Brothers stay indie heroes


PARK CITY -- Three years ago, Jay and Mark Duplass broke out at Sundance with "The Puffy Chair," a fictional film about two brothers and a girlfriend who embark on a road trip to deliver a chair to the brothers' father.

With its naturalistic and often wry dialogue, the movie turned the Duplasses into indie heroes and put them at the fore of the so-called mumblecore movement, a loose affiliation of directors -- it includes the likes of "Funny Ha Ha" helmer Andrew Bujalski -- who embrace a kind of everyday realism for their twenty- and thirtysomething characters.

"Chair" also caught the attention of the studios, with Universal and Fox Searchlight signing the Duplass brothers to writer-director deals.

Tuesday, the Duplasses debut their first movie since "Chair" when "Baghead," a film with genre touches about a group of young actors on a weekend getaway, plays in Park City.

It might seem like a strange turn given the recognition the siblings have been getting on the Hollywood lots lately. But while the notice has been welcome, the brothers say they are eager to continue making movies outside the studio system.

"It's really easy to sell pitches and a studio says, 'Great, go for it,' and pay you for it. Then you get to casting, and that's where the lag comes because it's such a machine," Mark Duplass said.

"So I think we always want to keep an indie movie in our back pocket," Jay Duplass added.

They said that unlike, for instance, Paul Greengrass, who negotiates for passion projects within his studio deal, they hope to alternate their studio work with full-on indie projects that are entirely self-financed.

Their studio work also will be material they write themselves, even if they can't cast the friends and family that mark their indie projects.

In person, the brothers have an easygoing manner, finishing each other's thoughts and feeding off each other's ideas.

They said they are not averse to being tagged with the mumblecore label -- "anytime you're part of a larger movement it's kind of nice," Jay Duplass said -- but also know the limitations of that tag.

"We have one leg in and one leg out; we do mumblecore but we also play with genres," Mark said.

The brothers display a humility that borders on a disbelief that their quirky brand of social verite has taken off. "With 'Puffy Chair,' we just thought we made this terrible movie," Jay said. "The day after it screened at Sundance, we wanted to call the festival and apologize."

Instead, the movie became a slow-burning word-of-mouth hit. It wound up going out through Netflix's Red Envelope label, becoming one of that unit's first hits and getting a small theatrical release and plenty of sales on DVD, thanks in part to a lot of touring and promotion from the Duplasses.

After "Chair," the duo also were offered a number of other projects but turned them down.

Said Mark Duplass: "We asked ourselves: 'Are we really the best people to make this movie?' And then we'd tell the studio you need some NYU student who can shoot the shit out of it. It's going to be an awesome movie but this is not our movie."

They also described a fear that set in as "Baghead" was headed for production.

"After 'Puffy Chair' we were so scared of making a shitty movie," Mark Duplass said. "It's OK if the Coen brothers make some stinkers because they're the Coen brothers. But what happens if we make one?"

Still, the Duplasses are feeling a little more ambitious with their current Sundance film. "We really want to break out of the art house with this one," Jay Duplass said, hoping the indie has mainstream success even as their studio films retain the brothers' quirky personal stamp.

"The studio movies will still feel like our movies," Jay Duplass said.

Mark Duplass added, "Yes, I think that's true. But of course we're theorizing now. We still haven't made a studio movie yet. Let's see what happens when we do."