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I’ll just say it right now: Jeff Who Lives at Home is the Duplass brothers’ best movie yet. Slated for a release in March 2012, the movie is about Jeff (Jason Segel), a slacker who tries to find his place in the world while running an errand for his mother and spending the day with his estranged brother (Ed Helms). Former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass originally made a name for themselves on the independent circuit with films like The Puffy Chair and Baghead, but since their first studio film, 2010’s Cyrus, the two have been slowly easing into the studio system. Make no mistake, though: Jeff sticks to the mumblecore moviemakers’ style and themes as it offers a story on a much larger scale than what indie movie fans might have come to expect from watching their earlier, low-budget films.
I sat down with the Duplass brothers at the recently-wrapped Austin Film Festival to talk about their new movie, the lessons they’ve learned from Cyrus and why they love Austin.
Andy Young (MM): So, how did Jason Reitman get involved as a producer on Jeff?
Mark Duplass (MD): We met him at Sundance, and he had expressed interest in working with us at some point. When we pulled out Jeff, it seemed like a good fit for him. He was there to give the studio the confidence to let us make a stranger studio film.
Jay Duplass (JD): It’s a film that’s funny and has a lot of heart, but we wanted to make it in a specific way.
MM: Do you think you’re getting more adjusted to working in the studio system, as opposed to your experience with Cyrus?
MD: Definitely more adjusted.
JD: It was a big shock doing Cyrus; there was just a lot of stuff that we had trouble with, mainly because we had been making movies on such a micro-scale. I think almost everything we had trouble with can be chalked up to this concept of having to explain yourself and intellectualize what you’re doing, because people are giving you millions of dollars and they need to know what you’re doing with it. And that can hurt the creative process; [you’ll be] talking about your idea until you’re not even inspired by it anymore. When it’s time to go execute it, if it isn’t fresh and new to you then it isn’t really a process of discovery. That’s the main thing we’ve learned: How to accommodate and protect ourselves.
MM: Most of your movies are shot in-sequence; was Jeff?
MD: Most of it. We try to shoot the core emotional scenes in-sequence. It’s key to the process [for] us.
JD: It’s a chemistry thing between the actors and for the directors; when you experienced something heavy the night before, you don’t really have to set the scene the next day, because they know what happened.
MD: And, likewise, you don’t have to predict where people will be by shooting “Scene 90” on day one. You can take the true temperature of the relationship, build it and then slowly [develop] the details.
MM: You use a lot of comedic actors who have a real gift for improvisation. Is there anybody you haven’t worked with yet who you have on the back burner?
JD: So many.
MD: We’ve been having a big love affair with Phil[ip Seymour] Hoffman lately; everything he does is amazing.
JD: We have a big wish list [that] we talk about all the time.
MD: It really has to do with people we find fascinating as human beings, too.
MM: Are you excited to have Jeff at the Austin Film Festival?
MD: The Paramount Theatre is the greatest theater in the world. When we played Cyrus at SXSW in 2010, that was one of our greatest screenings ever. We used to go to the summer screenings there when we went to [University of Texas at Austin]. We had a lot of our film education [at the Paramount]. It’s just very special to think that I was 18 years old in that theater, watching The Godfather parts I and II back-to-back, and now we’re showing our movie there.
MM: Have you considered going back to your low-budget roots?
MD: We have stuff in development that’s meant to be smaller; I think it really just depends on the tone of the movie. A film like Jeff needed a bigger budget, but if we came up with a domestic dramedy that takes place in someone’s house, then maybe you don’t need $10 million to make that.
JD: Sometimes it’s nice to make movies with anonymous people; there are situations where it’s more effective when it isn’t a famous person.
MM: Have you ever considered coming back to Austin to shoot a film?
JD: Oh yeah, definitely.
MD: The bummer is that there’s no tax break, so there aren’t many studio movies shooting here. But on the independent front, we talk about it all the time. This town is so film-educated and there are so many great filmmakers here that I think it’s definitely in our future somewhere.
Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer living in Austin, Texas. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 100 short films and one feature film, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.