Austin’s 1990s Film Scene Fueled Duplass Brothers’ Ambitions

Filmmakers and actors Mark and Jay Duplass write in a new book about their long-time collaborative relationship, and how Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez inspired their careers.

By Laura RiceMay 8, 2018 6:59 am

There’s no shortage of sibling filmmakers in Hollywood. Perhaps that has something to do with the collaborative nature of making a movie. Jay and Mark Duplass started their collaborative filmmaking career as kids growing up in New Orleans, and then began to polish their craft with the help of a stop at the University of Texas at Austin.

They’re known both for their work together in films such as “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” and Mark starred in “The League”,  and Jay in “Transparent.”

Now they’ve written about it in a new book, “Like Brothers.” The Duplass brothers told Texas Standard Host David Brown how their experience in Austin helped shape their careers in Hollywood.

“When Jay and I were in Austin in the mid-90s, I think we really cemented our creative partnership that has moved forward,” Mark Duplass says. “A lot of that was sort of under the spirit of Austin, that that just said ‘hey man, if you can make 6,200 dollars a year doing your think and making your art, you are living the dream.’ And that’s where our priorities were.”

They first came to the capital of Texas as aspiring musicians, but it was after seeing the work of local filmmakers Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez that they become interested in cinema.

“We arrived when ‘Slacker’ was at the midnight theater at the Dobie, and we realized slowly that we actually loved movies more than music,” Jay Duplass says.

“Linklater was our hero, and still is to this days,” Mark adds. “Someone we saw in jeans, and a t-shirt, and old sneakers making art, and we just thought ‘I thought you had to wear beret and smoke skinny cigarettes to make art’, and he just felt like us.”

The Duplass brothers stayed in Austin for awhile making films on a small scale, but when one of their short films was selected to go to the Sundance Film Festival, they made their jump, first to New York, and then to Hollywood.

“We never really planned on building a little studio or building like an empire,” Mark says. “We realized if we take this independently minded sensibilities that we learned from Austin, and Linkater, and Rodriguez, and we bring them into this Hollywood model, this is going to work for us.”

In their most recent visits, the Duplasses have seen that Austin is very different from the city they knew two decades ago. But they’ve also seen that there is a burgeoning film scene.

“I arrived in Austin in 1991, when it was very, very sleepy, and the sort of counterculture of Austin was different that it is now,” says Jay, who was present at the 2018 South By Southwest festival. “Then, it was more like a brave individualism, and now it’s more like a punk rock scene.”

In “Like Brothers”, Mark and Jay Duplass talk about how it is to work together for so many years, and why that collaborative relationship was the main inspiration for writing their book.

“This book is about the beauty and the terribleness of collaborating so closely with someone and the times when Jay and I really needed to link up our arms to try to climb this mountain of becoming viable artists that have something interesting to say, and could also be financially sustainable doing it,” Mark says. “And there were other times when we really feel like maybe we are codependent and we need to get a little bit of some space and some of the heartbreak that comes with that.”

Mark and Jay Duplass agree that their biggest achievement so far is the fact that they were able to succeed as outsiders in Hollywood, making profitable movies, still working together and liking each other.

“We were able to do it our way,” Mark says. “We got a nice little community of people that we work with and that we mentor, and that mentor us, and we like each other, and we like making them and that’s really valuable.”

Written by César E. López-Linares.