your films is the way you guys portray people who have strong feelings or issues with each other, but keep those feelings below the surface. Rather than come right out and say what’s on their minds, they say nothing and let it fester. But the feelings are so strong they dictate attitudes and actions in the scenes and eventually reach a boiling point, much like real life.
Can you talk about that? Like, do you tell the actors what to think and have them play the scene or role with those thoughts in mind? Are you guys extra sensitive to that aspect of real life and do you find yourselves constantly playing psychoanalyst when dealing with people?
Jay: We really don’t tell our actors much. We make sure we cast people who understand what we do and understand the role, and then we let them go. There’s some inevitable improvisation on our sets, and that’s how we get the little passive-aggressive subtleties out of them. But, they tend to lead us more than we lead them.
Mark: Yeah, we’re basically just obsessed with the core problems of white, middle-class, privileged human beings who, with a lack of big life problems, obsess over their relationships because they have nothing better to do. I guess on paper these kinds of people sound a bit crappy, but we love them.
“The Puffy Chair” was a bit of a hit and that was awesome! After having that experience, was it difficult to get back to work or figure out what to do next? For instance I read some articles and blogs that said you guys were taking a lot of Hollywood meetings and were being offered other peoples projects and whatnot but ultimately decided to do “Baghead” as your follow up. Was their talk of some “bigger” films? What made you decide to keep doing your own thing?
Jay: We actually have a mix of studio films and smaller films in the works right now. So far, all of them are really “our thing.” We’ve been pretty strict about retaining our small family/friend set aesthetic and about holding onto creative control.
Mark: When we moved to LA, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t make a shitty movie just for the paycheck. It was hard, and we were offered some pretty big things, but when we wrote “Baghead” we knew it was the perfect next step. While it does have some of the feel and look of one of the mumblecore movies, we placed this thing inside of a genre that can take to a much larger audience.
“Baghead” marks a return to Austin, TX for you guys. Was this done in order to show the Zellner Brothers who the true number one brothers of Austin cinema are? But seriously, what made you guys return to Austin?
Jay: I’m obsessed with Austin and think about moving back all the time. Any chance to spend time there I’m gonna take.
Mark: Also, we have a lot of friends and a big support network for independent filmmaking there. And, you can shoot in the woods for cheap.
I notice you guys have already listed your next film at IMDB. Can you tell us what “The Do-Deca Pentathalon” is about and when you plan on getting started with it?
Mark: 25 events. 2 brothers. 1 winner. Based on a true story. Seriously.
Jay: This is our chance to show people what it’s really like to be brothers like us.
I always like to ask successful indie filmmakers for advice for up and comers. I can’t think of anyone better to ask advice on making your film and getting it out there than you guys as you make the movies you want to make and they always find an audience. I mean, in the span of “The Puffy Chair” to “Baghead,” there’s been leaps and bounds of all these crazy internet, indie DVD and festival outlets for smaller films. What should people looking to get their voices heard and their visions seen focus on?
Jay: Just focus on making your movie. Please don’t put the cart before the horse. Make a ton of little cheap films until you make one that’s good.
Mark: Yeah, our answer is always “make a great movie.” You do that, and everything will take care of itself. (Easier said than done, of course… we’re still working on that one).