“The Puffy Chair,” made for a low five-figure budget, is the hilarious and poignant breakthrough feature for filmmaking brothers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass (Jay directed; Mark stars, writes and produces). After a few false starts with other films over the years, the Duplass Brothers began making a name for themselves with a string of successful short films, including “This is John” and “Scrapple” which each debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. In “The Puffy Chair,” Mark Duplass stars as a failed rocker turned booking agent who is determined to drive across the country to deliver his dad’s birthday gift — a big purple Lazy Boy recliner he bought on Ebay. His girlfriend, and then his brother, join him for a road trip filled with dramatic and comedic incidents that spark a turning point in his relationship.
Nominated for the John Cassevetes Award and the Someone to Watch Award at this year’s Spirits, the film has jumpstarted the brother’s careers, leading them to a number of new film and TV projects. The film is currently in release, slowly making its way around the country. After opening in Austin, TX where the two went to film school, the film recently opened in Los Angeles and is due for its New York City debut on August 4th, followed by runs in Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Chicago and other cities through the early fall.
The Duplass brothers separately responded to indieWIRE’s email questionnaire, their answers to our questions are published below.
Age. Day job (if you have one) and former jobs. Where you were born. Where you grew up. Where you live.
Jay Duplass: 33. Make movies. Formerly film editor, waiter, born in New Orleans and went to college in Austin, Texas. Lived in NYC for a bit and now am settled in Los Angeles.
Mark Duplass: 29. Now I’m actually getting paid to make movies, but I’ve worked as a freelance editor and a musician in the past. Born and raised in New Orleans, went to college in Austin, lived in NYC for a while, now I live in Los Angeles.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore (music/painting/writing etc.)?
Jay Duplass: I loved movies. They inspired me more than anything growing up and wanted to do for others what those movies have done for me. I do a lot of other creative stuff but am not very good at it. Funny thing is I don’t love movies so much anymore. I mean, I love the great ones so much I don’t know what to do with myself, but I don’t seem to love a lot of movies these days.
Mark Duplass: Jay and I have always made movies together. We grew up with the first big wave of HBO watchers… we were hooked.
What other creative outlets do you explore (music/painting/writing etc.)?
Mark Duplass: I did play in a bunch of indie rock bands and used to do a lot of playwriting, but not so much anymore.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking? And any other insights you think might be interesting…
Jay Duplass: I went to film school at UT Austin. I learned a lot and that school’s good for puking up all your bad movies early and quick. But ultimately, no one can teach you to be an artist. And it’s rare that film school teachers are themselves successful filmmakers. Only way to do it is to afford yourself the opportunity to make movies, f’em up and then make more cuz art requires a lot of f’ing up.
Mark Duplass: Went to UT film school for a bit where I learned the basics. After that, we learned the real craft of storytelling by fucking up stories over and over again. Editing also helps teach you what not to do. It’s a cliche by now, but picking up the camera and shooting is, I think, the best way to learn. Everyone has a set of bad films in them… might as well get them out early.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
Jay Duplass: Making a relationship movie that reflects the way we and our friends experience relationships, but making it funny in a non “romantic comedy” way.
Mark Duplass: We were at Sundance in 2004 with a short. We decided to make a feature because we wanted better shwag and to get into better parties. Seriously.
What are your biggest creative influences (this could include other filmmakers or films)?
Jay Duplass: I love Cassavetes, and want to make films like that but funny.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?
Jay Duplass: Not having stars in our movie. Everyone wanted to buy our movie but didn’t know how to market it. But I don’t worry about that too much. I’m just glad we finally made what I think is a good feature film. That was hard enough and I try to let the rest take care of itself.
Mark Duplass: Developing was easy. we borrowed $15,000 from our parents and just went for it. distribution was a long road. it took a year to sell the film. Everyone loved it, but apparently it’s a little difficult to market an indie film with no recognizable “stars.” But, it’s in theaters now and doing REALLY well… so, in the end, it kinda comes down to that whole “nobody knows anything” theory.
How did you finance the film?
Jay Duplass: My parents gave us 15 grand. This may seem like an easy solution to funding, but it’s not necessarily so. Still working thru this one in therapy… more later.
What are some of your all-time favorite films, and why? What are some of your recent favorite films?
Mark Duplass: People always compare us to Mike Leigh or a funny version of Cassavetes, but I watch random films these days. I always loved “Joe Vs. The Volcano”. Not sure why. And, I have a sick fascination with shmaltz. “Somewhere in Time” makes me cry. Sad, I know. Recently, the only thing that blew me away was “Eternal Sunshine” (and that wasn’t too recent). I see a lot of movies, and I like a lot, but it’s rare when something totally knocks me out.
What are your interests outside of film?
Jay Duplass: Um, not much just yet. I guess I need a hobby. Currently my primary hobby is complaining. I do own a unicycle, which I use for workout purposes as opposed to doing tricks. I now realize as I type this that that makes my unicycling seem more ridiculous.
Mark Duplass: I just bought a house. I like playing manly man around the house (chopping firewood, etc) to help balance out the fact that my job is to basically sit in a chair and think. I made a coffee table out of scraps of wood in the back shed. My fiancee says it looks like a coffin. I think she’s right. Oh well.
How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
Jay Duplass: To make good movies and make a living doing so. Not sure how that’ll pan out but it seems to be working as of this year. Also, just to make movies with as little red tape and bull poo as possible.
Mark Duplass: Success changes. First it was to make a short that would get into Sundance. We did that, then inevitably raised the bar. But, overall, success for us now is to make a living at filmmaking without feeling like we had to become whores to do so. We’re pretty much there now. For the future, we want to make personal, funny movies that people can connect with. We want to work with our friends and family and have fun as much as possible.
And, world domination, of course…
[For more information, please visit the film’s website.]