Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Living The Dream - What's It All About?

I met the Duplass brothers when they lived in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), NY, in October 2003, my first year in the city, while in pre-production for my first feature, Beautiful Things. I placed an ad on requesting cheap or free production equipment for my then upcoming film shoot. I got several responses to my ad, including one from Jay Duplass, informing that they had equipment I could use, specifically a complete set of lights, gels, filters, a boom pole, microphone with acccesories, and a tripod.

Some days and a few email exchanges later, I made the trip to their apartment in Williamsburg, met them both, and picked up the tools. I learned that they were also struggling filmmakers, having made just 2 short films at the time, with both playing at the Sundance film festival in back-to-back years, 2003 and 2004. They gave me DVDs of both shorts (This is John and Scrapple), which I would later watch and enjoy. I appreciated the simplicity of their production style which very much mimicked mine.

I was surprised at how willing they were to hand over their equipment to me, given that they didn't know me at all, other than the little they gathered from the few emails we exchanged. And, even more refreshing was that they weren't renting the equipment to me, but rather were lending it all to me, thus no money changed hands. The only request I remember Jay making was that I use the equipment with care, and of course, return everything when I was done! No problemo!

I left their apartment with a friend who came to help me carry the tools, which we would hold onto for more than 4 weeks (the length of my shoot), and we both were astonished that the brothers were so generous and so trusting, and agreed that we didn't know if we would be as generous and trusting if we were in their position. But I suppose their actions speak to the kind of people they were/are, and why it's wonderful to read about their recent successes, like this article I found below.

I remember Jay saying that they were working on their first feature at that time, but I don't remember really taking notice (every filmmaker I met was working on a feature) until about a year later, in late 2004, when I was reading a press release announcing the films that were invited to the 2005 Sundance film festival, and saw their last name (which of course I remembered) attached to one of the films mentioned! Then I recalled meeting them a year prior, and Jay telling me that they were working on a feature at the time, just like I was, and me not really taking notice :o) Well, apparently, they finished it, and it just so happened to have landed one of very few coveted slots at the most highly regarded film festival in this country!

I remember feeling a combination of envy and appreciation - envious that they made it in (I didn't. Yes, I submitted my film to Sundance as well that year); but genuinely glad that it happened to a couple of cool cats, who, by the way, were instrumental in helping to keep my production budget low, by not charging me to use their equipment, items I would have had to rent otherwise.

Since that revelation, I've been passively following their progress, although it's been difficult to avoid seeing their names pop up in articles, or as panelists at festivals and such, since I make it my business to stay abreast of industry happenings.

That first feature film of theirs, a $15,000 production titled, The Puffy Chair, was picked up for distribution at the Sundance film festival that year, 2005, and enjoyed a brief theatrical release, and would eventually make its way to DVD.

3 years later, their second feature, also a no-budget production, titled Baghead, was a Sundance darling this year, and also got picked for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, and will be released in theatres later this year.

The brothers certainly didn't waste any time after Baghead, because they just wrapped up production on their 3rd feature, another low-budget project, titled The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, which is said to be in post-production, likely aiming for a Sundance 2009 debut!

Apparently, according to the article below, they've been offered multi-million dollar projects with Hollywood studios since their debut, and have turned them all down, with no regrets, instead choosing to continue on the path they've blazed for themselves, maintaining creative control over their work, which I've always felt is vital!

I smiled after reading the article because I share many of their sensibilities and perspectives on the film industry! Anyone who knows me well enough can attest to my unwavering quest for artistic independence, even at the loss of material wealth and overall comfort. The Duplass brothers are living the kind of life I'm hoping to lead in coming years. Their options have multiplied exponentially, giving them a rare kind of confidence not common in indie filmmakers. The fact that we were all in the same lane not so long ago, chasing similar dreams, is encouraging to me, because it gives me hope that I too can create work that's personal and uncompromising - work that will find an audience - without having to live on bread and water alone!

Here's the article:

Building Buzz, One 'Bag' at a Time

Forget New York and L.A.: The Duplass Brothers are rolling out the red carpet in the River City
By Josh Rosenblatt

Let's start at the beginning.

It's 2002. Brothers and aspiring filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass are sitting in Jay's small apartment on West Mary Street in South Austin doing nothing. They feel despondent, mopey, self-pitying, nowheresville – as men of a certain disposition in their 20s are inclined to do from time to time. Finally Mark (the younger of the two by three years) decides he's had enough and tells his brother that they're going to make a movie. Right then and right there.

So they come up with an idea about a man, played by Mark, whose fateful decision to re-record the outgoing message on his answering machine results in a seven-minute spiraling soliloquy of self-loathing and desperation. The movie is shot on digital video by Jay in a single 20-minute take, all in that apartment. Amazingly, the exceedingly modest "This Is John" (which Jay calls their "$3 film") goes on to screen at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and – more amazing still – earns the Duplass Brothers representation by the William Morris Agency, home to Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and dozens of other stars who have probably never worked opposite an answering machine.

Over the next two years, the brothers release two more critically acclaimed shorts and one feature film (2005's The Puffy Chair, which is nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards), each building on their first short's shambolic aesthetic and sense of quiet awkwardness and emotional honesty. They move to New York and then to Los Angeles. Netflix signs on to distribute The Puffy Chair. The brothers make a deal with Universal Studios for a feature script. They start selling pitches to Fox Searchlight Pictures with an eye toward writing scripts for major studios and using the money to fund their own modest little movies.

The press begins taking note, proclaiming the Duplass Brothers shining lights of the new "mumblecore" movement, a style of independent filmmaking characterized by low budgets, nonprofessional actors, improvised dialogue, small crews, handheld cameras, semiautobiographical stories of relational dysfunction, and subtle humor. The Puffy Chair, with its story about the slow and awkward disintegration of a romantic relationship during a road trip from New York to Atlanta, joins Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha (and later Joe Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs) as one of the bellwethers of this new movement.



  1. albertine said...

    Wonderful! I'm a filmmaker too but not quite ready to make a feature. I've made a few short films and plan to keep making short films until I feel ready for something bigger. I know right now isn't that time. It's inspiring when you read about others who started out just like you did and have gone on to do well for themselves staying true to their original vision.

  2. The Obenson Report said...

    Yes, inspiring it is albertine. Thankfully it's all within reach for each and every one of us. Hope to be able to see your work sometime.

  3. Invisible Woman said...

    Wow that's a great story. I kept seeing that The Puffy Chair was very well reviewed, but had no desire to see it. Now I will make it a point to see.

    It also further instills in me to never stop being nice. I'm a true believer in reaping what you sow--and obviolusly these guys are reaping fat rewards for their kindness.

  4. The Obenson Report said...

    @ I.W. - Yup. I too believe that you get back what you "put out."

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