Jay and Mark Duplass were on a nice little run with their micro-budget filmmaking careers when mainstream success got in the way.
The University of Texas graduates had just premiered their second feature, "Baghead," at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008 and were spending the spring in their hometown of New Orleans making "The Do-Deca Pentathlon."
Then the phone rang.
Their movie "Cyrus" had been green-lit by Fox Searchlight. The brothers put "The Do-Deca Pentathlon" on the shelf and headed off to film the awkward love-triangle tale starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei. They'd get back to "Do-Deca" after they finished their first studio film.
Then the phone rang again. As they were editing "Cyrus," the Duplasses got the funding for their second studio film, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon.
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With "Jeff" in the can, the brothers returned to their small indie film with heightened profiles and a few extra tools from their time spent on the two studio films.
The biggest difference with their latest, which they consider the third in their trilogy of micro-indies that started with 2004's "The Puffy Chair," is the use of score. From their collaboration with composer Mike Andrews, who worked on "Cyrus" and "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," the brothers learned to use music to add texture and complexity to the film.
In "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon," the brothers use triumphant Olympic-style music to heighten scenes and mix in irony, while using more subtle strings to underscore the emotions of personal moments.
" ‘Do-Deca' didn't really take off and acquire the tone and the spirit, that sort of sweet, championship, goofy Olympics spirit," until the brothers started experimenting with the soundtrack for "Rudy," Mark Duplass said. "I don't think in a million years in 2008 we would have been ready to implement a fanfare score for our film. I think that's what really got the movie to where it is now."
Though the movie may sound different from the first two films in their trilogy, it has a similar visual style and features some familiar faces. At its heart is Duplass childhood friend Steve Zissis, who has appeared in four of the Dupalsses' five features.
"He's kind of been like the sweetest, funniest, most entertaining guy we've known growing up," Jay Duplass said. "A lot of people have a beautiful woman from their past that serves as their muse, and our muse happens to be a 240-pound balding Greek man."
Zissis plays Mark, the well-intentioned but sad-sack father and husband who is lured into a decades-long sibling sporting rivalry with his condescending brother Jeremy (Mark Kelly). The story of two grown men battling in a 25-event Olympics-style competition is loosely based on brothers the Duplasses knew in high school.
"We just loved how funny and kind of sweet but also a little sad and tragic it all felt," Mark Duplass said. "We felt we could even up the sadness by doing our movie with these guys meeting up 20 years later and all that sibling rivalry built up."
Revisiting creative work from your past can often be an unsettling experience. But the Duplasses said they had no shame or ego about the endeavor. Though their studio films interrupted the process, the Duplasses say they always planned to finish "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon." And were it not for their studio successes, the third film of their micro-trilogy would have been met by a much smaller audience.
With "Do-Deca-Pentathlon" finally finished and slated for limited theatrical release as well as an on-demand platform release through a deal with Fox Home Entertainment, the Duplasses find themselves in new territory. And probably with a much thicker Rolodex than when filming "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" in 2008.
"It feels more wide open to us than it has in the past. We're always talking about what genre can we tackle next that would be most inspiring to us," Jay Duplass said. "We like bringing our relationship-oriented approach to different genres of films. ... So we don't know what that's going to be. But for the first time, the drawer full of scripts that we've written is actually empty now, and we're kind of looking around to see what it's going to be."
Contact Matthew Odam at 912-5986 Twitter: @Odam