Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass surprised the independent film
world in 2005 with their Sundance hit The
Puffy Chair. For their next film, they reportedly turned down millions from
a major studio to do the project their way, applying their mumblecore style to a
story about aspiring actors and filmmakers alone in a cabin in the woods. Paste caught up with the brothers about the
subsequent film, Baghead, before its world premiere in Austin, Texas.
Paste: Now, the
only “bagheads” I’m familiar with are the old New Orleans Saints fans that used
to wear the bags over their heads because the team was so bad.
Mark Duplass: (laughs)
They’ll be back one day, especially when our film blows up and they’ll want to
Paste: What’s scary
about a baghead? How did that come about?
MD: We don’t know
why it’s scary. We just know that when we started thinking about the concept of
looking out a window and seeing someone with a brown paper bag on their head,
it got scary. And the most important part of it for us is it’s funny, too.
There’s this very fine line of when a bag is funny and when it’s scary. You can
crumple certain parts of the bag and then it’s scary, and then you straighten
it out and it’s funny. We thought if we could make a movie that you laugh in
but that you’re also legitimately scared in, and more importantly that you
actually care about the characters, we would really have something. As much of
a success as these horror movies are, like Saw
and Hostel, for us they’re really
not horror movies. They’re just torture, and how gross and disgusting can we
get? I suppose there’s value in there somewhere but it’s not scary. We wanted
to do something like classic old Friday
the 13th original type scares. And particularly do it in a lo-fi
Paste: And you mix
that with your signature mumblecore. That’s something that you don’t see in
normal horror movies—even satirical horror movies.
Jay Duplass: If
the audience is there and they’re in it with these people and they feel like
it’s kind of real, and then you add a scary element to it, it’s going to play a
whole lot bigger. That was our goal. I don’t know if it worked or not but it
was definitely what we were going for.
Paste: The “desperate
actor” bit that you have in the film, these actors that are dying to meet
filmmakers, especially at film festivals—tell me about them.
MD: Well, it’s
desperate actors and it’s also desperate filmmakers. When we would show up at
Sundance with our first short we were like, “How can we get the most out of
this experience?” while trying to corner someone at a happy hour.
hilarious. Grown people become rabid wolves at the thought that someone might
help them advance their career.
JD: And it’s so
annoying at first. You couldn’t design a more annoying person than ourselves at
these festivals. But after awhile you can see it in the actors because they’re
all heart. They have these huge dreams. And they’re not going to accomplish
them. Their odds are so slim. And they know they’re probably going to fail. But
they do it anyway. Because they’re in love with what they’re doing. And they
want to make their dreams come true. And in that way they are William Wallace.
It’s the modern day Braveheart.
Paste: For anyone
that’s ever been to a film festival, you guys caught it perfectly. The
after-parties, the Q&A with the classic question, “What was your budget?”—a
nod to all who have to see these films.
MD: What you have
to endure when cocky filmmakers like ourselves get up at the Q&A and talk
about how great they are in not-so-subtle ways.
Paste: I don’t think
you guys were quite as bad as the character in Baghead.
MD: We haven’t
gotten naked yet, so you never know.
Paste: Tell us about
the process of making the film. As I understand it, you take these actors and
try and put some of their personalities into the film’s characters.
MD: We write a
whole script. But once we know who the actors are we greatly tailor the
dialogue to them. That usually happens while they’re improvising on the set.
But we find that when you get deep into improv it’s really nice if the
character the person’s playing shares some similar characteristics to the
person who’s playing them because every now and then they’ll borrow little
stories from their real life and they’ll put ‘em in there. I don’t care how
good of an actor you are, when it’s a real story, you feel it. So, we like new
things, fresh things to come up.
Paste: I can see why
you chose to make Baghead with the
same low budget techniques of The Puffy
Chair. But the other big budget, studio projects you’re working on—your
signature look and feel—are we gong to see that?
JD: We hope so.
It’s being discussed. Our goal is, let’s keep doing what we do—the look and
feel. But when the project is appropriate we’ll take name actors, put them into
our current system of working so that the studios can have their poster to sell
documentary style and the improvisational style makes things seem and feel more
real. We’re definitely pretty strong minded about maintaining our ethic. So
far, the people we’re working with are really positive and really hopeful and
helpful about allowing us to achieve that. Right now it’s more of a matter of
semantics, and unions, and trying to figure out how you can get that few of a
people on a set.
MD: And not have
it shut down by a union.
JD: Yeah, and keep it a sacred space and make sure that the actors
are the most important thing. And there are not 400 people staring and gawking.
The creative stuff is paramount, not the technological stuff.