Most filmmakers are happy doing a movie every two to three years, but Mark Duplass blows those lightweight expectations out of the water with no less than eight—yes, eight—films released this year.
In fact, he has three movies out right now, with some art house theaters playing all three at the same time. He’s the male lead in Your Sister’s Sister, and he’s the mysterious man in the middle in Safety Not Guaranteed. He’s also the co-writer, co-director and co-producer with his brother, Jay, on the new comedy The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, about two middle-aged brothers who recreate a boyhood Olympic competition to win the title of World Champion Brother. On top of that triple-threat accomplishment, the brothers also released the critically acclaimed Jeff, Who Lives at Home earlier this year.
Just learning how Duplass finds time and energy to keep up this pace would make for a compelling conversation. But add his take on the rich, moral themes laced in his films and how they’re connected to Catholic roots? We’re mesmerized.
Did you and Jay ever compete like the brothers do in Do-Deca?
We did not. The story was based on two brothers we grew up with. We always observed them and the hilarity that ensued. Jay said, “What if they did it again as fat adults and ruined a big family weekend?”
You write a lot about family dynamics. Why is that?
We’re not making statements on families. We just observe and explore. You can break up with or ditch a bad boyfriend or friend, but a bad brother or mom is going to keep showing up at Thanksgiving.
What’s the magic of a Duplass film?
What’s unique in our films is that we create the feel and tone of a doc[umentary] and put it inside a well-structured narrative about people you can relate to.
What’s the best advice you can give aspiring filmmakers?
Our biggest piece of advice is if you don’t know what you have to offer or your voice, go make a cheap movie with your friends every weekend. Once you find your voice—and it may take 10 years; it’s OK—you can move on to your first feature film. Do it too early, and it’s a painful failure—expensive and exhausting. Making films is very hard, and making good films is impossible. A movie is a monster that gobbles up your energy.
Jeff has a very strong spiritual side. How did you get that into a movie put out by Hollywood?
We were raised Catholic. I’m not sure if it had an effect on the film or not, in terms of Jeff’s belief in the universe and its plan for him. Characters who believe deeply are compelling to watch. I hadn’t made a movie like that yet. You think you know Jeff as the stoner who lives in Mom’s basement, but he’s not a slacker and has the utmost integrity. He’s suspended chasing life because he thinks the universe will deliver it to him.
What are you two up to now?
We’re writing five different movies right now—some for studios, some for us—and they range from $20,000 to $20 million budgets. I’m producing others, and I’ll be acting in the FX series The League. [We’re] maintaining our ethic of one foot in the Hollywood system and the other in the microbudget sphere, where nobody can mess with us.
Carl Kozlowski has been bringing the funny to the page and the stage for more than a decade.