Your phone rings. You pick up. A tired but sweet sounding man on the other line says:
“Hey, it is Mark Duplass. Is this Svetlana?”
“Hey Mark. Yes, it is.”
“So, we have 10 minutes to talk about a lot of stuff, I understand.”
“SO LET’S DO THIS. Lets squeeze A LOT of important stuff in 10 minutes. As much as we can.”
BYT has been blessed with a very solid filmmaker interview run. Since we’ve hit the ground running we’ve spoken to everyone from George Romero to Whit Stillman to Richard Linklater to Todd Solondz. How this usually happens is that you’re scheduled for a 10-15 minute squeeze in a day full of press promo interviews (20 IF you’re lucky). These men are doing this in the weeks leading up to the releases of their movies, and while 10-15 minutes is a phenomenally short and intimidating amount of time to speak to someone whose work you respect, it is EVEN MORE daunting of a tight schedule to talk to someone you always felt you’d want to be friends with (aka “the most dangerous feeling of all”). Such was the case with this Mark Duplass interview (who has two movies out this weekend: a sibling driven romantic triangle drama “Your Sister’s Sister” with Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt, as well as the time-traveling romantic comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” with Aubrey Plaza, and something like 85 more films coming this summer). Mark has been involved (as a writer, director, producer, actor, fairy Godfather) with so many of BYT favorite cinematic and TV outings over the course of the last half decade or so (“Cyrus”, “Jeff Who Lives At Home“, “The League”, “Puffy Chair”, “Humpday“, “Hannah Takes The Stairs”….) that having 10 minutes to talk to him feels like the tightest schedule of all. I am in a car to boot, and the person next to me driving is SUCH a Duplass fan that he keeps touching my phone as if he hopes to touch Mark in the progress. [Ed. (and chauffeur) note: Mark, that was purely metaphoric...but seriously call me so we can embark on our future best-friendship.] He’s also whisper-shouting “useful” questions like “Ask him if Nick Kroll is as funny in person as I think he is?”
Obviously, as far as film promoting interview set-ups go, we are pretty much looking at the worst case scenario here: extreme time limits and borderline stalkerish mental frame on our end. And we’re already 2 minutes down. So….here goes nothing.
BYT: OK Mark, let’s [squeeze a lot of important stuff in 10 minutes]. I am sure you’re doing nothing but talking about the exact same stuff about each movie….
Mark Duplass: (Silence…)
BYT: So we figured we’d kick things off with something a little different.
Mark Duplass: (Mortified Silence…)
BYT: In “Your Sister’s Sister,” your character is sent by his best friend to a remote cottage on an island off of Seattle to spend some quality time with himself and work on some pretty serious issues. Things obviously don’t go quite as planned but, if you were to escape somewhere for some time, no questions asked, where would it be, and who/what would you bring?
Mark Duplass: Well, that is a very good question. Especially since I have a four year old and a six week old and this is the kind of thing me and my wife (Katie Aselton of “The League” and “The Freebie” who provokes similar feelings in BYT offices as Mark does-ed) ONLY DREAM OF AND ALSO THE KIND OF THING that is not bound to happen to us for a while. But we just got this cabin, about 80 miles outside of LA and a few days out there, with a million puzzles, a million books, no one but my wife and plenty of sleep seems pretty magical.
BYT: It does.
Mark Duplass: I don’t remember when the last time was I had time to read a book.
BYT: Oh, we know. Book reading time is the ultimate 2012 luxury. Not just on the fly, but to sit down, open a book, read for longer than 20 minutes at a time without interruptions kind of reading….
Mark Duplass: So true. But you know this is such a “successful people problem”: no time. NOW, this cabin, that is the potentially realistic scenario. That ACTUALLY may happen if the stars align. In a total fantasy scenario… have you heard of those “around the world” plane tickets? Well, those are great. Like $1500 bucks, you get 7-8 stops or something. In a fantasy scenario, we’d get those and just disappear for a while. Both me and my wife got around to our careers pretty early on in our lives and kept pretty busy so we never got to do that bum-around-the-world-post-college thing. So that would be fun. It is not going to happen, but it would be fun.
BYT: Well, certainly, you’ve been really crazy busy. What is your schedule like with how many movies is it coming out seemingly all at once…
Mark Duplass: Yeah, well, lets see: Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, People Like Us, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon and Black Rock all about to be released. And “The League” will be back in August. Obviously, a lot of promoting is happening right now.
BYT: With so many of your own movies out, what movies are YOU looking forward to see this summer?
Mark Duplass: Well, we’re back to that dream scenario here. As a young Dad, I fear most of my summer movie watching is going to involve watching HBO GO, since I finally got my hands on my Father-in-Law’s password…
BYT: HBO GO IS THE BEST!
Mark Duplass: THE BEST. We’re zooming through everything from “Boardwalk Empire” to ALL the weird documentaries I get to watch (or hope to get to watch) on netflix. That’s pretty much my summer movie season.
BYT: We’re Netflix queue obsessives. Are you one of those people who have way too many movies in your queue?
Mark Duplass: Well, if you call 550 movies too much….
BYT: I have 364 and feel pretty shitty about the state of it, so…
Mark Duplass: Yeah, we’re both in that “I will die before I get to see half of these” movie watching boat. It’s pretty bad, I’m not gonna lie.
BYT: Well, we’ll keep you in our prayers regarding that. Between promoting 5 movies, a TV show, a family, an extensive netflix queue and a newfound HBO GO obsession, how does a moviemaker as prolific as you have time to work on your next 5 movies?
Mark Duplass: We’re always working on something. The good thing is the movies I WANT TO make are not John Carter type movies.
BYT: Thank God!
Mark Duplass: Yeah, we’re not dealing with studios, sophisticated set ups, special effects, etc. “Your Sister’s Sister”, for example, was made with mostly friends, was mostly improvised and it was all filmed in 11 days. My brother and I have something like a 100 movie list we want to make at any given time. So, you just pick one and you see what needs to happen for it to happen…
BYT: So, tell us a little bit about it. Emily Blunt plays your best friend in this movie. To improvise a best friendship, how does one go about that…
Mark Duplass: Well, there are A LOT of phone calls. We don’t really do those formal type sit down rehearsals. We just hop on calls and discuss our characters and a lot of what you see on the screen is pretty real: the mannerisms, the cadence… these characters are pretty similar to the way we are in person. Hopefully, in real life we’re a little (or a lot) less fucked up than they are, but similar. And with [Rosemarie DeWitt] we had barely met before we had our big first scene in the film. Which I think was good, because it made it all the more electric.
BYT: I can see that. Capturing that moment where two nearly completely strangers all of a sudden share something very intimate. It is exciting and awkward and “of the moment” and then… then you have to deal with it.
Mark Duplass: EXACTLY.
BYT: So, with the kind of movies you make, so much depends on the dialogue. And sometimes, in movies like the movies you make (but not THE movies you make) the dialogue is just not good. Sad to say that, but it’s true.
Mark Duplass: Sadly, it is. And it goes on forever.
BYT: So, what is the key to success there? If most of the dialogue is improvised, and you all have but a few days to tie it all together, how do you keep the story/dialogue train from coming off the rails so to speak…
Mark Duplass: Obviously editing is huge. Nat Sanders edits a lot of these for us (Your Sister’s Sister, Do-Deca-Pentathlon, The Freebie, Humpday). So he’s a master of making sense of these. And someone like Lynn Shelton is really good at setting the day up so that there is a goal to it. Plus, you know, I myself am a filmmaker of sorts so I am not necessarily going to allow myself to completely lose control of where this story is going to be, just for the sake of endless improvising. There is always a final goal in sight.
BYT: Absolutely. I read some interview where you compared indie filmmaking to camping. It is not necessarily easy, it requires physical labor and organization, but you know…
Mark Duplass: You get into it. And then you enjoy all that labor and chaos. Exactly.
BYT:So, I think we’re way over our time. One last question?
Mark Duplass: Go for it.
BYT: Your next project is going to be a quite a departure from your usual style. A Kathryn Bigelow movie… not really a “John Carter” type film
Mark Duplass: Thank God.
BYT: But as close as you ever got to one… How did that feel?
Mark Duplass: You know… it felt great. Obviously it is a big movie, but I am a huge fan of Kathryn’s work and if you saw “The Hurt Locker,” you know that she is a great fan of naturalism in acting so it was a great experience.
BYT: Well, we’ll add that to our list of Mark Duplass movies to look forward too. Good luck with everything and much love from us to your whole family.
Mark Duplass: Thank you.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED and YOUR SISTER’S SISTER both open this weekend and are playing at E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas. GO SEE THEM.