Austin Film Festival: A Conversation With Jay Duplass

On making movies and making babies

Jay Duplass
Jay Duplass (by Jack Plunkett)

Jay Duplass was never destined to be a success. None of this had to happen. His story is one of luck and grit as much as it is talent and success.

The Austin Film Festival set up a conversation between Duplass and the Austin American-Statesman’s Matthew Odam that spanned several decades, multiple cities, and lots and lots of hard work.

Jay Duplass is the older member of indie-film darlings the Duplass brothers with his brother Mark Duplass completing the pair. While growing up in suburban New Orleans, they were a part of the first generation of kids to have cable television come into their lives. It was magic.

"We didn’t know how good it would be,” Duplass says. While most youngsters at that time were drawn to MTV and classic reruns, these boys found themselves watching more mature fare. "We were watching hard-hitting relationship dramas.” Movies like Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer captivated these filmmakers-to-be, a fact that Duplass acknowledges is more than a little strange.

Like many others of the time, they made their own VHS movies, which Duplass describes as “horrible.” There was no grand realization that this would be their future. They were just making stuff.

Jay came to the University of Texas for college and escaped the doctor/lawyer trap that upwardly mobile parents like his often foist on their kids. He studied psychology, but ended up taking classes in radio-television-film. Soon his brother would join him, and from there, the pair immersed themselves in Austin’s thriving film scene.

Even with this passion for the art form, their careers stalled. Jay got jobs editing small projects, and Mark played in bands. On the verge of his 30th birthday, Jay knew something had to give. They had been making films on and off, but he thought they were “total crap.” At the urging of his brother, they sat down and made the short film that would change their lives.

Inspired by an incident where he couldn’t get the outgoing message right on his answering machine, Jay filmed his brother acting it out, complete with scene-ending emotional breakdown. On a whim, they sent it off to Sundance. It was accepted, as was the next short they made. Eventually, the folks at Sundance had enough of their shorts and wanted a feature.

That request begat The Puffy Chair, a micro-budget road movie that brought them indie-world attention. From there, a string of movies has firmly ensconced the pair as filmmakers who always have an interesting idea up their collective sleeve.

With this success has come the desire to help others. They’ve mentored and supported younger filmmakers, including Austin’s own Bryan Poyser. He called them right as they were finishing their first studio film, Cyrus, and asked for $5,000 to keep his own project going. They decided to help him out, and they’ve been helping out ever since.

While Mark has always been in front of the camera, including in the wildly-popular TV series The League, Jay has only recently made that move. With roles on The Mindy Project and Transparent, he is loving this new outlet.

What does the future hold? More movies, to be sure, and the much-anticipated HBO series Togetherness. Given that network’s track record, as well as the brothers’ run of success, Togetherness might be the next water-cooler hit. The show features four characters struggling to achieve their dreams while dealing with the struggles of middle age.

Duplass, the 41-year-old father of two, can relate. "I don’t do anything except make movies and make babies.” Sounds like the next few years are going to be busy.

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Austin Film Festival 2014, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Togetherness, Bryan Poyser, AFF 2014

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