Surely, Mark and Jay Duplass must have fought as children (or, for that matter, now as adults). But you would not know it from listening to them talk about their work together. The brothers – former Austinites who act, write, direct and produce – appeared at South by Southwest Film on Saturday to talk about their tight bond, producing indie films in the Hollywood system, their growth as filmmakers and what they think about Austin.
When did they realize that their career paths would be more of a partnership? “I was about 7; Mark was about 4,” Jay (you might recognize him from his role on Amazon’s “Transparent”) said. “We genuinely always have been two bothers just trying to make something good. And it took us a long time to make something good. … And honestly I feel like we’re still two brothers trying to make something good.”
The brothers, who grew up in New Orleans, found their filmmaking role models in Austin.
“Jay moved here in ’91 to go to college, and I came soon after in ’95,” Mark (“The League,” “Togetherness”) said. “For those of you who’ve been here that long, or even not that long, it was a very different town. But the spirit has always been the same, of just like, ‘There’s Rodriguez, there’s Richard Linklater,’ and these guys are just wearing T-shirts and jeans and sneakers, and they’re normal guys making art.
“And that was so inspiring to us, because we grew up in New Orleans, and the artists there were were all 50-year-old black men and older jazz musicians. We’re like, ‘We’re probably not going to be able to be that.'”
“But we tried super hard,” Jay joked.
“The Duplass brothers just are not the Neville brothers; it’s just not going to happen.” Mark said. “I don’t look good in a tight fishnet shirt.”
A question from the audience led the brothers to reveal that during their time in Austin, one of their many ways to make money was by editing a documentary for Garden.com.
“At the time we were like, this is more money than we’ve ever seen!” Jay said.
“Jay and I walked away with like 60 grand of profit,” Mark said.
“After a year of nonstop work on a feature documentary, you and I both cleared $60,000 and thought we were rich,” Jay said.
“And then we blew it all,” Mark said
On keeping some creativity autonomy in Hollywood, Mark said: “We definitely have one foot in the system and one foot out of the system. … Our whole approach has always been, we will never make a movie for more money than we think we can make back even if the movie ends up being not great. That’s the key for us. … There is an immense creative freedom when you walk into a project” thinking like that.
But at the end of the day, the brothers truly do lean on each other.
“On ‘Togetherness,’ where we write all the episodes, we direct all the episodes, I’m on the show, Jay’s prepping like crazy while I’m acting, we’re just exhausted and overwhelmed,” Mark said. “So, we show up on set, for like an 8 a.m. call, and we look at each other and within a few seconds we immediately know who has it today and who kind of doesn’t. And that person tends to step forward a little bit and take the lead, so they may be doing more of the marching orders and organizing the cast, and the other person is kind of laying back and watching.
“And something great happens, which is that leadership person is using his positive energy and, you know, good sleep, to make the thing move forward, but the person laying back will catch all these things that the one with the marching orders won’t catch because he’s just too busy.”