The prolific multi-hyphenate has several projects at SXSW, including one that he hopes will change how web programming is done
A prolific writer/director/actor/producer, Duplass is bringing two projects to SXSW this year: the horror-comedy film “Creep,” and the web series “Wedlock.” Both are seeking distribution, and while festivals are generally used to showcase and sell movies, the attempt to find buyers for an already-completed web series is a very unusual and novel concept.
“Wedlock” features Duplass and Jennifer Lafleur as a pair of type-A best friends who are constantly being told that they should be in a relationship. Now that they're getting older, and not finding romance elsewhere, they decide to give it a shot — by coming up with an entire, semi-insane game plan for falling in love, which they hope a therapist, played by Rob Corddry, can help them implement.
By making a quirky, accessible comedy, Duplass hopes that he can strike a chord and explore new distribution options.
“The feeling for me about that is it's kind of a way to test the waters for something I'm really excited about, which is this idea of taking the model of independent film, where you make something on your own, where you take it to a festival and sell it, taking that indie film model into the realm of television,” Duplass told The Wrap on Friday.
He continued: “There's no secret that there's great things being made for TV, and how many new outlets there are. Every day, you go online and hear about a new place that is doing TV shows. It's going to be like, ‘some tree on a street corner is now going to be doing a cable television show.’ My feeling is we have lots of places to go now and they're going to need content, so why not do what we did for indie film, for TV.”
In the mid-2000's, Duplass and his brother, Jay, helped spark a new movement of independent filmmakers, taking advantage of new and cheap digital technology by applying a “DIY” ethos to make films on their own terms.
Movies like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” among many others, were shot on tight budgets and sold at Sundance, while the team also harnessed the burgeoning VOD market for movies like “The Do-Deca Pentathlon.”
When Lafleur, Duplass, and director Ross Partridge came up with the idea for the series, they batted around options for how to get it off the ground. Ultimately, the same desire for independence that made their movies possible led them to independently make the ten episodes of “Wedlock,” which run five to six minutes each. Generally, web series are sponsored from the start by a distributor, like a Hulu or Crackle, but they eschewed that option.
“We were like, you know what? We could wait around and we could probably find the financing company and they'd probably give us notes on the script, they'd try to change the concept,” Duplass explained, “or we could just go grab some money from some people we know have it and will let us do our thing and go make it. And we did, we were in production within a few weeks, and it was pretty cool.”
Ironically, Duplass called to talk about his indie series from the set of his upcoming HBO show, “Togetherness,” which he says is halfway through production. He's thrilled with the experience and creative freedom, but felt that the model couldn't work for every idea.
“I was fortunate enough to sell my script, have them pick it up to a pilot, and then pick it up to a series. That's a three part process, which can suck,” he said. “The value of independent TV is taking control out of everybody else's hands and say, no you don't have to wait for the green light, you don't have to do anything. You get your private equity, you go make it. ”
The questions the series poses, Duplass explained, are in line with much of his other work.
“Can you force romance at all? Can you work at it and try to create it, or does there have to be an initial spark there?” he asked, rhetorically. “And what does that mean when you're also in your early 30s and you're like, well f-ck, maybe I'm not going to find anyone better, maybe I should get with my best friend.”
Even if “Wedlock” does sell to a distributor at SXSW, Duplass recognizes that there are significant obstacles to making the model work on a larger scale.
“I think it's incredibly expensive to make TV. Making a movie for 90 minutes versus making a whole season of content, it's a lot more expensive,” he acknowledged.
“It's a less sure marketplace, you know exactly where you're going to land. I know if I make a movie, there's 25 buyers, and it makes you feel more secure. I'm a little more in the Wild West now with this concept of indie TV. I think that's part of it. I also think, I mean look, there's a couple logistical things that happen with TV, which is what happens if you end up going multiple seasons? There's a lot to be worked out with it.”
Still, he is hopeful that “Wedlock” can inspire potential creators to push forward with affordable projects without worrying too much about distribution at the start. And as for the debate over whether there is an over-saturation of content in the market already, he errs on the side of the inspired creator.
“My general feeling is that when you are inspired to make something, you should never be thinking about whether there's room enough for that content in this world,” he said. “You should always go make it. If you are thinking, ‘dude, I've got to get myself to Sundance so I've got to put together a movie, I heard the Duplass Bros. and Andrew Bujalski threw their friends in a movie and started talking and they get a movie out of it, I'll just do that…’ don't do that.
“But, with the technology now, some 15-year-old kid in the suburbs of Ohio could pick up a camera one day and make an incredible movie, so I'm willing to accept a million pieces of shit that never get seen to sift through and get to that one movie,” Duplass continued. “It creates a little bit of heartbreak for the people who have made stuff and there's no place to see it, but in general, you've got to make stuff. I think if you are at all responsible in your mind about not making a movie just for the sake of making a movie, and you actually have something to say, you should always make it.”