Mark Duplass
Photo by Jeff Vespa

Mark Duplass: “It’s a dog fight”

 Listen to Audio Excerpt Listen to Audio Excerpt
Short Profile

Name: Mark David Duplass
DOB: 7 December 1976
Place of birth: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Occupation: Director, actor

Mr. Duplass, what makes a good TV show for you?

To tell finite stories that begin and end with each episode are really fun; you do a lot of explosive and wild things with them and take more chances… I don't direct very many of them so as an actor, the opportunity to collaborate with a bunch of different people through all the episodes means I get a chance to work with filmmakers with different voices than me. That's really fun. Plus,Room 104  is an opportunity to do stuff that’s very similar to plays in that it’s in one location, you get 25 minutes, and you’re trying something interesting… I’ve enjoyed finding the different creative side of myself that's been dormant for a while.

It sounds like much less pressure.

You know, Room 104 is just a Friday night show on HBO and I got to do exactly what I want to do. It's not the pressure of trying to make Game of Thrones. It's kind of like a little experimental lab in Kansas. I'm also kind of a failed playwright in my early days, so I just really like it there.

“I would have made a decent teacher — the only thing is I might've been bitter and an asshole because I wasn't able to do the things I really learned to do.”

Thinking back on those days, did you ever imagine that it would work out for you?

Not really, to be honest with you. I thought that I would get a college degree in English, try for a little while, fail, and then find some medium sized university in a terrible city that would accept me as a teacher and go from there. I think I would have made a decent teacher — the only thing is I might've been bitter and an asshole because I wasn't able to do the things I really learned to do. Of course, I did hope that one day I could make a career out of either making movies or plays, or making music.

You were in the band Volcano, right?

Yeah! I haven’t been in that band for about 13 years but it was a great ride. We had a record deal, we were out on the road — we were only making $112 a night split amongst three people but it felt cool as shit at the time. But at a certain point in time I needed to pick one, unreliable artistic career at a time, the movies won out…

Why is that?

Once we made The Puffy Chair, I just realized I was more suited to the filmmaking form. When I would see bands have to get up on stage and play songs that they wrote 30 years ago and pretend that they’re excited to play them… That might’ve kill me. But when you make a movie, you don't have to perform that movie ever again. You get to put it away and then you get to restart and do whatever the fuck you want to do that represents to you at that time. I really liked that aspect of creativity… Music and film, these were really the things that I loved most growing up, as a teenager and into my early twenties.

And by your late twenties, you were playing an integral role in the rise of the mumblecore film genre.

I think that was just this little club that the press made up, it was nothing that we sort of prescribed to. But the press was talking about us and that was nice. I think it was just their way of saying, “You're a bunch of young filmmakers that are using new technology to make cheap stuff,” and they put a name on it. I mean now it doesn't really mean anything because anybody and everybody has access to sort of democratized tools of filmmaking.

Which is great, no?

Yeah, that’s wonderful! At the same time, I think it is an ever changing landscape. It's really hard to make sweeping generalizations about whether things are harder or easier these days. If you're the type of filmmaker who wants to have $25 million dollars to make your movie about incest that has no stars in it and it's your first movie then it's a really bad time to be a filmmaker. But you can make things cheaply now on your iPhone, on your iPad for next to no money and have it sell really, really well, and I think there are certain kinds of people who know how to find an opening for themselves. And if you are that type of person, it's a great time to be a filmmaker.

Would you say you, and your brother Jay who you often work with, are the latter type of person?

We've always been that way, yeah. We never had any sorts of connections in the industry so we were always kind of fighting to try and find our way through. This might sound a bit reductive, but we don't feel we are owed anything by this industry. We feel like we're lucky to be here in the first place. I feel like people who feel entitled, quite frankly, they just pout that the industry isn't doing for them what they want it to do. I understand being upset about that, but I've just never been that way. My belief is that if I'm going to stay alive, I'm going to have to find where the next scrap comes from. It's a dog fight. And it should be! We should be willing to work your ass off and, and some people just don't see it that way.

“ If you're a 14-year-old kid from the middle of nowhere in West Virginia, you can win the Oscar. And that should be terrifically exciting.”

Do you think things would have worked out for you if you’d started working on movies today?

I sort of witnessed what that would be like firsthand when I worked on the screenplay of Unlovable with Charlene deGuzman. That was all about trying to represent her. It was autobiographical for her, so I tried to help mentor her through that process and I put together a group of the smartest women I know to help make that movie. I helped at the start and at the end but it was them who did the making of the movie. It was a really good process and Charlene's career has started from it. But for myself, yeah, I do feel really blessed that I came up at a time when technology was in the right spot.

So timing was a factor in your success?

Sure, but I would hope that the filmmaking tools have been even further democratized now, that anyone from anywhere can make a movie now. If you're a 14-year-old kid from the middle of nowhere in West Virginia, you can win the Oscar. And that should be terrifically exciting.