By their own estimate, the Duplass brothers’ debut feature, The Puffy Chair, came in at around $15,000. Their follow-up feature, Baghead, the story of two couples who spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods to write a script and wind up playing romantic games and head games with one another (often while wearing a brown paper bag over their head), is in the same ballpark.
This production model, as well as their semi-improvised approach and hyper-naturalist aesthetic, has propelled them to the head of a loose movement of microbudget filmmaking that has been slapped with the unfortunate title “Mumblecore.” It also gives a hilariously well-observed moment in the opening scene of Baghead, a film festival Q&A that kicks off with the familiar cliché of a query “What was your budget?,” a jab of satirical revenge. You just know that this question has dogged the Duplass brothers with nearly every appearance they’ve made with their films on the festival circuit.
My interview was published this week on GreenCine.
What is the fascination with making films about the uncomfortable awkwardness of human behavior in uncomfortable situations?
Jay: I don’t know. We’ve realized, after talking to press people about it, that Mark and I started having success when we started making movies about the private conversations we would have. We would go through this horrible thing with our girlfriends, or our wives now, or whatever, and I would call Mark and tell him about just how painful it is and we’d cringe and then we’d start laughing eventually. When we were first making films, we were basically making films that we thought we should make. But eventually with that breakthrough film about the answering machine, it was just so cringe-worthy and horrible but it was also hilarious and it had been the type of thing that we were always talking to each other about. It wasn’t until we tapped into that private, singular thing that we didn’t really think anyone would ever get, and they actually did get it when we at least did a decent job of putting it on screen, that we started having success. But it’s something we’ve always been obsessed with. It’s the vulnerabilities of people and the way they actually behave.
Mark: White, middle-class, privileged people need something to obsess about and that’s kind of it for us. I think the nature of our improvisation process – we have a hard time creating those moments. We don’t really get in there and craft them and say, “Oooh, let’s have this.” They just sort of happen because no one knows what to expect or what’s going to happen and there are awkward silences. We’re not creating those like dictators from the top and really crafting them. Our actors are doing it and we’re just capturing it and maybe guiding it along here and there to supplement those moments. They’re happening spontaneously. We’re just trying to create an environment where it can happen.
Jay: All we really care about is: chubby guy goes into a bedroom, there’s a really cute girl in there who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Mark: As long as we have that, we’re good to go. Give us an hour and we’ll get it.
And you don’t lead up to the traditional out punchline, get the laugh and get out of the scene, the way it might happen in an Adam Sandler movie, for instance.
Jay: No, we torture our audiences throughout, milk all the pain that we can get out of it.
Mark: Which is weird because we love those Adam Sandler movies. We love Dumb and Dumber. We love those movies. We just could never make that kind of thing. We’re not wired that way.
Read the complete interview here.