SXSW '05 Interview: 'The Puffy Chair' Filmmakers Mark & Jay Duplass

By Scott Weinberg
Posted 02/25/05 14:23:54

The 'Puffy Chair' Pitch: Josh has found a great present for his father's birthday: a puffy chair exactly like the one his dad used to have. He just has to pick it up from the eBay seller and drive it over for the big surprise, staying over at his brother's house on the way. Appeasing his neglected girlfriend Emily is not easy, so Josh makes her co-captain of the cruise, and inadvertently acquires another passenger, "Zen" younger brother Rhett. Soon the road trip turns into a comedic allegory of a new American condition--the modern phenomena of people over 30 who did not get past being 15, stuck in spirals of inane kiddy talk and video games. Afraid of commitment and promises, will the three bond in those strange adult ways you learned from your parents, or will they just continue in their immature relationships out of convenience?

"Puffy puffy puffy puffy puffy puffy puffy."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
Mark: We used to live in Austin, so we love SXSW and have been there a bunch. In terms of other festivals, we’ve played a good 40-50 festivals over the past few years with different shorts and now with our feature The Puffy Chair.

Jay: People know me… we’re kind of a big deal… we hang out with Robert Goulet on Sundays.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
Mark: Something like this. “A musician. No, wait, a filmmaker. No, a
writer. Does anybody have any pot?”

Jay: A Coen Brother or actually being Rocky Balboa, but only in Rocky 1.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
Mark: We’ve been doing it since we were very little…and then when we got HBO in the 80’s, it pretty much locked it up for me.

Jay: Mark has seen Convoy with Kris Kristofferson more than anyone else in the world, including the editor and the director of Convoy.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Mark: I now spend my days looking for cheap flights to Austin instead of writing the next brilliant script. It’s so easy to avoid the creative process with the minutia of daily life.

Jay: I’m doing the same thing. I spent a total of 5-6 man hours on my ticket. Problem is, my time is not yet worth money. So, it’s worth it so far.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
Mark: We made this film fast and cheap so we’d have something for Sundance this year. We barely got it in under the wire, submitting a rough cut. We just had our world premiere there in January and it was incredible.

Jay: Sad to say, but true… we made the film for Sundance. And it was totally worth it.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Mark: Jay and I brainstorm the idea and I write the early drafts. Then we bounce back and forth a bit, and then we shoot. The whole process was quick… about 9 months from the story idea to a final cut.

Jay: Then after the shoot, we have more of a documentary edit due to the massive footage we get from all the improvisation. Jay Deuby, another former Austinite, does the edit, and I freak out the whole time. Come to think of it, that’s the same process I have with you and the writing, Mark.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Mark: If you have a good story and good acting and direction, you’ll probably make a film that works. Other than that, you never know what’s going to happen, so make a lot of films and hope that one of them ends up being good.

Jay: I hate rushing. I hate it hate it hate it. I continually thought to myself throughout the process of making it… this is no way to make a film. Then we finished it and everyone likes it and now I think it’s totally worth it. You’ll probably hear me at the Q&A’s saying, “you just gotta make it and not worry so much, you know?”

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Mark: I watch a good 4-5 movies a week, so that didn’t change much. We just tried to focus on simple, true, funny stories that didn’t require a lot of money to make correctly. Probably don’t want to shoot The Aviator in the same style we shot The Puffy Chair.

Jay: Yep. I love Netflix so much and brag about it so much, I should get paid.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
Mark: That’s hard. I’d probably re-do Rambo III, but cast Will Ferrell as the lead. I think he’s got great dramatic potential, and that role is just so… meaty, you know?

Jay: Dude, that is so true. I would cast Paul Giamatti though, and have him substitute his Miles Raymond character for John Rambo. But then again, Mark’s instincts are funnier than mine.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
Mark: Would love to work with Paul Giamatti. Great actors in The Puffy Chair are (besides myself, of course) the two other leads: Kathryn Aselton and Rhett Wilkins. Couldn’t have made this film without them. Seriously.

Jay: Wurd.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
Mark: Festivals are all different. We tend to like the smaller ones, with fewer films, where you get a chance to meet other filmmakers. That’s the best part… that whole being at camp and making new friends thing.

Jay: Each festival is different, so if you get to play a few, then the experience rounds itself out. I like watching really good movies and then meeting the filmmakers and kissing their butts. I recently did that with Ira Sach’s 40 Shades of Blue.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
Mark: Ask my parents that question. They’ll tell you when I’ve made it.

Jay: Touché.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
Mark: Well, our actors contribute a ton to our films. They re-write a lot of dialogue, say things their own way, etc, that make our scripts look better than they are. Also, our editor Jay Deuby played a huge part in shaping The Puffy Chair. But, essentially, these movies are mostly made by Jay and me. We open our films with a title that says "The Duplass Brothers Present".

Jay: It’s true. We collaborate with only our friends and family at this point and they’re all really under “The Duplass Brothers” title. But Mark and I really share the burdens and the creative joys of our movies equally. It’s sort of a two for one deal, and I think we’re pretty lucky to have each other.


The Puffy Chair, starring Mark Duplass, Kathryn Aselton, Rhett Wilkins, Julie Fischer, Bari Hyman & Gerald Finnegan, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information, and be sure to check out the official The Puffy Chair website!.

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