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Mixed Bag Brothers Got Loads of Input to Make Sure Their Odd ‘Baghead’ Made Sense

August 5, 2008

By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Aug. 5–When it comes to moviemaking, brothers Jay and Mark Duplass get by with a little help from their friends.

Make that a lot of help.

Throughout the process of editing their movies — the latest of which is the hard-to-categorize “Baghead,” opening Aug. 8 — they show them to friends and family, looking for reactions that will make the film better.

That feedback was especially helpful on “Baghead” because it’s such an odd duck. At the beginning, it seems to fit in the “mumblecore” genre, movies about late twentysomethings who talk and drink without getting much done. Then, maybe it’s a romantic comedy. Then, the two couples who are the focus of the film go to a remote cabin and it begins to seem like a slasher film. “Baghead” whips the viewer around so much that the Duplasses weren’t even sure if audiences would get what was happening.

“It’s an obsessive conversation that was happening the whole time we made the movie: ‘Is this scene going to send the movie too far off course?’ ” says Jay, who visited the Twin Cities with his brother last month to promote the movie.

“That’s why we test our movies constantly. We’ll show our friends the most subtle version of the movie first and ask them, ‘OK, at this point in the movie, had you noticed this?’ Or, ‘Did you understand what she meant by this?’ ” says Mark. “It’s a really big part of our process of making a movie, because we definitely don’t believe we have all the answers.”

“And we’ve been fairly

lucky with audiences helping us figure things out,” agrees Jay. “We usually try to make sure we weed out the friends who’ll only tell us what they think we want to hear. And anybody who might be an actor who’s hoping to appear in one of our movies.”

“The thing is that we are always doubting ourselves,” Mark says. “So our need to show stuff to people is always going to be there.”

Showing “Baghead” to people helped the brothers clarify the relationships of the characters and it helped them figure out how to juggle the mutating tone.

“The romantic comedy stuff is our comfort zone, so we were on solid ground there. But, when we screened the movie at Sundance in January, the audience showed us that the scary stuff was even scarier than we hoped,” Jay says.

The brothers were surprised by how effortlessly all the competing elements of “Baghead” seemed to fit together, even though they knew how much add-a-little-more-here/take-a-little-out-there effort was involved.

“It’s a little like the peren-nial dilemma of thrift-store shopping,” says Mark, whose worn T-shirt and cardigan connote a fair amount of Ragstocking. “You comb the store for hours and hours to find a shirt that will look like it’s been hanging in your closet your whole life.”

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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