Jay and Mark Duplass, the writer/directors of the Sundance hits “The Puffy Chair,” “Cyrus” and the upcoming “Jeff Who Lives at Home” have established themselves as a filmmaking duo to watch in the years to come. Their latest critically acclaimed effort, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” is the hilarious story of two grown brothers who rekindle their uber-competitive childhood sporting event, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, over a weekend family reunion in order to finally determine the ultimate winner. When the rest of the family is disrupted by the fierce competition of their unfinished business, the brothers must hide their efforts in order to complete the event… once and for all. The film received it’s World Premiere at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, opening to rave reviews and will receive it’s pre-theatrical VOD June 26 from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The stellar cast includes Mark Kelly, Steve Zissis, Jennifer Lafleur, Julie Vorus and Reid Williams working from a script created by Jay and Mark Duplass and Stephanie Langhoff. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with The Duplass Brothers to discuss the film, the challenges involved in making it, brotherly love and much more!
Thanks for taking time out to talk with us today guys. It’s very much appreciated!
Mark Duplass: Thanks for having us!
Jay Duplass: Absolutely!
We are talking today about your new film which focuses on two brothers. For you two brothers, what was the initial spark that pointed you in the direction of filmmaking?
Jay Duplass: Mark and I grew up being creative in general. We always were creating things. Growing up in New Orleans, we made stained glass out of Mardi Gras beads and we did make movies as children, which were not brilliant, prophetic movies as Steven Spielberg and The Coen Brothers’ movies we are told are. Ours were horrible! But ya know, we just have been obsessed with movies since cable came to our neighborhood in 1983. We just started to absorb very intense emotional dramas from that point on. I guess it wasn’t until we went to college in Austin in 1991, that is when I went to college and Mark followed me soon after, that [Richard] Linklater and Robert Rodriguez were making recognized movies for small amounts of money. It was at that point that we realized that human beings actually make movies and they are not just pumped in over this weird pipeline from Hollywood into our home. The culture of Austin at that time of unapologetically making things, making your own art and the combination of knowing “Slacker” has made it into the world kinda opened our minds to the fact that we could possibly do this.
How did the initial idea and script for “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” originate?
Mark Duplass: There are two brothers that we grew up with in New Orleans, The Solak Brothers, that actually did this in high school. They were born about 18 months apart, so they were very competitive and the only way they know how to express their love and hatred toward each other was to beat the living shit out of each other over parlor sporting events like pool, ping-pong, arm wrestling and whatnot. One summer they created the ultimate competition, “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” which is a Greek misnomer for 25 events that would serve as their own personal, private olympics. What ended up happening was they had to stop because they were hurting each other too much and their parents made them quit. Jay and I thought it was such a great story and it haunted us for years, how funny and sad it was. We thought, “What if they revisited the games 20 years later, except this time they are maybe a little out of shape, they are estranged and the rivalry between them had grown?”
How much of your own personal childhood rivalries shine through in the film?
Jay Duplass: Ya know, Mark and I have always gotten along really well. We feel like we are at a special spread of age where we are about three-and-a-half years apart. We never competed that intensely because when you are three-and-a-half or four years apart, just sporting-wise, I was always gonna win — until we got into high school and college. We feel like we are close enough to be peers, so it is probably the reason we are able to make films together. We definitely did have rivalries that developed in high school and college, specifically with ping-pong. It can be one of the most intense and exhausting things that we do together. In general, we are competitive people and that was certainly enjoyable to explore. Mark and I have always been collaborators and from what I get from other people, I think we are pretty unique in that way.
You have a great cast for the film. What did they bring to the table for this film you might not have expected starting out?
Mark Duplass: Anytime we are working with the actors in our films, it is a true creative collaboration because we do encourage them to improvise the words on the page. What ends up happening is you get these more organic, more naturalistic version of what was written in the script. For instance, in this film, we found the brother’s relationship grew much deeper because the actors [Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis] had such great off-screen chemistry. The same can be said for Jennifer Lafleur’s character who is the wife of Steve Zissis’ character, Mark. She just took to him because he is such a charming guy, which deepened their relationship. For us it is about finding actors who aren’t going to be pawns in the scheme of how you see the film going but who are true creative collaboratives.
Was it difficult to balance the comical elements with the more human elements? Was that even a concern for you?
Jay Duplass: It is never really a concern for us really. I think Mark and I are always making relationship movies and we are dressing them up as other kinds of movies. We do also like to explore the sports stuff but for us, this is a genuine and natural balance that, for us, feels normal to our lives. I guess our emotional life is pretty rich as well as the fact that we are trying to make movies and do things that are somewhat hard to do in the world. It is something that comes pretty naturally for us. However, in the editorial, we do start thinking and talking about it more intellectually and start crafting it to strike a balance we feel will be palatable to everyone else.
What was the biggest challenge in making this film — bringing it from script to screen?
Mark Duplass: When you see the film, you will discover something interesting about it as an independent film. It looks like a very expensive movie to make. We are staging these big 5K races and these guys are competing in sporting events all over town. Normally, you don’t make a movie like this for such a small budget. In many ways we were trying to cram the DNA of a $40 million movie, a big, broad, sports comedy into the form of a low budget, sensitive relationship, independent film. I think that made for a very cool blend.
You guys shot this movie several years back. I am assuming you weren’t just waiting for the Olympics to roll back around once more.
Jay Duplass: No, we weren’t waiting for the Olympics but that was a great by-product though! [laughs] We did shoot the film in 2008 and we started editing. At that point, we had been developing our script “Cyrus” with Fox Searchlight and we got greenlit to shoot that movie not long after we had finished shooting “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.” We put the film on the shelf and all of our crew members from ”Do-Deca” shifted over to “Cyrus” and we were all excited to make our first studio movie and to get paid a decent salary for the first time! That happened and we made the film and then immediately when we finished editing “Cyrus,” we got greenlit for “Jeff Who Lives At Home.” We spent the next year-and-a-half making that film. It wasn’t until we started wrapping up the editorial on “Jeff Who Lives At Home” that we started cranking up the drives on “Do-Deca.” It was kinda surreal to us at that point because it had been three-and-a-half years since we shot the film. It felt fast and furious to us because we made two studio movies in between and we felt lucky to do that but we are very happy to have the film coming out now.
I guess a situation gives you a unique perspective being able to revisit the work after doing two films in the interim. How do you feel you evolved as filmmakers in that time?
Mark Duplass: The key difference in us finishing “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” in 2012 versus 2008, is that we are not afraid of music score anymore. We were afraid of it in 2008 because we thought it would diminish the naturalist qualities of our film. We learned through Mike Andrews, our composer, how to use score in “Cyrus” and “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” so we brought that approach to “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.” We hired our friend and fantastic composer Julian Wass to create this epic sports score for the film that only has 1% tongue-in-cheek to it! We were talking about that earlier. We are just so glad that we were evolved enough as filmmakers not to be afraid of that and to use it because it really adds to the film.
If you guys were to take part in your own Do-Deca-Pentathlon, who would emerge victorious?
Jay Duplass: We haven’t clocked down the events. I am thinking of it off-hand but ping-pong and pool are a wash on any given day. Either of us could win that.
Mark Duplass: I think I would win at any distance 400 meters or under but over 400 meters, Jay would take me down because I was a track guy and he was cross country.
Jay Duplass: The 400 would probably be the best. Our most even.
Mark Duplass: Yeah, the most even.
Jay Duplass: What else?
Mark Duplass: Yeah, what else, man?
Jay Duplass: Any parlor sport could go either way. We are pretty well matched. Mark is a little bit bigger than me, so I think, so strength …
Mark Duplass: I would win at Skee-ball because I had my daughter first and when you have a daughter first, you have to get really good at it because you have to win stuffed animals for her …
Jay Duplass: Plus, let’s face it, you just manage to get yourself into situations where you have played Skee-ball pretty regularly, somehow for the past 35 years! [laughs]
Mark Duplass: That’s true!
Jay Duplass: You have an affinity for Skee-ball don’t you?
Mark Duplass: I do! It’s kinda important.
Jay Duplass: I think we would be pretty evenly matched. We actually got the original brothers together who created the Do-Deca-Pentathlon this summer. We did a “Do-Deca Redux,” which we are going to release on the DVD as a special feature. I think it is fair to say that it will be the greatest special feature we will ever have on a DVD! No joke, that sporting event came down to, they each won 12 events, the final event which was a 400-meter dash at the track. One of the brothers won by no more than three feet! It was insanely intense and evenly matched!
Have you given any thought to a particular type of film or genre you want to tackle in the future?
Mark Duplass: We talk about this a lot. I think the key for us is that we love genre films. “Do-Deca” is a sports movie, “Cyrus” is a love triangle movie, “The Puffy Chair” is a road movie, “Baghead” is a horror film but they are all more sensitive relationship oriented versions of those genre pieces. I think we are just going to continue to look for other genres. We love detective stuff, we love thriller stuff, we like magical realism as well, so we are open to anything quite honestly. We just like to bring that personal, character driven stuff to it.
What is the best piece of advice you can give aspiring filmmakers?
Jay Duplass: Make a ton of stuff! You are lucky enough to be coming up in an age where you can make movies for little to no money. It is very hard to figure out who you are and what you uniquely have to offer the world. It is something that film schools can’t teach you and it is something you can’t really figure out intellectually. I think it is something that just has to happen from practicing your art. A lot of filmmakers come up thinking they are going to make a film and it is either going to be great or not and it will determine whether they have a future. It took us a long time to make anything that didn’t suck! So, make a lot of stuff and be patient with yourself!
Awesome! Thank you for your time today fellas! We appreciate it and wish you continued success!
Mark Duplass: Thanks, buddy!
Jay Duplass: Thank you, very much!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.