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Articles

In The Puffy Chair with the Duplass Brothers
By Thomas Logoreci
June 2, 2006 - 12:43 AM PDT


"That three-dollar film just changed everything."

Hailed by Ray Carney (Cassavetes on Cassavetes) as "one of the best American movies of the last ten years," The Puffy Chair is the first digital feature from the Louisiana-born Duplass Brothers. Siblings Jay, 33, (director, cameraman) and Mark, 29, first attracted considerable attention in indie circles with their Sundance shorts This is John (2003) and Scrapple (2004). Their most recent short, The Intervention (2005) went on to win the Silver Lion at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The complex and extremely funny Puffy Chair follows a commitment-phobic, down-on-his-luck rock promoter, Josh Sagers (Mark Duplass) crossing several states to deliver a giant purple Lazy-y Boy recliner for his dad's birthday. Travelling with him are his spaced out brother (Rhett Wilkens) and Mark Duplass's real-life fiancee (Kathryn Aselton).

Interviewing the Duplass Brothers is a little like tag-team conversation. Frequently Jay would finish the thought or sentence of Mark and vice versa. After spending much of our allotted time gossiping about Don Simpson and J.T. Leroy, we got down to discussing nervous breakdowns, the three-act structure and capturing the minutia of middle-class white people.

Mark and Jay Duplass.

So there's not a lot written about your early struggling years as filmmakers in Austin. Tell me a little bit about how you guys got started.

Jay Duplass: Basically, what happened with us is that we spent our twenties making movies. At that time, when we were in film school, in the early and mid-90s, we tried to be the Coen brothers. That's what you did back then. [Laughter] We spent all our time trying to emulate other filmmakers and their styles. We made shitty movies and we constantly failed.

How many short films did you make back then that you won't let see the light of day?

Mark Duplass: Jay made a bunch of shorts in film school. I also made a couple. In total, I think it was like two and a half features and a couple of shorts.

Jay: They suck.

Mark: And no one has seen them.

Jay: I think we spent over $100,000.

This is crazy. All the press makes it seem like you made your reputation on several shorts and that Puffy Chair is your first feature.

Mark: We don't tell a lot of people.

Jay: We need people in Hollywood to think that when we go to the bathroom and take a shit, a great movie comes out. It's interesting because we sort of had our own breakdown and almost didn't recover. And then in 2003, we made the short film, This is John, which is basically about a guy who is trying to perfect his answering machine message and then fails to do so and has his own nervous breakdown. That just came out of us hanging out in our apartment, depressed and miserable, and Mark said, "We gotta make something now." We had a home video camera, and literally, the price of the film was the three-dollar tape.

Mark: It was all a single 20-minute take.

Jay: A 20-minute take that we cut down to seven minutes.

So you made the film the same day you came up with the idea?

Jay: The whole thing happened within two hours. It was done.

Mark: We stole his roommate's corporate computer programmer wardrobe. I parted my hair the other way, and basically, I was like, "I'm coming in the kitchen door, start shooting it." That was it.

Jay: Yeah, that was it. And then we went to Sundance and got an agent. That three-dollar film just changed everything.

Mark: It gave us confidence.

Jay: But the truth is that it was totally influenced by nothing other than our own personal fear and terror of being a failure.

Mark: And knowing that we could not afford to make another expensive bad movie.

Jay: So that's how our ethic came about, by accident. Mark was just doing it because he was there, and I was shooting 'cause no one else was there. It just sort of worked. And then, since we understood this, we made a more complex short film [Scrapple] and then another [The Intervention].

Mark: "More complex," as in there was a script and there were two people in it.

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Index
"That three-dollar film just changed everything."
"We will never make a movie that we know we can't make well."

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Thomas Logoreci
Filmmaker and writer, producer and editor, occasional cameraman and performer Thomas Logoreci is primarily known for his work with Caveh Zahedi, though he's also worked with the likes of Jay Rosenblatt and many others.

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