Think you need connections to make it in the film industry? Not so says Mark Duplass, and he’s got the resume to prove it. He made a short film for next to nothing and it got into Sundance, he followed that up with a $15,000 first feature, then he hit a point where he could get money to make his movies and now he’s able to finance them himself. He’s a guy who started with nothing, worked his way up and truly earned the privilege to do whatever he wants. And, best of all, even with that added freedom, he’s still churning out low budget, high quality productions that don’t lean on funds, but rather excel via clever concepts, strong storytelling and powerful performances, just like his latest, The One I Love.
Duplass executive produced and also stars in the film as Ethan, a guy who’s struggling with his marriage and opts to spend time at a secluded vacation home with his wife, Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), to try to rekindle what they’ve lost. There’s so much more to it than that, but this is one that you’re better off going into knowing little to nothing about. Hit the jump to read our spoiler free interview with Duplass and click here to check out what he told us about his upcoming Creep trilogy as well.
MARK DUPLASS: It is hard to talk about it. Even though it’s not like the Crying Game in any way, shape or form, there is this thing where you don’t want people to know that before they go in.
Has it been a nightmare doing press for this?
DUPLASS: No, it hasn’t actually. I guess I assumed when the movie premiered at Sundance that people would be just talking all about the plot and everybody’s been very respectful of the fact that the movie just plays better if you don’t know what it’s about and so everybody’s kind of kept it quiet, so we’re like, you know what? Let’s ride this out as far as we can. I’m sure it’ll eventually kind of come out, but, you know, it’s actually fun trying to find ways to dance around it and talk about it.
As an independent filmmaker though, how do you balance the need to market it in a way that draws a crowd versus maintaining that mystery?
DUPLASS: I think that nobody knows anything anymore about marketing and what will get people into a movie theater. It’s a crazy environment and my feeling is that Weinstein Company was awesome for being willing to be secretive in the way they’re marketing the movie and my feeling on top of that is, yes, this could be a risk or, maybe, which I’ve kind of discovered in a strange way, telling people, ‘I’m not gonna tell you what this movie is about. You just have to come see it,’ is it’s own interesting way to market a movie.
Word-of-mouth should definitely give this a boost because I genuinely want to go around to everyone and say, ‘You should see this, but I’m not telling you why.’
DUPLASS: Yeah! ‘Why should I see it?’ ‘I can’t tell you.’ [Laughs]
If you had to pitch this to a potential moviegoer right now, how would you even approach that?
DUPLASS: The way I kind of talk about it is like, look, you know, it starts off as a romantic comedy, a bomb drops into the movie about 15 minutes in and explodes all over the place, and I’d say the core of the film is an analysis of relationships and why we sort of try to tempt people with these almost perfect versions of ourselves when we first meet them and we exposit. Like, talk about all the museums we go to and we talk about all the healthy, organic kale salads we’re gonna eat and all this stuff when really you’re just eating pizza and streaming sh*tty Netflix at home. And they’re gonna find this out about you, and then you have to reconcile your real self with them.
DUPLASS: Yeah! Why do we do that and how do you reconcile it when you find out the truth? I don’t know. It’s just something that all of us who made this movie had either done in our relationships or it’s been done to us and we just thought it was a fun jumping off point.
I found myself connecting to more than one thought process here, so is there any element of the story that you were able to relate to most?
DUPLASS: I mean, the big connection point for me, and again, there’s a core creative team of about five of us, me, Lizzie, Justin [Lader] our writer, Charlie [McDowell] our director and Mel [Eslyn] our producer, and we all are in wildly different places in our relationships. I’m the only one that’s married and has kids, some are single, some have been in long-term stuff and for me, personally, I was one of the only people who really knew and understood being in a 13-year relationship. My wife and I have been together for 13 years and that, to me, is like endlessly fascinating and endlessly confusing how to sustain all of the excitement from the front of our relationship, valuing that versus the comfort and knowing that she knows all of my flaws and still loves me. It’s great, but certainly not as exciting as it was day one. And what do you value most? Those are all the kind of themes we wanted to mess with [in] the movie.
Has your wife seen it?
DUPLASS: Oh, yeah, yeah.
What does she think? Does she want to know what you’d do in that kind of situation?
DUPLASS: Yeah, exactly. She and I have pretty much no secrets. We are brutally honest with each other. We are in the same business and in some ways, we’re like twins and that is a great and a terrible thing for a marriage. It makes for the most comfortable thing in the world to be truly known and loved, but also makes for a lot of conflict and that’s how we roll in my house.
DUPLASS: So, I came up with the story idea and brought it to Charlie and Justin, and they really fleshed it out and turned it into the movie it became. I’ve been producing smaller movies like this for a while and I kind of have a model of making them where we can get the funding really quickly. From the moment we came up with the story idea, we were shooting within like five months. I just don’t believe in development, I don’t believe in waiting and the price we pay is that we have to make them cheaply, but we get to make our movies, which is great. So yeah, we really built the whole thing together kind of like an arts and crafts project.
Are there any drawbacks to not going through a traditional development process? Have you run into anything on a set that made you wish you could go back and work on a certain something more?
DUPLASS: We spent five months working on the “scriptment,” as we call it, and then the rest of the stuff, it’s meant to be found on set. I wouldn’t go into shooting something unless it was totally prepared and had the time. Charlie had his shot list down to the tee and there’s a lot of effects in the movie, so we had all that sh*t dialed in. I definitely don’t believe in fumbling into a movie, but I do like to move fast.
You mentioned coming up with the idea yourself, but what was that idea? Was it a certain type of relationship you wanted to explore or the twist?
DUPLASS: It started with the twist. The big concept was what I brought to them and then they really created the nature of the relationship and the backstories of the characters and all that stuff. They fleshed that out, but what I gave them was basically the bomb that comes into the movie and, you know, part of that was me wanting to – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. A good example is a movie like Your Sister’s Sister, which I loved making, but I don’t want to keep making that movie over and over again, you know, a three person romantic comedy at a vacation getaway. I wanted to do something really different and explode that movie a little bit and that’s what this is.
DUPLASS: It’s a 50-page document, it contains almost everything except the dialogue, it has all the beats, it has all the where-you-want-to-hit, you know? It’s, ‘Mark Duplass is sitting in a chair. She walks in wearing a Long Island Ducks shirt. She sits across from him and they start talking about the movie. She knows she wants to get to the spoiler stuff. She’s eventually gonna get to it.’ It’s those kinds of things and then we give the dialogue to keep it fresh.
Can you tell me about taking the relationship from this to set? How much do you have to flesh out the details of their relationship, and also the rules of this world? When you’ve got a situation like this, it’ll get picked apart.
DUPLASS: The mythology. There’s a big mythology to this thing and we, and when I say we, it really was Charlie and Justin who really honed that thing and developed it. If you have any questions about this movie, you can ask Charlie and Justin and they will have the answer for you. We didn’t want to put all of those in the movie because it’s kind of like showing someone how to do a magic trick. Once you show them, it just becomes intensely less interesting, so we tried to show as much as the audience was asking of us and not really more than that. But in terms of the preparation for when we would shoot, a lot of times what Justin would do, our writer, is he would create some pages the night before of suggestions of dialogue and ways the scene could go. We would read it in the morning and talk about it. We all lived together while we were making the movie and so at dinner at night after shooting, we would discuss what we would do the next day, what has changed because of the improvisation. It’s kind of an organic, living, breathing thing.
How about coming together with Charlie as a first-time feature director? What’d you see in him that made you think, ‘This guy’s good. He can handle it?’
DUPLASS: He’s a really loving person. He’s a really nice person. Very, very smart. He’s good visually and I really like spending time with people I like. And you never really know if they’re gonna make a good movie, you know? You hope and then I surround them with a very experienced team, so in case they suck, at least the movie won’t die. And then, in some cases, like Charlie, they’re great. By day one of shooting, he was totally out of my mentorship and completely on his own, and that’s the ideal scenario.
Can you break down that process of getting your movies off the ground for me? It isn’t easy to make an independent film happen, so does what you have going directly stem from your body of work or would something like this work for someone first breaking into the business?
DUPLASS: It’s part of that. My basic tips are to build from the ground up, and that’s kind of how I did it. I made like a $3 short film that got into Sundance and then I made a $15,000 feature with borrowed money and that got into Sundance, and then from there I was able to get money to make things and now I’m fortunate enough to act in a TV show that makes me a lot of money so I can pay for my own movies. I don’t have to wait for anybody and that’s more of what I like doing now. But I still think that you don’t have to be connected in the industry to make your movie. You just have to write something that is meant to be made cheaply. You can’t just go, ‘I’m gonna write this script and figure out how to make it.’ You have to write something that can be made cheaply, which is what we did with this movie.
Have you always been able to come up with ideas like that, and on such a wide spectrum? I’m thinking about this, Creep, and everything you’ve done lately feels so different and fresh.
DUPLASS: I think I’m changing a little bit in terms of my interests and expanding into different genres and I want to bring the sense of relationship study and naturalism into things like sci-fi and horror and see what that does.
The One I Love opens this weekend.