Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (pictured above) have been making movies for a long time. After spending a ton of money and producing unsatisfying content, the Duplass boys were about to give up the dream and settle down into a nice corporate job. That is, until the night Mark decided they were not going to leave their apartment without making another film. For three dollars (cost of tape) and no screenplay, Jay used his parents' home video camera to capture Mark playing a character who can't seem to record a message for his answering machine. One 20-minute take later and the boys had completed their film. They called it, This is John. Little did they know, but this three-dollar short would define their careers.
All Josh (Mark Duplass) wanted to do was pick up the puffy chair he bought off e-bay and deliver it to his father for the old man's birthday. Throw in a volatile girlfriend (Kathryn Aselton), a bizarre brother (Rhett Wilkins) and a wacky road-trip and you have the premise for one of this summer's funniest films -- The Puffy Chair. Although The Puffy Chair has already been released in several markets, the film opens for the first time in New York City this Friday at the Angelika Film Center. The other night, I attended a screening of The Puffy Chair, hosted by those fabulous folks over at The L Magazine. Afterwards, I had a chance to sit down with the film's director, Jay Duplass, and pick his brain over a few pints of beer. While it was hard to ignore the awfully loud folks enjoying "Erotic Poetry Night" next door, Jay and I couldn't help but immerse ourselves in a conversation about his films, his career and his exciting future ...
Cinematical: Okay, so why The Puffy Chair? Where did the film come from?
Jay Duplass: If you knew our mom, you would know that a giant lay-z-boy would never be allowed in our household. We always dreamed about having lay-z-boys, but she never allowed it. My grandfather did have a sofa in the 80's and he had a phone built into it. So, he would call you just to tell you he was calling from the sofa. But the reality is [the film] was not about the chair, it was more about making a relationship movie. Needing a format and a venue in order to carry that relationship out. And that was, like, a road trip where [the main character] was delivering something to his father and we thought, the more absurd, the better. Ya know, it's really not about this chair, it's more about his relationship with this girl and them being at that point in their relationship where, ya know, it's sh*t or get off the pot time -- like we either need to get married or break up. We've come this far, we should know by now. And, I mean, for us -- my brother and I are co-creators -- and, ya know, we just think it's hilarious and tragic at the same time that you can be in a relationship and, one day, you're like, "This is it! This is the one. This is it!" And the next day you're like, "Who is this alien that is living with me? I need to get the f*ck out."
Cinematical: So, you and your brother work as a team throughout the entire process?
Jay Duplass: Yeah, we're just two brothers who make movies. I direct, mainly, because Mark acts in the movie and, ya know, I have the perspective ... it's more of a job I can do. He's a better writer than me and he does most of the writing. We've come to realize it's good that he sort of leads the writing. We story everything together and envision everything together from the beginning ... so it is a shared vision. When you're brothers and have the same sense of humor, the same brain -- it's amazing how fast it can go.
Cinematical: Now, the word 'dude' is used about a thousand times in this film. And the way it's used -- out of anger, frustration, love, sympathy -- I thought that was great. Was it done on purpose? Did you guys go in wanting to use this word several times throughout the film in an assortment of situations, or is this just the way you guys talk?
Duplass: That is partially the way we talk. We knew we were doing the "dude thing" going in. It went a little more of out control then we thought. I mean, once you start 'dude-in', you can't stop. Yeah, we love the use of words like that and how it can mean a million different things. It's like, when you call your girlfriend 'dude', it's almost like you're one of my homies. You're not just the girl I'm in love with and have sex with, you're one of my peeps.
Cinematical: [laughs] I call my wife 'dude' all the time! I know exactly what you mean.
Duplass: [laughs] Yes, but it can also go too far. You're in the wrong mood and you call your girlfriend 'dude', then it's not gonna go too well.
Cinematical: I've watched a bunch of your short films and, along with The Puffy Chair, I've noticed all of your films are about relationships. What is it about relationships that you guys really dig and want to continue exploring?
Duplass: We're pretty privileged people. Ya know, we're white, middle to upper-class guys. We don't have a lot of major problems ... we don't have hunger, or anything weird in our lives. In all honesty, it's just what we talk about -- our relationships. And trying to be good, trying to be true to yourself -- it's just what we're obsessed with. In terms of what we want to explore, I think, for us, when we look out into the world and watch movies, we find ourselves not believing the things people do and the things people say. Ya know, people usually go about things in a very passive-aggressive way. They're very secretive -- they use so many different types of strategies to get what they want. And I rarely see that in movies. The way that it's really done. And the way that people and couples really treat each other. So, we're just psyched to put that on film and glad we found a way to do it so that it's funny too.
Cinematical: Some of the arguments the characters have throughout seem so real, as if they had happened and you guys were just transcribing actual events. Did you tap into a lot of past experiences for the film?
Duplass: Yes. Absolutely. Direct lines, some word-for-word. Some from our lives, some from our friends' lives. It's like, you're in a relationship and you always think, 'My relationship is so f*cked up and twisted.' And then you start talking to your best friend to find out what's going on with him, and you realize, he's just as screwed up. Then you just start talking to more people and we found out everyone we know is doing this -- they're manipulating, just trying to pull it off. And so, we're just inspired to expose that. And also to validate ourselves, I guess. We didn't even know people would laugh or connect with it. So when we made it, we were like, let's just put ourselves up there and, hopefully, they'll like it.
Cinematical: Yeah, I think the reason people laugh so much is because they truly connect with these characters. I mean, from the opening scene, I related to this couple. I've had those conversations. So, once you see yourself up there, it becomes a fun ride -- almost therapeutic in a way.
Duplass: I like that a lot about it, that people are connecting in a way that you say. Because they just stick themselves right into it and then they assume everyone else is doing the same thing.
Cinematical: You just hit that spot in people. I love one of the lines towards the end of the film where Josh goes to his dad for relationship advice and the old man says, "You know everything you're gonna know about one another. And now, it seems as if you're just waiting for one really bad thing or one really good thing to happen in order to make a decision. And that's not going to happen."
Duplass: Yeah, that line is amazing -- our dad (who also plays Josh's dad in the film) came up with that on the spot. He improved that and everyone quotes that. That is the most quotable line from the film and we didn't even know it was gonna happen. And when he said that -- I was behind the camera -- and I was, like, oh my God, that's what I've been doing my whole life.
Cinematical: I find it fascinating that you and your brother created these films about very day-to-day things on extremely low budgets, only to find them garner so much attention. I love the fact that one of your shorts -- This is John -- was made for three dollars. On top of that, the thing went on to play Sundance and land you representation. How the f*ck does that happen?
Duplass: Well, we had been making really bad movies all through our 20's and we were just depressed, sitting in our apartment, thinking we're gonna have to quit because it was draining money and, well, we felt it just wasn't going to happen. We're obviously not cut out to make movies. And Mark, who is sort of like the bull and pusher in our relationship, gets up and is like, "Screw it, we're making a movie today. We're not leaving this apartment until we make a movie." All we had was our parents home video camera and, uh, I came up with this idea of a guy who tries to put back the personal greeting on his answering machine. So Mark said, "That's it!" He walked out the door -- we didn't write a script, we didn't do anything -- he came back in and tried to perform this scene. He ended up crying and falling to the ground -- it was all out of our own fears of desperation and being failures -- and it all happened in one take. It was the first time I was on set and felt I was capturing something unique and beautiful.
Cinematical: So was that your defining moment as a filmmaker?
Duplass: Oh yeah. Well, it wasn't actually when we made it, it was when we got the phone call from Sundance. And the guy told us, he was like, "We have short films submitted to us with budgets of over one million dollars. And your movie is my favorite movie this year." And I was done. I was hooked. I knew, at that moment, I would be making movies forever.
Cinematical: That's awesome. Now, I heard recently you and your brother signed a blind deal to write and direct a script for producers Mary Parent and Scott Stuber (The Break-Up, You, Me and Dupree). Can you tell us about that? Should we expect a big, commercial comedy from the Duplass brothers?
Duplass: Yeah, the reason we signed with them is because they were obsessed with The Puffy Chair. They loved it. And they not only loved it, but they got it. Ya know, a lot of people in Hollywood will tell you they love your movie, but when you talk in depth to people about why they love your movie, that's when you find out whether they really got it or not. And they really did. So we felt strongly about it -- we were interested in doing our types of stories, but putting famous people in them. So, we were really willing to take chance ... plus, we wanted to make some money. I mean, I'm 33 and still haven't made a dime from anything I've created.
Cinematical: Do you guys know what the script is going to be about? Have you started writing it yet?
Duplass: It's probably gonna be a movie about brothers who, um, love each other, but have this deep need to dominate each other in whatever it is. So ... sh*t we know about.
Cinematical: Is Mark going to act in it?
Cinematical: Are they talking to those actors?
Duplass: Yeah, I mean they've talked about "socializing" us with them. So we're starting to hang out in Hollywood and come into this totally new world. I'm big on trying to convince people not to spend a lot of time talking to companies -- just make stuff. Ya know, just make stuff.
Cinematical: That was actually going to be my next question: We have a lot of aspiring filmmakers who read Cinematical. What kind of advice would you give someone who didn't have the funds, but wanted to make a film and get it in front of a lot of people?
Duplass: I mean, just keep making stuff. Make digital films. You can make a digital feature for under a thousand dollars if you do it in your house, in your car or at your job ... if they let you shoot there. Use your friends too. This is the toughest thing, but afford yourself the opportunity to f*ck up. Filmmaking is a very complex form -- ya know, acting, lighting, screenwriting, storytelling, music, editing -- all these things have to come together. If your first movie is great, you probably lucked out and you're gonna get knocked on your ass. Everyone I know who is having success in film right now is there because of persistence. Not persistence in terms of fighting for your vision -- we're flexible with our vision. However, what we're not flexible about is not making movies. That's what you need to be pursuing. A lot of filmmakers get caught up in the idea of fighting this war. Why fight a war -- make something good.
Cinematical: Well, in my opinion, you definitely made something good. Now, for my last question, I usually like to ask filmmakers and actors the same thing: Why should people go see (insert The Puffy Chair here)?
Duplass: Because we had a microphone in your apartment and we know what the last fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend was ... and you need to go see yourself on screen. Oh, also, you have my personal guarantee that, if you go to see The Puffy Chair, all of your wildest dreams will come true.
**Pictured above: Yours truly with Jay Duplass