Starring: Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig
Directed by: Mark and Jay Duplass (“The Puffy Chair”)
Written by: Mark and Jay Duplass (“The Puffy Chair”)
If you want to see a couple of independent filmmakers that are doing it right, look no further than New Orleans’ own Mark and Jay Duplass. Maybe they’re not as well known as other brotherly filmmaking tandems like the Coens, Farrellys or Wachowskies, but the Duplasses, with their new film “Baghead,” have wiggled their way in to play with the big boys and refuse to let something as trivial as a budget get in the way of creating interesting characters and impressive dialogue.
Label it “mumblecore” (term describing a low-budget film with an improvised script focusing on personal relationships and delivered by non-professional actors) if you want, “Baghead” is original and refreshingly geeky.
In “Baghead,” four actor friends, who can’t seem to get a break in the industry, decide the easiest way to star in a film is if they make it themselves. To focus on writing their screenplay, Matt (Ross Partridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Michelle (Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), set off to spend the weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods so they can concentrate on nothing but the script.
Although they start with bagfuls of determination, everyone – except Matt – sort of forgets the real reason they went to the cabin in the first place. No one really has any good ideas about what to write their movie about, and teddy bearish Chad is more interested in flirting with Michelle, who he knows is way out of his league.
The dormant writing process get a bit more exciting for the fearsome foursome when Michelle swears she sees someone lurking outside the cabin with a paper bag over his head. Apparently, safety isn’t nearly as important to Matt, who is easily inspired by what Michelle has supposedly seen and decides to write a horror movie based on her vision. It doesn’t take long before eerie things begin to happen around the camp as friendships are tested, relationships stay unresolved, and filmmaking failures slowly get the best of everyone.
Highlighting the pretentiousness of amateur filmmakers, “Baghead” is a parody like no other. The Brothers Duplass are never afraid to poke fun of themselves and, in my opinion, the entire independent filmmaking industry, which has definitely been begging for an affective shake up from a couple of ordinary guys with clever ideas, a handheld video camera, and nothing to lose.
Filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass will be the first to admit they were making some pretty bad movies at the beginning of their careers.
But with the success of their short film “The Puffy Chair” in 2005, the duo have been launched into cult status and are now in the middle of introducing their most accessible film to date.
In “Baghead,” the Duplasses tell the story of four small-time actors who stay at a cabin for the weekend where they plan to write a script for a movie. When they finally start to write a screenplay about a killer who wears a paper bag on his head, the foursome begins to see strange things in the woods and wonder if they have actually written themselves into their own horror movie.
During a phone interview with me, the Brothers Duplass talked about their new film and what it is like to be an independent filmmaker trying to get noticed in the ever-changing independent film industry.
While making “Baghead,” you must be getting worried when films like “The Orphanage” and “The Strangers” (two movies where characters also have bags over their heads) start hitting theaters before “Baghead” has wrapped.
Mark Duplass: Yeah, we quickly realized that as brilliant as we think we are, we’re not the first to come up with the concept of putting a bag over your head. We thought that might help our movie because they certainly are very different. It’s a different version of the-bag-on-the-head-thing that will make it fresh.
As independent filmmakers, do you think anyone with a good idea for a movie can simply pick up a camera and become famous?
MD: We don’t think so because we certainly don’t feel like we were overnight successes. It’s our opinion that it took us about 10 years to make anything worth watching. The overnight successes people talk about are cancelled by the pile of bad shit in their closet that they haven’t shown anyone. While we would love to support that notion of “pick up a camera, get together with your friends, and make a movie,” but we don’t believe in.
Have you run into filmmakers like “Baghead” characters Matt and Chad – two guys who talk a big game but don’t deliver?
Jay Duplass: Absolutely. The first two people we ran across were ourselves. We were totally desperate. We’ve spent a lot of time in the independent film circuit with desperate filmmakers and desperate actors. They’re a group of annoying people, but it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with them.
Do you think any independent filmmakers will take offense to some of the things you say about indie filmmakers overall?
MD: We’re not trying to make a statement about filmmakers or anything like that. First and foremost, it’s a way to poke fun at ourselves. “Baghead” is not a satire of other filmmakers or a statement to say, “Go finish your movie!” We know this impulse of trying to be famous and how funny and desperate the situation can be once you put it under a microscope.
What do you think about how the indie film scene has been changing over the years? It used to be that you could make an indie film for a few thousand dollars. I don’t think you can do that anymore when films like “Ocean’s 13” are premiering at Cannes.
JD: That definitely a concern in general. But we really can’t control it so thinking about it and obsessing about it doesn’t really help the cause. The only thing we can do in the end is make the best possible movie we can make and hopefully we won’t get edged out. We’re pretty confident that if we make a good movie, it will get out into the world. That the big lesson we’ve learned. That’s what we want to tell all independent filmmakers out there: make a good movie and the rest will follow.