Son, You Got a Baggie on Your Head

An almost-exclusive report from the set of the Duplass Brothers' follow-up to 'The Puffy Chair'

The editor is the first to speak up. "I never thought a guy with a bag on his head would be so fucking terrifying," Jay Deuby says. It's 3am and see-your-breath-cold in the woods east of Bastrop, and everyone is huddled around the flip-out screen of a Panasonic HVX200 watching a recent take of, well, a guy with a bag on his head.

It's silly, yeah, but now that we're watching the playback, we all have to agree that it's also more than a little creepy. By "we," I mean the crew – there are six of us – on the latest production from ex-Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass. It's called Baghead, and the eponymy is about all the plot description they want to divulge at this point.

(l-r): Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller, Steve Zissis, and Ross Partridge on the set of <i>Baghead</i>
(l-r): Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller, Steve Zissis, and Ross Partridge on the set of Baghead
Photo By Katie Aselton

I'm just here to help out for a couple of nights, along with another friend, so, truthfully, the crew roster is artificially inflated tonight. The core group: Deuby, a longtime friend who has cut most of their recent films; producer/gaffer/grip/location manager/everything else John Bryant; and, of course, the "Dupes," Jay and Mark. That's the Brothers' exclusive nickname for themselves. Apparently, everyone gets one on a Duplass Brothers set. The other Jay is called "Doob." John Bryant is "JB." I get to be "Poyser," as in Mark's admission that he "saw some Poyser crack" while I was pulling cable earlier in the night. The set couldn't be more informal. The brothers' wives, Jen Tracy (Jay) and the actor Katie Aselton (Mark), are part of the crew, as well, applying make-up, wrangling extras, and doing anything else left undone.

It feels like a family business, but there could have been an army of electricians, art directors, sound recordists, PAs, and maybe even a couple of celebrities out here in the woods. The brothers' star has been rising with the success of their debut feature, The Puffy Chair. The charming and rough-hewn romantic comedy premiered at Sundance in 2005 and was released to near-universal critical acclaim this summer by Roadside Attractions and Netflix.

Just before The Puffy Chair arrived in theatres, the Duplasses signed a deal with Universal Pictures to write and direct a new feature, while also agreeing to write a pilot for a TV series to be produced by another brotherly duo, American Pie's Chris and Paul Weitz. A prominent independent distribution company offered the brothers a $1 million budget for Baghead, but they turned it down. They're making it in the same way they've made all of their films since their shot-in-an-afternoon short "This Is John" caught the eye of Sundance in 2003: no stars, no money, no big crew, not even a tripod. There's a script, but no one looks at it – not even the actors. When Bryant's father comes to the set to play a small role – as with The Puffy Chair, the filmmakers are keeping it in the family – Mark explains, "Our method is just that you do what you would normally do in this situation, and we record it. If we want you to do something different, we'll tell you."

The Duplass Brothers
The Duplass Brothers
Photo By Katie Aselton

That kind of loose experimentation is nearly impossible on more conventional sets, where time is money, and there's never enough of either. The brothers also aren't afraid to bring the whole production to a halt as they talk through a scene, taking suggestions from the actors, the crew, even extras. What might cause a crew revolt on a Hollywood set is really at the center of the brothers' filmmaking philosophy: They'd rather stop the machine than use it to make something that doesn't feel right. Even when they're making a movie about a guy with a bag on his head.


Bryan Poyser is a filmmaker whose credits include Dear Pillow and The Cassidy Kids, both collaborations with Jacob Vaughan. He didn't tell us to tell you this, but his blog can be found at http://poyboy.livejournal.com.

You can find more information on the work of Jay and Mark Duplass – including future updates on Baghead and the news that The Puffy Chair is now exclusively available for rental through Netflix – at www.duplassbrothers.com.

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