Before becoming Hollywood’s ultimate multi-hyphenates, producers/directors/writers/actors Mark and Jay Duplass were just two brothers living out The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on the film festival circuit. (Only in their version, they Fed Exed camera equipment back and forth between broke filmmaker friends, not magic jeans.) Now, the pair—who has since produced films like The Skeleton Twins and Tangerine and who write and produce HBO’s Togetherness—has eight to ten movies in active development, 20 more films that they’re “circling,” and another ten TV shows on the table. “We’re just two dudes making stuff,” Jay said last night at a Writers Guild Foundation panel. “Everyone wants to know how we do it. We just don’t get involved in anything that’s not going to happen.” The faces of 100 eager (read: struggling) writers in the room screamed what their mouths did not: easier said than done, you lucky sons of…
One silver lining for the up-and-comers in the room? Luck had nothing to do with the Duplasses’ success. The siblings “don’t get involved in anything that’s not going to happen” because they have made a habit of being their own best advocates. They’ve never waited on studios or financial backers to bring their ideas to life; instead they operate under the ethos that their work will get made with or without help, as evidenced by their $15,000 debut feature, 2005’s The Puffy Chair. The movie made waves, so the pair picked up and moved from New York to L.A. (“We learned that the film industry is not in New York, despite what people from New York think”), where they took meetings with studios looking to mine their talent for capturing naturalistic relationships. They would present a low-budget, Puffy Chair-esque script only to hear executives knock its lack of commercial elements. The speech went something like, “Here at such-and-such pictures, we don’t make good movies,” as Jay put it. Instead of bending to the will of the Industry, they bowed out of films that weren’t a fit and continued making critically acclaimed indie movies, which eventually allowed them to pursue bigger projects on their own terms.
The novel idea of letting their strengths dictate their career paths has contributed to a meteoric rise, if only because they have creative autonomy over their content. Last night’s moderator asked the Duplasses what they would do if they were approached by Marvel or DC to make a film. “We have been,” Mark answered. “We said no. The thing that happens when you sign on to a $180 million movie is that the movie is not a movie. It’s a commodity. We’re not in that business.”
“It’s very easy to blow people’s minds in Hollywood,” added Jay. “Just say no. Now, if it were Batman and Robin as a 98 percent relationship drama in the Bat Cave…I would bet that’s 12,000 people’s favorite movie.”
Keeping relationship drama at the fore, the brothers are wrapping up production on season two of Togetherness, which is set to premiere February 21 on HBO, and are already at work writing season three with co-star Steve Zissis and “one to two smart, veteran female staff writers who can help us write the female characters.” On top of that, they have their own side pursuits, which for Jay includes playing Josh Pfefferman on Amazon’s hit series Transparent. It was a plum opportunity, but accepting the role took some coercion—mostly because he felt bad pursuing something apart from Mark. Mark took the liberty of confessing that he cheats on Jay all the time. “I told him, ‘I have been having affairs on our relationship by acting in other people’s projects,’ ” Mark said. “Go fuck somebody else.”
And that, perhaps, is why the Duplasses have become so prolific. Each is a key component in the other’s success, regardless of whether their ventures are separate or joint. “You could spend $50,000 on a publicist,” Jay said, “or you could be brothers.”