Indie Directors Jay and Mark Duplass Find Peace in New Age of Filming
Jay and Mark Duplass are unusually upbeat for a pair of indie directors working today. The sibling helmers, who specialize in such DIY comedies as “Cyrus” and “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” are constantly fielding requests from film festivals to speak on doom-and-gloom panels about the dire state of the industry.
“Jay and I don’t share the prevailing opinion right now that indie film is fucked,” says 36-year-old Mark. “We sometimes feel like these guys in a post-apocalyptic world where there are hungry people complaining and bleeding outside, and Jay and I have set ourselves up in a nice little cave …”
“With an endless supply of chicken nuggets and pizza rolls,” adds Jay, who is exactly 39 months older.
These days, the metaphorical cave in question is Jay Duplass’ office, a modest shed behind his house in Eagle Rock, Calif., where he can write, rock or just plain relax. The two brothers sit on a couch beneath an enormous Italian poster for John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence,” the foreign title of which simply reads “Una moglie” — or, “A Wife,” a translation that makes Jay chuckle.
Cassavetes is just the sort of patron saint to inspire this duo, who had the good fortune of making their debut feature, 2005’s “The Puffy Chair,” at precisely the moment Panasonic DVX100 came out — the first camera to record decent 24-frame video, in their opinion. That breakthrough meant they could inexpensively produce their brand of intimate, improvisation-friendly comedies and get them seen via Netflix and other on-demand services. (They were early adopters of the format and have reached exponentially more fans that way than in theaters.)
The siblings followed “The Puffy Chair” with micro-budgeted “Baghead” and “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” as well as the slightly pricier “Cyrus” for Fox Searchlight and “Jeff” for Paramount. While that resume hasn’t exactly made them household names, the brothers aren’t nearly so obscure now that they play “the midwives” on “The Mindy Project.” Mark in particular does a fair amount of acting, appearing in “Your Sister’s Sister,” “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Zero Dark Thirty” last year. He recently wrapped a role as Melissa McCarthy’s love interest in “Tammy.”
Mark will also star in the Duplass brothers’ first stab at a TV series, “Togetherness,” which HBO greenlit earlier this month. The switch to television caught the siblings completely off guard. As a rule, Mark says, “We don’t break 90 (minutes),” but the “Togetherness” concept — in which a central couple, a sister and their best friend attempt to live under the same roof — was unique in that it simply didn’t end.
Somewhat sheepishly, they admit they hadn’t been paying much attention to what was happening on television. However, now that they both have young kids of their own and aren’t traveling the festival circuit so much, the brothers have started to appreciate how subtle some of the open-ending storytelling is on TV. And besides, their style — very personal with lots of closeups — lends itself to the smallscreen anyway.
“Mostly what you’re trying to do is provide a challenging narrative — that’s why you’re in independent film, because the mainstream doesn’t want to make it and you can’t get the money,” Mark says. “Oftentimes, for us, that involves challenging protagonists, people who have questionable moral behavior who are maybe more difficult to like in the first 10 minutes.”