It’s been a long time coming, but Mark and Jay Duplass’ comedy “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” will finally see the light of day starting July 6 in select theaters nationwide (it’s also currently available on VOD). Shot after their last low-budget effort “Baghead” in 2008, and put to rest while the duo worked on “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” for Fox Searchlight, “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” world premiered to solid notices at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, four years after being completed.
The microbudget comedy centers on a pair of warring brothers (Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis) engaged in their own private 25-event Olympics. “‘Do-Deca’ focuses on the difficulty of leaving youth behind to face more advanced challenges,” Eric Kohn wrote in his review out of SXSW. “The movie illustrates two certainties: Nobody stops growing up and the Duplass brothers still have the skills to prove it.”
Indiewire caught up with the brothers to get to the bottom of why the film took so long to make it to the screen.
First with the most obvious question: Why was the movie shelved for so long?
Mark Duplass: Honestly, it’s not that deep. It was just a practical consideration because we made it ourselves. Hence there was no studio to deal with… except ourselves. And when we got greenlit for “Cyrus,” that happened right while we were in post-production for “Do-Deca,” so we just put it on the shelf, took our crew and said, “Guys we have an opportunity to make some money making a studio film. We can make something great, so et’s do it.”
It was always the intention to go back and finish “Do-Deca” after “Cyrus,” but we go “Jeff Who Lives At Home” greenlit after “Cyrus,” so it was just an unfortunate timing thing for “Do-Deca.”
After we finished “Jeff,” we quickly picked up “Do-Deca” and finished the editing. Most importantly, we conceptualized how we wanted to take this movie into the world. It’s an interesting thing to take out a movie you made four years ago. We were looking at the landscape, listening to our audience in terms of what they wanted to see from us. The one thing we kept hearing was, “Guys, we read the press on your movies, your last four movies. They’re all very exciting, but they’re only playing in 100-200 theaters and they’re nowhere near me so I can’t see your goddamn movie and it pisses me off!”
These are the kind of Tweets we get everyday, so we were like, “You know what? Fuck it.” VOD is very interesting to us. It’s a way to get movies out there. This is a smaller movie with no big movie stars so it may not be a huge juggernaut in movie theaters. Let’s just blast this thing out to everybody on VOD and let everybody share it, so that’s kind of what we’re doing.
The cast are, like you said, relatively unknown. They no doubt must have been initially heartbroken about the delay, but since “Cyrus” both of your profiles have raised immeasurably. So it’s not such a bad thing in the end.
Mark Duplass: Yeah, that’s how we try to sell it to them [laughs].
Jay Duplass: Yeah, they were a little vulnerable on the phone once in a while, but they’re good friends of ours and they totally got it too. I mean they even understood even in the moment after making “Cyrus”, “Oh wow, this is going to be way more noticeable than our previous films.”
What was it like revisiting the film at SXSW, four years after you completed shooting it?
Mark Duplass: It’s a lot like listening to “Eternal Flame” and remembering what it felt like having my first make out session [laughs]. You’re like, holy shit! We used to make movies where the lead actors are our best friends and we didn’t consider marketing, we didn’t consider business, we didn’t consider a damn thing other than trying to make the best piece of art we could.
“Do-Deca” was a purely creative venture with no commerce. It made us nostalgic for that a little bit. It’s a very special movie because of that — because in many ways when you look at this film, it’s a big broad sports comedy executed like an art film. Like a microbudget art film. I haven’t quite seen a movie like this before.
Do you guys miss those days?
Jay Duplass: I mean, Mark and I have a lot of opinions and tastes and desires whenever we make a small film. Honestly, when we were making “Do-Deca Pentathlon,” we were like, goddamn this is impossible. We’re trying to make a giant sports comedy for chump change in our hometown and it’s raining and there are 100 people out here who are getting ready to leave because they’re basically there to eat popsicles and hang out with us for a little while. We were like, “God, we need to get paid to do this.”
And then when we’re on studio films we’re often like, “Man, it would be nice to let one rip and not have to talk about this so much.”
We honestly enjoy all different levels of filmmaking and we do feel like we will return to extremely small-budget filmmaking. It just depends on the project and what’s right for that particular thing.
In revisiting “Do-Deca,” was there anything you wanted to change?
Mark Duplass: It’s interesting because it’s not like one is lesser or greater than the other in terms of our studio movies versus a movie like “Do-Deca.” They’re different animals; they each have their own positives and benefits. “Do-Deca” is like a great demo and “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is like the polished record. They each have their pluses.
Is “Do-Deca” autobiographical at all?
Jay Duplass: It was actually based on two brothers that we grew up down the street from. They literally created a 25-event Olympics called the “Do-Deca Pentathlon” where you compete against each other. So our concept is totally ripped off and stolen from two brothers who are literally that crazed about sports and about beating each other.
It wasn’t until 2006/2007 that we thought about the concept of the brothers actually becoming estranged, coming back together and reigniting the game 20 years later in their lives. Out of shape, kind of miserable, envying each other’s position in life — we felt like it had the material to be a full movie.
Over this past year Mark’s seen his profile blow up thanks to appearances in a slew of films as an actor, including “Darling Companion,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “People Like Us” and “Your Sister’s Sister.” What’s it been like navigating that side of your career Mark, while staying focused on the directing/writing front?
Mark Duplass: The good news is, all the movies that Jay and I are involved in, whether it’s something I’m acting in or Jay’s short doc, “Kevin,” or whether it’s a big studio movie or a smaller movie like “Do-Deca” — they’re all under our umbrella and they share a tone of similarity. We’ve discovered that people will discover one and want to go see more.
That’s really exciting for us and we’re happy that cross-pollination is going on. It’s been crazy for the both of us. It just so happened that a lot of the projects we’ve worked on have the pipeline at the same time. We’ve done a lot of talking about ourselves and that’s a weird thing to do. We’re very much looking forward to receding back into our private cave and shutting them out and doing some more writing.
Do you run projects by your brother before taking them on, Mark?
Mark Duplass: We run everything by each other — from the projects we work on differently to the benefits and efficiencies of drinking soy milk versus almond milk to methods of raising our children to automotive purchases.
Have you been actively seeking out roles, or have directors just been coming to you given your background in the industry?
Mark Duplass: It’s a combination. I’m not actively auditioning for films. I work in movies with directors that I really love and respect, and then in movies I help put together — that has been the workflow. But you’re right that my popularity has risen a little bit this summer because of the confluence. “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “My Sister’s Sister,” “People Like Us” all coming out at once has created a bit of buzz for whatever reason, and I’m psyched about that. I hope that gives me more opportunities to do good stuff.
That begs the question: Why have you only acted in one of your own films (“The Puffy Chair”)?
Mark Duplass: It’s been a practicality thing. There were no real age appropriate roles for me in “Cyrus,” and the age appropriate roles for me in “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” quite frankly were not only better for Ed and Jason, but I’m not a movie star. I wasn’t at the time and it was greenlit at the time. So it’s not something we’re closed to, it just hasn’t been the right opportunity.