We Need a Montage: Jay and Mark Duplass on The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

Figuring out the sports movie montage, the power of Rudy and the perils of sweat continuity.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

I’ve seen the Duplass brothers so much this year that I can even tell their voices apart without my notes (I did still take notes to accurately attribute them). The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is their fifth movie, but it was filmed before Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives At Home. They took the opportunity to make films with John C. Reilly/Jonah Hill and Jason Segal/Ed Helms while they were available. Their Do-Deca actors – Steve Zissis, Mark Kelly and Jennifer Lafleur – told us that the wait taught them patience in Hollywood.

The film is based on some real brothers the Duplasses know, who created their own 25-event competition to prove who’s best. In the movie, Jeremy (Kelly) provokes Mark (Zissis) into reviving the competition, and Mark’s wife Stephanie (Lafleur)’s disapproval. Maybe it was seeing me at previous junkets and film festivals that created some comfortable familiarity, or maybe they were just loopy from doing all this press, but this was the funniest and most engaging encounter of them all. So it’s good that this is the time we interviewed them, and they began by gossiping about their previous interview.

 

Jay Duplass: In the last roundtable, swear to God, there was a dude in the corner, napped the whole time.

Mark Duplass: It was fantastic.

Jay Duplass: I literally wanted to go up right next to him and just do the super pop.

Mark Duplass: WAKE UP! WHAT INSPIRED THIS FILM IN YOU! WAKE UP! HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO EDIT! WAKE UP!

 

CraveOnline: So he was part of the roundtable?

Jay Duplass: I don’t know what the f*** he was doing there.

Mark Duplass: I think he put his recorder on the table and walked to the back of the room.

Jay Duplass: Is that what he did?

Mark Duplass: Oh yeah.

Jay Duplass: That was so weird.

 

I wish I’d seen it because I would know who it was.

Mark Duplass: It was pretty fantastic.

 

So you have 25 events to get into 80 minutes plus plot. How did you figure that out?

Mark Duplass: [Singing] “We need a montage!” Every good sports movie needs its montage and I bring up the montage because in this film, the montage really was the breakthrough in the editing of this film. Here’s the question with this film: Are we being tongue in cheek? Are we being sincere? What is the level of that? We tried some funny music, like we had John Parr’s “Man in Motion” and all this stuff. It was too ironic and we were like this is wrong. We’re throwing darts at these people. Then one of our editors Nat Sanders put the Rudy soundtrack in there. We listened to it, we watched it and we all knew it was right. Jay articulated it perfectly. He said, “Yes, because in the minds of these two gentlemen, they are in the Olympics. That’s what they’re hearing. They’re hearing the Rudy score in their head.” And that set the tone for the whole film. These guys take it with the utmost seriousness and love and we’re not trying to make fun of that. It’s funny but it’s kind of beautiful and heartfelt to us too.

Jay Duplass: To Mark’s credit, I have to say that when we put John Parr in the movie, Mark thought it was perfect and we had to sadly explain to him that to everyone else in the world, this was going to read as ironic. To him, it was the most sincere.

Mark Duplass: It was real to me. I cried.

 

So how did you decide what events you wanted to see in full and what you’d have to montage out?

Mark Duplass: Certain ones are more filmable than others needless to say.

Jay Duplass: Yeah, that was written that way. We didn’t film all of the events to that length.

Mark Duplass: The first thing that was very obvious to us was arm wrestling. You could have an entire scene without any dialogue composed entirely of grunts, sniffles and sounds of men spitting on each other.

Jay Duplass: Accidental farting.

Mark Duplass: That one we always knew was going to be in there. We always knew that ping-pong and pool would be great things to film, we would be able to do those well.

Jay Duplass: And also just the family events that could be hijacked by the brothers and created into a Do-Deca event, that was a big part of the plotting of the movie in terms of how they could sneak this competition.

Mark Duplass: But certain things are best told in one or two shots. For instance, The Long Jump. That’s perfect montage material.

 

You talk about the sincerity of the Rudy score, were you thinking Chariots of Fire at all?

Mark Duplass: We thought Chariots of Fire. Ultimately it was Rudy and then we pulled out a little “Fanfare for the Common Man” from Aaron Copland. We brought that to our composer, Julian Wass and we’re just like, “We’re doing this.” And he smiled and he was just like, “Yes.” And it was the perfect thing to do because we didn’t have to put a touch of irony in it. Basically we made an epic sports score with mostly synthetic instruments. That in itself had its own little low-fi nature to it. It embodies the film. We made a huge sports dramedy with a cast and crew of 12 people and a digital video camera.

Jay Duplass: And two actors who are old and out of shape.

 

Having done one scene of arm wrestling, can you believe they made a whole movie of Over the Top?

Jay Duplass: Oh my God.

Mark Duplass: Well, we didn’t have the switch. They had the switch.

Jay Duplass: That was the critical element of that film, when he explained that when he turned his hat around, it brought a level of depth to the film that one couldn’t quite have imagined before and really made the film fulfilling.

Mark Duplass: What was up with that Robert Loggia subplot in there?

Jay Duplass: What the f*** were they thinking?

Mark Duplass: He was the grandfather or something. Man, that was intense.

Jay Duplass: This is a product of filmmaking from a time when everyone was doing coke and didn’t really realize that the coke was highly affecting.

Mark Duplass: The quality of the filmmaking.

 

Are there actually 25 events on screen? I lost count.

Jay Duplass: I don’t know if we had.

Mark Duplass: I don’t think all 25 make it on screen, but if you freeze frame you can catch them on the list at a certain point, but I don’t know that they’re actually all represented.

 

What was it like shooting in a Laser Tag?

Jay Duplass: It was hard to shoot in a Laser Tag when you only have seven people to shoot in a Laser Tag because they’re very big. At a certain point we realized we just needed to turn the house lights on and stop the cameras down. It was ridiculous because we shot that whole scene in one day. That’s a scene which you know, but not everyone who watches movies would know, would take any studio movie a week to shoot. A low light carefully crafted silent scene essentially. All this action is happening and you have to understand all these things that go on, but we just did it run and gun and turned all the lights on.

Mark Duplass: Well, we didn’t take all day because in order to get access to the location for free to shoot there, they asked us if we would take an hour and a half to shoot a commercial for them. We forced two of our crew members to shoot a quick commercial for the facilities.

Jay Duplass: Which is online on YouTube right now.

Mark Duplass: It is? Son of a bitch, I’ve never seen it.

 

How can we find that?

Jay Duplass: You could look it up right now on YouTube and see it.

 

What’s the name of it? What Laser Tag?

Jay Duplass: I don’t know. Laser Tag commercial if you look it up.

 

That’ll be a lot of Laser Tag commercials.

Jay Duplass: It’s two guys hiding behind a wall.

Mark Duplass: It’s too good, dude.

Jay Duplass: The concept is that two guys are hiding behind the wall.

Mark Duplass: I gotta find this now.

Jay Duplass: And you are thinking you’re watching a trailer to a sci-fi movie and then they’re terrified to turn around and shoot. They turn around and shoot and you realize that they’re in Laser Tag arena and they’re so intensely emotional and crazed about it.

Mark Duplass: But it was fine because we had 15 minutes to get it right. And this is the nature of independent film.

 

Are you teaching kids the metric system with Do, Deca and Penta?

Jay Duplass: It’s a teaching tool. That’s what the film is.

Mark Duplass: We are teaching them ways to incorrectly use our wonderful Greek/Latin mythology. I think that what have here is in Do you have two, in Deca we have ten and Pentathlon we have five so we’ve got 2-10-5. So two times ten plus five, we get there.

Jay Duplass: Could’ve been 17 events I guess.

Mark Duplass: Could have been. Could also be 100 with 2-10-5.

Jay Duplass: But that’s what the original brothers called it. They literally had a name for it. They called it that.

Mark Duplass: I don’t know if you do know this but this is a completely biographical story based on these two brothers we knew in New Orleans who created this actual event in high school. We fictionalized it to take place 20 years later.

 

I think Do Deca Penta is correct, two tens and a five.

Jay Duplass: The original brothers told us what the true Greek prefixed name would be.

Mark Duplass: It’s just not as cool.

Jay Duplass: It fell flat and one of the brothers said it’s infinitely less catchy than Do-Deca-Pentathlon.

 

What was it?

Jay Duplass: I don’t remember what it was but it wasn’t as catchy. Potentially easier to pronounce however.

 

How difficult was it to maintain sweat continuity?

Jay Duplass: We didn’t give a sh*t. We did not have the luxury to maintain continuity.

Mark Duplass: I will say this too, and I’m not just making this up, sweat continuity is an issue for really in shape actors. Really out of shape actors, not so much an issue because they just sweat through the whole scene.

 

Maybe this comes from the original brothers, but did you notice that competition may be inherently funny, but also a little pathetic from the beginning?

Mark Duplass: Yeah, absolutely. For us, what your’e describing dovetails perfectly with what we love, which is that there’s a sadness and a hilarity to what they’re doing. It is oh my God, it’s so funny, it’s so funny, look at them, these chubby guys competing against each other. Holy sh*t, this is all that these guys have and they’re putting all this meaning into these little sports. What’s wrong with their lives? This is kind of sad. That’s beautiful to me. I love that combo.

Jay Duplass: That’s what in my opinion dimensionalizes the story, especially with the family and the wife in particular who at first you’re like, “Yeah, why is she trying to shut this thing down?” Then as these guys become bigger and bigger monsters and the joy starts to turn into this weird mania, you start to realize…

Mark Duplass: She’s right.

Jay Duplass: The crazy one is actually the one who’s totally correct and has the best read on what this situation actually is.

 

If I knew that from the beginning, does that mean I’m quite advanced in my maturity?

Jay Duplass: More evolved. You’re more evolved.

 

Is it also important to learn that repression is not the same as getting over it?

Mark Duplass: Hmm, I never thought about that. We like the idea that our lead character Steve, and this was once in the film but we took it out because it was too on the nose, but that he really feels like the Hulk. He, in order to stay in Bruce Banner mode, he needs to stay away from his brother because his brother brings out the Hulk in him. Bruce Banner keeps him successful in his marriage, successful as a father, successful at his job, keeps him even keel. Even though it doesn’t make him happy.

 

Now that you guys have a clean slate, what’s next?

Mark Duplass: Good question, man. We’re writing a bunch of stuff right now. We’re writing a couple things on assignment. We’re writing specs that we might direct. I go onto “The League” in the fall and we’re trying to figure out what the next movie we’ll direct is. We’re not feeling really rushed because we have made five movies in the last six years and both have young kids too, so taking a little bit of a beat to write new stuff.

 

Was that an important filmmaking education, that you have to shoot when you can shoot, but that doesn’t mean it will be done until three movies from now?

Mark Duplass: Right.

Jay Duplass: That’s a big thing for us I think is continuing to work and to make movies as opposed to getting caught up in lots of meetings about what could potentially be. But also at the same time trying to be detached from forcing things and from rushing them. I think that’s kind of been our M.O. We’re going to continue to make movies but we’re going to make them on our own time and we’re going to make sure that we can usher them through and make sure that they’re everything that we want them to be.

 

You’re getting theatrical releases for your films at this point, but do you feel empowered by all the new avenues like VOD and downloads?

Mark Duplass: We do. I mean this film in particular is coming out on VOD ahead of its theatrical and we feel like that’s actually the best platform for this movie. Quite honestly, Jay and I are at a point in our career where we could’ve just gone traditional straight theatrical but we actually feel like certain movies are better built to do well on VOD. We’re going to take this movie into probably somewhere between 12 to 20 theaters, places we know where it’ll play well, but it is a movie without movie stars in it. So we want to be realistic about who will come see that film.

Jay Duplass: And how long it can last in a movie theater.

Mark Duplass: I guess we’re parents now and we don’t get to the movie theater a lot and we watch a lot of these movies on VOD. All I hear about it when we release our films is, “Why is my movie not here in Lincoln, Nebraska? Why is my movie not here in Idaho?”

Jay Duplass: Even people in New York and L.A. who are big fans of these movies and would go see them, they were like, “Oh, it was only in the movie theaters for three weeks.”

Mark Duplass: And they have a 16 week old baby and they couldn’t get out.

Jay Duplass: They go, “Where is it now?” Well, now you’ve got to wait. Now you’ve got to wait ‘til this happens.

Mark Duplass: We’re not fussy about our movies being seen in theaters. It’s great. Go see it in a theater but I’d much rather you watch it at home on your 42” TV than not watch it at all.

 

And they don’t know how to do a platform release anymore. That model is gone.

Mark Duplass: So we’re trying different stuff.

Jay Duplass: Platform releases aren’t really working that well anymore.

Mark Duplass: It’s weird, Jeff just came out on VOD like Tuesday and it’s exploded. It’s crazy how quickly it’s getting around. It makes me question that too. Sh*t, man, this is where people are seeing movies. I can deal with that.

 

Mark, are you in SEAL training [for Kathryn Bigelow’s SEAL Team Six movie]?

Mark Duplass: Uh, no comment.