The Duplass Brothers (Jay, 31 and Mark, 28) grew up in New Orleans, studied film in Austin and have been living in New York City for the last year. Their film The Puffy Chair premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival, screening in the American Spectrum section. We caught up with them after the fest to find out about their Sundance experience and what lay ahead. (Pictured, Mark, left and Jay, right)
For those who didn't make the trip out to Sundance this year, what is The Puffy Chair about?
Jay - It's about people in their late 20's searching for love, and a big purple Lazyboy.
Mark- It’s about brothers, too.
How autobiographical is the film?
J - Um, all of it in some way or another is autobiographical or biographical to our friends. I think relationships are hard, and things get sort of ridiculous. We exploit these hardships and use it to make people laugh.
M – Yep. Some of “the events and people portrayed in this film” and are not entirely fictitious.
Is the chair a metaphor for anything?
J - Yes... Please replace it with whatever you're desperately clinging to that makes you feel like there is a grand purpose in life.
M – No metaphor, just a big-ass chair.
The film has a great soundtrack, including songs by Death Cab for Cutie and Spoon. How did the music come together? How difficult was it to get clearance/approvals from the bands/labels?
J - this is all you, Mark.
M – Thank you, Jay. Well,...it’s hard. Hard to get clearances. I know some of these people from being in the indie-rock world… I was in a band called Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! and that helped some, but I worked hard to get these because we were in love with the songs and they fit so well.
You've had two short films at Sundance in the past, This is JOHN (Sundance 2003) and Scrabble (Sundance 2004). How did this year's experience of going with a feature differ from the other years? Are short filmmakers treated differently than feature filmmakers and if so, how?
J - We actually got into some parties this year, which was amazing, although we didn't get into as many as you'd imagine. And if we didn't have an agent and a publicist and a sales rep and a lawyer we still wouldn't have gotten into much. We did learn, however, that even the big parties are boring after a while. It turns out that there is no better substitute to watching Space Camp at the condo with your brother.
M – In general, Jay’s right. You never know what parties will be fun, and a lot of them are crowded and silly. We have to force ourselves to be social and meet people. Maybe we should have a party next year and invite people to our condo to watch Innerspace. I’d go to that one.
What's the craziest Q&A question you've ever fielded?
J - Well, This is JOHN is our short film about a man who tries to perfect the personal greeting of his answering machine and fails, breaking down emotionally. After one particular screening where people were laughing riotously, a woman stood up in protest, "Why are you all laughing? I thought it was horrible... It was just horrible what happened to him." Something obviously touched a nerve in her, and she did not think it was funny. We thought THAT was funny.
M – Someone asked me this year why I was in love with my girlfriend. I thought he was referencing my character in the film, but he corrected me… he was asking me, personally, why I loved MY girlfriend. Uh…
You have written/directed/starred in most of your projects to date. Would you consider developing/scripting a project that you would hand over to someone else?
J - Definitely. But we have yet to hand one over, so I'm not sure how that would feel. Also, we have yet to hand one over to someone who makes a bad film with it. That's when it starts to get scary. I guess that's why we make movies with each other and our girlfriends, best friends, and parents.
M – We do have 2 feature scripts at this point we’d consider selling to some funny, like-minded people.
What made you pursue film? Who are your inspirations? Your favorite films?
J - Mark and I have always loved movies. My first favorite was The Black Stallion and then later on Raising Arizona and the original Rocky. Cassevetes made us realize you can make movies with close-ups about people and their relationships and people will watch them (just a few people). And, I think our inspiration comes from the need to laugh at the ridiculous stuff we do, the stuff we go through and how over-seriously we take it.
M – You forgot to mention the film school years when we grew facial hair and condescended to our friends and family about the brilliance of the French New Wave. This is what film school can do to you if you're not careful. Beware.
You grew up in New Orleans, went to school in Austin and are now living in New York. Why the move to New York? Do you think you'll be staying for a while?
J - I always knew that I never wanted to move out to LA or NYC as part of the massive cattle droves that move out each year. I wanted to be sort of invited. That never happened. But after our first short film went to Sundance, we realized that about half of the Sundance filmmakers are from New York. If we wanted to keep up with them, continue to be friends with them, and step into a bigger game so to speak, it'd be better to move here. And it's turned out to be true. Our favorite filmmaker friends are New Yorkers, making movies about people and issues as opposed to those making movies because they want to try out a new jib arm.
M – I’m actually in LA right with our lead actor (and my girlfriend) Katie now because it’s really warm and our agents are out here helping us get work. Not sure where I’ll be by the end of this year.
How about the business end of things? William Morris is your agent, Susan Norget is the publicist for the film and Cinetic Media is your sales rep. What was the process like of forging these relationships? What roles do these outside entities play?
J - The coolest part about all of them is that they all basically came to us. In the film business you get cynical after a while and you start to think that it's all a crap shoot. But in reality, when we finally made what we considered to be our first really good short film, our agent and lawyer saw it, and signed us. Then when we made what we considered to be our first really good feature, Cinetic and Susan Norget came on board. I think it's pretty inspirational in a way. If you make something good that resonates with people, I really do believe that it will make its way out into the world and succeed.
M –We decided to make this movie on our own, our own way, with very little money. Not always what an agent or lawyer or sales rep wants to hear. But all of them have been great in supporting the film. We're lucky.
You also have a short that is premiering at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, titled The Intervention. What's it like to have two different films on the festival circuit at once?
J - It's a little weird. I think The Intervention takes a back seat due to the fact that once programmers see The Puffy Chair, if they like it, they don't necessarily need two films in the festival by the Duplass Brothers. But The Intervention is going to premier at Berlin, which is amazing and new for us. Also, in terms of deliverables, which is a big part of going to film festivals, it's a great consolidation of effort. We prepped The Intervention for its premier at Berlin in about 4 days. Normally it takes us a few weeks at least, but since we were in such good "conditioning" from prepping Puffy for Sundance, it went really fast.
M – Jay’s right, The Intervention definitely got the back seat. But Berlin will be amazing.
You've studied filmmaking and acting in school. Would you recommend film school to others? What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned?
J - I would not recommend school unless you have a lot of money and desperately need a safe place to practice your craft. But regardless, one has to eventually enter the real world and learn to create things consistently in the face of debt and chores and bad relationships. The most valuable lesson for me is one that Mark taught me, which I think he appropriated from his former career as an indie rock musician... Just keep making stuff. It is really hard to make a good movie. We all know this, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to keep messing up and keep making stuff. That's why digital is so great... you can mess up and it doesn't cost you your house, or your parents' house in our case.
M – I’m not opposed to film school. Just find a cheap one and learn all the basic tools, then when you know how to shoot and edit and stay on the axis, drop out and make your own films. Otherwise, they’ll be grading you on what they think is a good film. That’s weird.
What are your aspirations? When will you know you've "made it"?
J - I'll know I've made it when my dad stops giving me money.
M – Ditto.
What's next for you?
J - to get rid of this post-Sundance strep throat and make another movie with my brother.
M – I’m pursuing acting and writing jobs in LA while Jay and I work up the next movie.