Mark and Jay Duplass are a ubiquitous presence at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. They were involved with three Sundance films, "The Bronze," "The Overnight," and "Tangerine" and an animated TV pilot ("Animals"). In addition to dominating Sundance, Netflix used the festival as occasion to announce that the brothers signed a four-movie deal, while HBO announced that the network will renew their show, "Togetherness." In other words, it’s been a good week for the brothers.
At the Producers Brunch at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25th (where their producing partner on "The Bronze," Stephanie Langhof, received the Sundance Institute Red Crown Producers Award), the meta-multihyphenates provided the keynote in handy list format: 10 tips for independent filmmakers.
1. "The phrase you can never go home is not true when it comes to Sundance," said Jay, adding that he and his brother have been able to alternate between Hollywood and independent films.
2. "Embrace the microbudget sphere," said Mark. "It’s painful to be waiting around six years for a $20 million film. Instead, why not make a $150,000 movie where three quarters of the points are shared with the crew. Just find a rich person to fund it!"
3. "Do not shit where you sleep," said Jay. Meaning: Filmmakers are better off taking commercials or day jobs than working on crappy projects that they don’t care about. "Try and stay clear and focused in the movies you are trying to make," he said.
4. "Beware the $1 million movie," said Mark. "All fees are going to the union; above-the-line directors and producers are making $4,000 – $8,000." Instead, you’re better off rewriting the $1 million project to turn it into a $250,000 projects and retaining greater ownership.
5. Build loyalty by giving crew points in the film. "There’s an old independent film joke… What is back end? That’s what you are if you ever think you are going to see any," said Jay. "Create a scenario where you have a wildly successful film and you’ve given away too many points… Those people will all want to work with you next time."
6. "Give a first-time director a chance. Experienced directors can be rough and fussy," said Mark. Instead, consider hiring a talented screenwriter or a documentary filmmaker and attaching an experienced DP.
7. "Make movies, not meetings," said Jay. So many Los Angeles film executives "have long-winded careers of lots of development meetings, but they don’t make movies." Sure, filmmaking can be "terrifying and traumatic," but "always jump off the cliff."
8. Study up and use your "left brain, right brain," said Mark. "Read the trades. Gain a knowledge of the industry. Knowledge is power." He said he and Jay are constantly studying the trades to find potential partners.
9. "Employ a strict ‘No Assholes’ policy," said Jay. Don’t hire any assholes because "that guy will ruin your movie."
10. Go to therapy. "If you have never been to therapy, go to 10 sessions immediately," said Mark. "There are annoying things you do now that are keeping you out of meetings and keeping people from working with you." As an extra benefit, in addition to helping you with your filmmaking, therapy "can improve your marriage as well."