The writer/director/brother team takes us inside their creative process and tells us what they're working on next
Mark and Jay Duplass are a brother/directing team that is heavily in demand. Gaining a lot of attention for their critically acclaimed film The Puffy Chair, these two seem to have catapulted themselves to that elusive next level.
The Puffy Chair follows Josh. He has failed at being a NYC indie rocker. He has failed at being a booking agent. Josh's life is pretty much in the toilet. When he tries to figure out where it all went wrong he comes up with an idea that would be a small, yet life changing victory. He decides to purchase a 1985 Lazy Boy on eBay, just like the one from his childhood living room, and deliver it cross-country to his father as a surprise birthday gift. Things immediately get complicated when his girlfriend Emily wants to come. Especially when she wants to have the "where we stand" in their relationship conversation... When his pseudo-granola brother, Rhett, begs to join them on their adventure it quickly becomes three very different people and a giant purple puffy chair in a too-small van... and one of them has to go before the trip's end.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with the Brothers Duplass and talk about how they made this film and how it's changed their lives.
What do you guys think is the key to making a successful creative brother team?
Mark Duplass: Therapy.
Jay Duplass: I don't know. We've never been asked this question before, but I like that. I think it's just luck. We get along and we always did creative stuff together.
Mark Duplass: There's also an element of just like, I think people get along creatively a lot, but then they burn it out in like a year and a half because they're not dealing with the sensitive issues that go on between people. Jay and I, in a creative session that lasts four hours, spend two, to two and a half of that talking about how our creative sessions are going. That's helpful.
How did you guys up with the idea for The Puffy Chair?
Mark Duplass: We were at Sundance in 2004 with a short called Scrapple. We were also there in 2003 with another short and the features were amazing in 2003. It was very intimidating. In 2004, we felt like they weren't quite as good and that kind of gave us the confidence to break out of the short form and try and make one. The real impetus was, it was January 2004 and we said, "We want to have a feature in Sundance in 2005." We knew we didn't want to wait around to try and finance something, to take three of four years to find the right star, we just said, "Lets put this thing together fast."
It was very much the available materials approach to filmmaking. I was playing in this indie rock band, Jay was really good friends with Rhett, one of our lead actors, and we kind of pooled together all of our resources in one of our creative sessions and it all just kind of came together.
What's the creative process like for the two of you? How do you work together as a writer/director team?
Jay Duplass: I think it kind of changes on every project. We definitely don't have any lines of demarcation. Honestly, all the jobs that we do spill over into each other.
Mark Duplass: The only things that are separate is that Jay is the shooter. I never shoot. Then me as an actor, that doesn't really spill over. Otherwise, the writing, the directing, the editing, the conceiving of things, it's all pretty shared. We are noticing a trend where I tend to focus a little bit more on the front end of the movie. Jay and I conceptualize the movie together, I'll do a bulk of the early writing, and Jay comes back as quality control over that. I tend to have a lot of lot of ideas, some of them are bad, some of them are good and then Jay kind of fixes them.
The middle of the movie, while we're making it, is pretty much no holds barred, two guys making a movie. On the back end of the movie Jay tends to handle more of that, in terms of the editing and the out of control stuff. The thing we kind of call each other is I'm the bull and Jay's the breaks.
Due to the performance nature of the film would you say that casting is everything? Also, had it always been determined that Mark was going to star in it?
Mark Duplass: Yeah, we wrote the roles for me, we wrote the roles for Katy who is my wife, and we wrote the role for Rhett. We're kind of making some bigger movies now, and casting is still essential. You are absolutely right about that. For us, performance is everything. If we can get great actors in there who like us, and we really like, we feel pretty confident that we can make a movie work.
Jay Duplass: On The Puffy Chair casting was so important that we didn't even hold a casting session basically, for the main roles.
Mark Duplass: We just wrote them for them and once again that's the available materials thing. We find if it's possible having your actor in mind while you're writing for them, you're writing for their strengths and their weaknesses the whole time. That avoids a lot of pit falls.
Was there a lot of improv on the set?
Jay Duplass: We definitely do a ton of improv but we don't really improvise the story so much, because it's like we get into each scene and we allow the actors to do whatever they need to do or say to accomplish the goals that they want to accomplish. It's sort of like the value of each scene. It's basically preconceived but the way that it goes down, we try and leave as much as possible to chance. We do a lot things technically, in order to help that along. One of the things is we shoot our movies in shooting sequence as much as possible. It's just easier, you know? It's basically like the actors wake up the next morning, they know what happened last night and they just go about what they need to do the next day. It allows you to not have to think about things so much, and just get into the moment of creating.
Another thing that we don't do on set is that we don't do setups. That's pretty obvious from watching the movie. We don't do seven takes of this person turning and swiveling and saying this line. We set up the scene, most of our scenes are substantially sized scenes, maybe like 3 to 6 minutes, and the actors go about doing what it is that they need to do. We sort of prelight the scene in a very unobtrusive way. So that the actors can run around and I can run around like a documentary filmmaker and capture it as it's happening. Once we start to see what is really happening, then we can start to nudge it in whatever direction it might be more interesting or more provocative.
You mentioned working on bigger movies now, are you going to still try and utilize this looser style of directing?
Mark Duplass: That's the goal. We haven't gotten that far along in the process, we've been hired to write and direct two bigger movies that we've written. We haven't gotten to the directing phase of them. Everyone seems really supportive of our style so far and Jay and I feel that as long as we can get really good actors, and we're allowed the ability to improvise, that's the core of what has been successful for us and what we like doing.
We're also going to continue to make very little movies. We just shot a movie called Baghead that's very much in the spirit of The Puffy Chair. We like doing all kinds of different projects.
What do you guys have coming up next?
Mark Duplass:Baghead the movie I just mentioned. It will probably be ready some time early next year. Then we're making a movie with Fox Searchlight, it's an Untitled movie at the moment but we're really excited about that. We're making an in-depth, brother's study movie at Universal and then we have a TV show in development that we're producing with another company. Then, there's a couple of little movies that Jay and I are just individually working on, the goal being if the things that we're working on and the machine of the studio system bogs down, we always want to have a little Puffy Chair sized movie that we can go out and make, and feel creative and not feel like we're being stifled.
The Puffy Chair comes to DVD on January 23 from Genius Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Puffy Chair