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The Duplass brothers premiered their new show, Togetherness, on HBO this week and so far I think it’s really great. There’s a simple reason for this, Mark and Jay Duplass have been hard at work making films their entire life. After a string of mediocre shorts and on the verge of giving up, they bought a DV tape for three dollars, shot a short scene in one take in the comfort of their apartment and submitted it to Sundance. The short is called This Is John and it garnered them some attention.
The next logical step? Make their first feature film, The Puffy Chair. The reason I write about this film is because of the sheer DIY ethics the Duplass brothers used and still continue to use in their filmmaking. It seems nearly impossible but The Puffy Chair was made for about $15,000. How could a film so good (check it out on Netflix now) be so cheap to make? Well, there are a few simple things that can be done.
First of all, write what you can shoot. Do you have access to an office setting, bar or just your apartment? Write it in as a location. Find any and every location you can for cheap or even better free. The Puffy Chair is a relationship film that takes place during a road trip. A lot of the locations are set outside in a field, in the van they’re driving or in The Duplass’ Parents’ home, not in expensive locations that would cost most of the budget. You can also just shoot wherever you feel like and hope for the best! It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
So let’s move on to wardrobe. Instead of spending production money on a costume department the actors wore clothes they already owned. If the script called for something specific they’d purchase the clothes and return them the next day. Keeping costs low is so important and extremely difficult in filmmaking so you need to look for every budget cut you can. All in all, the Duplass brothers spent roughly $100 on wardrobe.
Finally, the cast and crew, everyone worked for free. The brothers wrote the film together and Jay directed. The production crew essentially consisted of Jay rolling a DV Camera and their friend John Bryant manning the boom. Most the scenes, though written out, were improvised which gave the actors more freedom and the crew the ability to move quickly.
The film has about 15 actors listed in its credits. Mark stars with his real life friends and family rounding out the cast including his girlfriend (now wife) Katie Aselton, his friend Rhett Wilkins and his parents Larry and Cindy Duplass.
Most of the $15,000 budget was spent on production value, including camera and lighting equipment. The film itself may not have made the Duplass brothers the success they are today but it definitely was the first step in a long career of film and television making. It’s extremely impressive to see what two brothers and their friends can put together with a low-budget and a DIY work ethic.