Mark & Jay Duplass – Jeff, Who Lives at Home & The Do-Deca Pentathlon

April 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

With two films out this year, directors Mark and Jay Duplass continue to add to their unique independent filmmaking repertoire. After breaking onto the scene in 2005 with “The Puffy Chair,” the Duplass brothers have since etched out a formidable place for themselves in the film industry and have proven to be directors to keep a close eye on. Following another micro-budget project in 2008, the horror/comedy “Baghead,” Mark and Jay were given the opportunity to make their first studio film, the 2010 dark comedy “Cyrus,” which starred Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, and Marisa Tomei. Hill played the title character, an extremely dependent young man who butts heads with his mother’s new boyfriend.

This year, the Duplass brothers give movie audiences “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.” In “Jeff,” Jason Segel (“The Muppets”) stars as an apathetic man living in his mother’s basement who is waiting for a sign that will lead him to his true calling in life. In the smaller-budgeted “Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” Mark and Jay tell the story of two rival brothers who challenge each other to a 25-event Olympic showdown.

During an interview with me at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, Mark and Jay talked about their own sibling rivalry, which centers on the sport of ping-pong, and the intimate feeling they want all their films to have, no matter what the budget.

Both of your latest films, “Jeff Who Lives at Home” and “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” feature brothers who have some issues with each other they have to work out in different ways. Specifically in “Do-Deca,” there is some sibling rivalry. Can either of you admit when your brother is better at something than you are?

Mark Duplass: Oh, yeah. We’ve been through tons and tons of therapy and have no egos left at all. I’ll go ahead and rattle of a few things for you: Jay is more patient, elegant, and a better long-distance runner than me. He’s a much better editor than I am in general. When he’s improvising as a lead guitar player, his solos are more spiritual than mine. He’s better at…Wait, I don’t know if that’s true anymore. I was going to say you were better at portion control with your food than I am, but I think now I’m doing better than you on that front.

Jay Duplass: You’ve got that shit on lockdown, dude. I had to switch to eating food I don’t even enjoy. It’s portion control because I don’t enjoy what I eat anymore. You are far more evolved than me in the food category. I would just have to say Mark is infinitely better than me at compliments. That was wonderful, Mark! Thank you! What a great way to start an interview!

MD: Absolutely!

JD: My god. Well, even though people think I am the more spiritual and sensitive one, I think Mark just might be more spiritually evolved than me, which would probably be a surprise to our friends.

I read “Do-Deca” was actually shot before “Jeff” and even before your film last year, “Cyrus,” although most people won’t get to see it until later this year. When you revisit a film like this two years later, do you see how you’ve evolved as filmmakers?

MD: Yeah, it’s kind of like watching a video of yourself when you’re like 16 years old. You would immediately say, “Oh, my god, I was so different.” And then you’d see something else and you’d say, “Oh my god, I haven’t changed at all.” That’s the way we feel. “Do-Deca” is a shaggy, micro-budgeted movie with some actors who are also some of our best friends. It represents a time in our lives, like with “Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” when we were running around like maniacs with a camera trying to figure out what we were doing. While in some ways it’s rougher and less refined, the heart and the spirit and the tone of what we are doing is exactly the same.

What are your family reunions like, if you actually have them?

MD: A lot of ping-pong.

JD: Yeah, well, our parents live in Los Angeles near us now, so we get together a lot. And, yes, there is a lot of ping-pong. We’re an activity-based family. We like to do things. We don’t like just sitting around talking. There is definitely competition. When Mark and I were younger – before I left for college – when we were both in high school, we had these raucous two-on-two ping-pong competitions where my mom and I were on one side and Mark and my dad were on the other side. It was freakin’ epic. What would we play, like best two out of three every day after school?

MD: Some people remember McEnroe vs. Connors, but they had nothing on us.

Would your family consider the both of you the successful Duplasses?

MD: Well, that’s weird because we’ve never discussed that and we’ve never thought about it in any way, shape, or form. I know my parents were super proud of us. There were no industry connections for us growing up. We grew up in the suburbs and just found our way to filmmaking by making up the process. There is definitely this feeling like, “How the hell did we get to the point where we can make a studio movie?”

OK, so now what I’m going to do is name a competitive event and you tell me who would win. Arm wrestling?

MD: I would win.

Laser tag?

MD: Jay would win.

JD: Yeah, the problem is I will sacrifice my enjoyment of the event to win.

Skee-ball?

JD: Mark would win.

MD: Yeah, I would win that one.

I was going to ask about a game of midnight ping-pong, but I’m assuming it’s too close to call.

MD: Yeah, midnight ping-pong would be a toss up. I think that would probably be our closest event. Jay was clearly dominant in the early years. Then when Jay went to college, my dad and I got really good. When he came home, we would destroy him. Those were dark years for Jay. Then he joined forces with Susan Sarandon and her ping-pong club. Now, it’s a dead heat.

Speaking of Susan Sarandon, I really enjoyed “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” Would you consider it your most mature film to date?

MD: Interesting. We don’t know. I love all my children, but I love that one a little bit more.

JD: I think it’s definitely the one we’re most proud of.

In your last three films you’ve had similar types of male characters who go through life without much responsibility – almost like a grown-up kid. If these kinds of men existed in real life, which I’m sure they do, would you consider them losers? Do they need to get a life?

JD: No, we’re very much the opposite of that. I think we approach all of our characters with the ultimate love. In the case of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” what excites us about that story is that we’re taking a character who lives in his mom’s basement and smoke a lot of pot and has been judged by society about what kind of person he is, but we’re focused on a completely different side of the story. We introduce him as such, but 99 percent of the movie is spent on the other side of that character, which is usually neglected [in other movies]. It’s the heroic side of this person who is cautiously choosing not to go down the normal road in life and take the road less traveled and wait for what he feels is the grand design for his life. Mark and I see that as somewhat tragic, but also beautiful and exciting.

We’ve seen your films grow in production over the years. I’m wondering, is it easier to make a movie with more money to spend?

MD: It’s not quite that simple. I would say one challenge we face making bigger-budget films is doing big things but still making them feel intimate. We’re not trying to leave behind our small-budget roots. We’re trying to incorporate smaller, personal stories into bigger-budget filmmaking. In doing so, we want all these elements to shape the tone. It’s nice to have some money to throw at it, but we still have to curate it, creatively speaking.

Do you feel like there are different levels of independent filmmaking? If so, do you think those levels are dictated by the budget or the mindset of the filmmakers? I’m just wondering if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at someone who calls themselves an independent filmmaker that you feel doesn’t fall under that category.

JD: We don’t really obsess over categories and qualifications whether it’s with other people or with ourselves. We’re just super busy trying to make something that doesn’t suck, which we find very challenging. We feel like making movies is very hard and making good movies is almost impossible and takes 100 percent of our attention, love, care and effort. We did have a discussion one time with John C. Reilly, which I think we subconsciously go back to. What he said was that he’s been on $100,000 movies that have felt like the most controlled studio set you’ve ever been on, and he’s been on $100 million movies that have felt like someone making a film in their backyard because there is an element of freedom and chance. We’ve felt that, too, as we’ve been through the system. It really emanates from the mindset of the creators themselves.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)
Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)

As basement-dwelling stoner Jeff (Jason Segel) opens the film waxing philosophical, relating life to the film “Signs,” we know exactly what kind of person he is. He believes in fate; that everything happens for a reason; that there are no coincidences. Of course, at first we might think it’s the pot talking. But as the new Duplass brothers’ film “Jeff Who Lives At Home” progresses, we see that Jeff truly does believe in fate and audiences are taken on his journey to find whatever his destiny may be.

After he gets a call from a wrong number from someone looking for “Kevin,” Jeff curiously ventures out to run an errand for his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). When he sees someone on the bus named Kevin, he takes it as a sign from above and lets this mysterious name guide him throughout his day. Along the way, Jeff runs into his elusive brother Pat (Ed Helms) who is in the midst of a fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) over among other things, frivolous spending. Meanwhile at work, their mother Sharon is dealing with an online secret admirer who is showing a romantic interest in her.

Segel is the heart of the film, which is hardly unimaginable for anyone who has seen his fantastic performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Segel creates a character that is strangely vulnerable, but beyond that, a character that moviegoers will really want to see succeed. Helms’ character is the polar opposite of Jeff and a somewhat different turn for an actor who has spent a lot of his recent career doing goofy things in a totally different type of comedy. His chemistry with Segel is clearly evident, especially as a source of subtle wit. The Duplass brothers rely more on throwaway lines, facial expressions or strange situations for their laughs and Segel and Helms prove to be a great team for this brand of humor. Although it’s a smaller role, Greer is having a great last few months with solid dramatic turns in both “The Descendants” and now “Jeff.” Although there is nothing wrong with her performance, the B-story of Sarandon at work is the one storyline that seems a tad misplaced and disruptive to the flow of the film.

With the frequent documentary-style zooming in and out and heavily improvised dialogue, the Duplass brothers don’t stray far away from what they have become known for. It is a unique style that is likely to be polarizing and might come down to personal preference on whether or not it bothers the individual viewer. However, while their style remains unchanged, it is evident that with both “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” and with 2010’s “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers are maturing as filmmakers. While their debut “The Puffy Chair” is raw and emotionally powerful, their latter two films come off as more polished with bigger named actors and an obviously bigger budget. But even further, there is far more charm to their last two films, especially with this last contribution.

While the film does meander and take a while to develop, the final act of “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is blindsiding and beautiful as everything culminates in one fantastic sequence. It is a film that may not immediately connect with viewers, but those who stay with it may find themselves surprised as to just how much it grows on them. Perhaps what Jeff is experiencing throughout the film isn’t fate, but rather a random string of coincidences. But Segel brings such sincerity to the character that audiences are inclined to just let Jeff believe whatever he wants if it brings purpose to his life.

Mark & Jay Duplass – Cyrus

July 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

Known for helping pioneer what is referred today as the “mumblecore” sub-genre with their first two independent movies “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass move a little more into the mainstream with their third feature “Cyrus.”

Comedian Jonah Hill plays the title character, a 21-year-old man-child who tries to sabotage his mom’s (Marissa Tomei) relationship with the new man in her life (John C. Reilly).

During my interview with the Duplass brothers at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival in March, the two talked about working with more established actors and what happens when they actually disagree about something during production.

Was the experience different working with more established actors?

Jay Duplass: The hardest part is their schedules. (Laughs) That’s basically it.

Mark Duplass: Yeah, they’re busy.

JD: Yeah, they’re really busy human beings. But honestly, working with them personally, the one thing that we learned when we started dealing with really established actors is that they’re there for a reason. They’re really, really good at what they do. Mark and I were really blow away with what they bring to set on a daily basis.

What is your mind set like having to handle the relationship between Cyrus and his mom and how do make it awkward without going into that creepy tone?

MD: The way we make movies, a lot of stuff is open to interpretation for audiences. Some people look at “Cyrus” and think it’s vastly inappropriate. Some people look at it and think, “Hey, I can see that relationship. I have something similar.” And we love that about it. If you’re weird like those guys then you’ll feel like your home. If you’re a little less weird than them they’ll just be a little off and interesting to be with. Whatever you take is fine with us.

You’ve talked in the past about these 30-minute walks you take in the middle of production that freak out your producers. Can you tell me a bit more about those and is there always a conclusion or answer to them?

JD: Yeah, sometimes we don’t really have a full-blown conclusion but we always come back with something we’re gonna do whether or not that something that we feel is great or whatever. But the most important thing that Mark and I try to maintain is that we’ve added all these crew members to our process [and] we still want to just check in with each other and make sure that we’re connected about the piece of art that we’re making and what’s really happening in front of us because it’s so easy to just get caught up on the set and go with the flow on this massive beast that a film set is. We just want to make sure we’re staying true to the core elements, which are the characters, their relationships with one another, and how that story is unfolding.

What happens when you two disagree on one of these elements?

MD: We rarely disagree, honestly, but when we do it usually becomes obvious in the next five or 10 minutes that one of us is right. There is a very distinct lack of ego between us.

JD: It really all comes down to who’s more inspired about their particular idea. We may have a difference of ideas, but we’ll start talking it out and it becomes obvious at a certain point that somebody’s really on to something. It’s not necessarily that they’re even right or whatever, but it’s like that’s where the love is and that’s where we always go.

Would you ever think about doing separate projects, or is that blasphemy?

MD: That would be blasphemy, but more importantly our mother would cry.

I could see your two movies opening up on the same night and she’d have to make a decision on which one to go to.

MD: That would be terrible, yeah. But we do have our things that we do on the side. Jay makes little, small doc portraits and I do some acting stuff on the side, so that’s a good way to keep it healthy.

Cyrus

July 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marissa Tomei
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Baghead”)
Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Baghead”)

If anyone remembers Jonah Hill’s voluptuous role in the 2006 comedy “Grandma’s Boy,” it would be hard to imagine him playing a character any more attached to a teat (in this case literally) than he was for a majority of his screen time in that movie.

But in Jay and Mark Duplass’ “Cyrus,” Hill manages to do just that. Although he’s not hanging from a breast like a little piglet in this one, his awkward albeit loving fixation on his mother is more than enough to make even Sigmund Freud blush. In “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers give us a modern and hilarious take on the Oedipus complex analyzed in dark-comedy form. For the Duplasses, it’s the first mainstream-ish movie of their careers.

Taking the advice from his ex-girlfriend Jamie (Catherine Keener), borderline desperate John (John C. Reilly) decides it might be time to move on with his life after their breakup seven years ago. Revealing just how socially incompetent he is at a party, John is somehow charming enough to get the attention of Molly (Marissa Tomei) before the night ends despite his best attempts to be oafish and a bit creepy.

When John decides to surprise Molly by visiting her house, he is a bit shocked to learn that her sensitive 21-year-old son Cyrus (Hill) still lives at home and clings to his mother (also his best friend) like a jumbo-sized baby. Although John wants to cut the cord, Cyrus is unwilling to allow a new man to come into his mom’s life. To make sure he won’t take a backseat to his mom’s new love interest, Cyrus makes it his mission to sabotage their relationship until John concedes his place in the peculiar love triangle.

While the Duplass brothers stick to the “mumblecore” genre they helped pioneer with their first two films “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” the duo has a lot more to work with in “Cyrus.” The positive results of an increased budget and casting more established talent is evident with Reilly, Hill, and Tomei leading the way. The film, however, still comes down to the unique and talky narrative and odd characterizations the Duplasses are able to deliver.

Most impressive is how the Duplass brothers take their time with “Cyrus.” There is never a sense of eagerness most mainstream comedies of this nature have to get to the next gag or joke. Instead, it all flows without exaggeration, which is very effective especially with Reilly and Hill riffing off one another in perfect sync.

If you can handle the weird, incestuous atmosphere that lingers throughout, “Cyrus” is a must-see summer comedy that doesn’t fit the broad summer comedy mold by any means. The Duplasses have transitioned well into the big leagues and have done so, it seems, on what made them such a delight to begin with.

Baghead

September 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

Mark & Jay Duplass – Baghead

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

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.