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Four Arms, Four Legs, One Brain: An Interview with the Duplass Brothers

Written by: Erica Goldberg, Special to CC2K


Image Jay and Mark Duplass have been making movies with their furniture since HBO first came to their town. Although their first firms never left the Duplass household, they made a name for themselves at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with The Puffy Chair. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jay and Mark after viewing their latest effort, Baghead, the horror-comedy about a man with a bag on his head. The brothers forgave me in advance for misattributing quotes because, not only did they finish each other’s sentences, but they sound identical on a tape recorder.

EG: Baghead contains all of the elements of a quintessential Indie film. How much of it is really just a parody of indie films, and how much is to be taken at face value?

MD: I think it was less of a parody of indie films, and more making fun of people like me and Jay who are trying to make indie films and cannot do that, which is kind of the experience Jay and I have had for the last 10 years. You see an indie film and are inspired by it, whether it’s good or not, and you get to that place where you think, “I want to do that so bad.” And what’s interesting is that we make a distinction where, you want to have made the art as opposed to want to make the art because you just want to be at the festival. The characters in Baghead are a reflection of worst and most desperate sides of us, which deserve making fun of but are also endearing and sweet. These characters display a level of ignorance and excitement that allows them to believe they can do something with so little skill sets.

 

EG: And you two accomplished their goal: you made a movie about a guy with a bag on his head.

JD: We’re definitely aware of the meta elements, but the last thing we want people to do is think about what kind of statements we’re trying to make. We’re not trying to make a statement. Having actors and writers as characters is a result of the fact that we’re just trying to make films about things we know intimately. The last movie we made, The Puffy Chair, was about people in their mid 20s trying to decide whether to get married or break up, and on any day, either option is viable. In our 20s, we definitely struggled trying to make movies like the characters in Baghead. It wasn’t until we stumbled into exploiting our own lives and experiences, those moments where you cringe and laugh at the same time, that people started responding to our movies.

 

EG: What are your favorite scenes or moments in Baghead?

JD: They get weirder and more specific the more we watch the movie. The things we like after watching Baghead 5700 times are these tiny, tiny things we like things that other people don’t notice. But when we were shooting the movie, the scene we got really excited about when was the scene where Chad goes to woo Michelle the first night in the cabin. That was one of those things where the first take was magic, and that scene perennially sticks with us as, “this is making our movie a lot better right now.”

 

EG: Do you see Baghead as primarily scary or funny?

JD: The movie has lots of different lives, whether playing in the afternoon or a crowded house at night.

MD: We’ve been amazed by how some audiences laugh through the whole movie and enjoy the comedy of it, and some audiences are just terrified, and it can be the same moments that create laughter or terror depending on ….

JD: the audience’s cinematic history, and what they know.

 

EG: Can you talk a little about working as brothers?

JD: It’s surprisingly easy. The way we make movies is very exploratory; we’re very hands on, trying to manipulate, change, improvise. We share the same taste, so we have the same idea of where the movie should be going. We’re like Siamese twins with four arms and four legs just trying to get the thing done.

MD: But I think it helps that we do have a different process of filming. The actors come first and the energy goes to them doing what they want to do, obviously in a structure moving towards the movie’s climax. We’re trying to capture the happy accident. Depending on the moods, certain special things can happen and we’re always looking for those little nuggets.

JD: Mark is a little more hard driving, and he maintains more momentum, and I am a little more sensitive and picky. We both recognize that in each other, but we appreciate it because we allow it to work in a system. I’m glad Mark is hard driving because I can get caught up in details too much. We’re pretty self aware of what we bring to the table, and we’re pretty psyched that it functions to make a good movie.

 

EG: To what do you attribute the incredible chemistry between the characters in Baghead?

JD: We hire sweet nice interesting people, who really want to be there because we’re making an indie film. There is a family atmosphere, and a shared love and interest.

MD: We obey an existing dynamic, notice how they’re behaving toward each other, and then we say, “that’s the key dynamic.” We focus on that and get the best stuff out of that.

JD: We’re very hands off until the lightning strikes. Then when it gets interesting, we get more crafty and direct the action more.

EG: How did you get into filmmaking?

JD: HBO came into our town and changed our lives in 1982. We were a movie-watching family, and we just loved them. Home video recorders started getting popular, so we could grab a camera and started making the blob with our bean bag chairs.

EG: So what’s your favorite movie?

MD: Probably, this little movie called Baghead, just touched me in a big way.

EG: So what’s next?

 

Jay: We just shot a movie in a similar vein of The Puffy Chair and Baghead in our hometown of New Orleans about two brothers who compete in their own Olympics that no one else in invited to. It’s modeled after two brothers we grew up with. Although it sounds like a sports movie, it comes down to the people and what their desire to compete does to them and their family. We’re still editing, so next year we’ll talk it to the festivals and try to sell it.

 

EG: And the editing is the longest process?

MD: Yeah, for us especially because we shoot documentary-style footage, so we have to sift and write as we’re editing. It’s always a process of reinvention.

Author: Erica Goldberg, Special to CC2K

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