You guys never really did say, "Hey, let's go to the cabin in the woods and we'll right a script," right?
Mark: No, but we definitely had a lot of those moments. It's weird, but we actually had - and I've never made this connection before - the first short film that we ever made that was good, which is probably seven years after we started making films at all, was in 2002. We had made a horrible, failed feature that no one had ever seen and no one will ever see, and we're sitting on our couch in Jay's living room and it was that Baghead moment. I said, "We're going to make a movie tomorrow morning. I don't know it's going to be. We're going to wake up, we're getting the camera and we're going to make a movie." And it was no less idiotic than any of the characters in Baghead but we lucked into it. We shot what become our first short. It was called This Is John, it was one 20-minute take of me trying to perfect my personal greeting on my answering machine. We cut it down to eight minutes and it was our first movie to get in to Sundance.
Jay: And this was before anybody was really making stuff legitimately on digital. It was before that Panasonic camera came out.
Mark: It was still just on a home video camera.
Jay: We were like, we don't have any film and we don't have a 16mm camera here, so we were questioning whether we could even do it. We decided to basically use our family camera, so to speak, and just capture it. It was like a giant accident that it even worked out for us.
Mark: So yeah, we have done that before and one time it worked. But most of the time… [laughs]
Was that how The Puffy Chair was written?
Mark: No. We had already made two shorts that had been to film festivals and we felt like we were getting our feet wet and we had haphazardly fallen into this aesthetic, since This Is John. It worked that way and we thought, "You know what? Why don't we just keep making movies like this, just picking up a camera and getting going, getting moving." At the time, we were just starting to spread into the studio world. They were taking interest in our shorts and we had been signed by the William Morris agency and they wanted us to take that step up and make a big feature, but we had heard all these horror stories about how sometimes it can take five years to get your cast together. We wrote The Puffy Chair in about three or four weeks and we knew that I could play that role, we knew that Katy [Aselton] could play the role and Rhett [Wilkins] could play the role, and we're just like, "You know what? Fuck it, let's just make this thing." We weren't sure it was the right decision at the time, but it turned out that it only took us nine months from the inception of the idea to when it premiered at Sundance. Whereas we could literally still be developing that thing in the studio system right now if we hadn't gone out and made it. Yeah, that was the right move.
Lynn Shelton told me how some her filmmaking friends have tried to go the Hollywood route and gotten stuck for years in development.
Jay: Oh yeah, and even if you don't go the Hollywood route. We have a lot of friends in the independent scene where you spend three or four years trying to raise the half a million dollars of so you think you need to make the movie. By the time you get that money, you're just sick of it.
Mark: You're a different person.
Jay: Five years later you don't even care about that movie anymore, you're just trying to win. You know what I mean? You're just trying to do it. And you'll direct the movie and it'll be okay but it won't be inspired and it won't go anywhere and you're probably not going to make another movie after that. So we're really big fans of make it cheap and make it fast and express what you're trying to express. Don't bog yourself down in trying to make it perfect.
Mark: Do it fast while you're inspired is the key. We were just talking to Linas Phillips (Walking to Werner) and David Blue last night about that. They're trying to make a movie right now and they want to do it in a certain time frame while they're still inspired and it's so true. You can lose that little spark and all of a sudden you get your funds together and you're like, "I don't like this movie anymore, I want to make something different."
How do you guys work out the filmmaking partnership? According to the credits, you write together, Mark produces and Jay directs.
Jay: We both direct, actually.
How does that actually work out in practice on the set?
Jay: We try to shoot it like a documentary…
Mark: Crude but simple.
Jay: … and we're both right there. I shoot and Mark booms and we basically share the same brain.
Mark: It depends on who ate enough breakfast that day and who is feeling confident. That's the person who leads. Sometimes, if there are a lot of actors, Jay and I will find that, for some reason, we'll have a different personality affinity with certain actors or we communicate a little bit better with them, so we'll end up, even subconsciously, kind of divvying up a little bit.
Jay: We usually direct our actors separately so that the other ones don't know what they're going to come up with the next time, and so we'll split up and direct people separately.
Mark: We haven't had to really discuss empirically what the process is. We've always kind of floated in to it and it's worked out pretty well. And if there's ever a disagreement, we will sometimes shoot scenes two ways. Choose your own adventure.
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