Baghead (2008): Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

Sony Pictures Classic

“Baghead” is a high-concept, low-budget indie. Contradiction in terms? Not really. The nature of this project, made to order for the Sundance (and other indie and regional) film festivals across the country, is better understood when one examines its origins.

When the Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark) were shooting their feature film “The Puffy Chair,” a crew member asked them, “What’s the scariest thing you can think of” The immediate response was, “A guy with a bag on his head staring into your window.” Reportedly, some thought the image was ridiculous, whereas other deemed the concept as funny but not scary enough–not by today’s standards. Thus “Baghead” originated as an attempt to take a literate but slightly absurd premise–a guy with a bag on his head–and make it funny, truthful, and scary, too.

The end result shows that the filmmakers have succeeded–more or less. With a clear and explicit nod to the horror flick “The Blair Witch Project,” which premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Fest, and which the directors must have watched numerous times, “Baghead” concerns would-be auteur directors caught in the woods and not quite alone to be invited to Sundance in a long time.

In “Badhead,” the Duplasses tell a warm, quasi-engaging shaggy-dog tale about sexual pursuits, alongside a bid for instant fame by dreamers who may or may not be desperate, all played by actors playing actors. Out of sympathy and concern for the actors, not surprisingly, all of the film’s roles were cast with unknown actors; in some cases, the parts were written specifically for cast members. Also not surprisingly, they represent familiar types from the indie milieu. Take Matt, for example, the hot group leader, or Chad, Matt’s chubby best friend and sidekick, who has a crush on Michelle, the young Midwestern girl who moved to Los Angeles and is more interested in Matt.

No satire about actors playing actors is complete without an aging thespian, which in this picture is filled by Catherine, the desperate pushing-40 thespian, whose agenda is to make steady her on again-off again relationship with Matt before she loses him to a younger, more attractive girl.

True to its origins, “Baghead” is done in a rather primitive indie guerilla style, with low production costs and a very small crew, headed by Jay holding the HD camera, and Mark overseeing the boom. The film was shot over three weeks in the woods, just like “Blair Witch Project,” with the actors asked to do extra-jobs, such as carrying lights, or cooking dinner–sort of all-in-the family.

Perhaps more than anything else, the intermittently charming “Baghead” shows that, if you have a workable idea, basic technical skillsand a lot of chutzpah–almost anyone could make an indie these days. Call it Indies 101, a useful lesson in the democratization of the filmmaking process.

End Note

The directors recalled: “In 1980, the New Orleans Saints were well on their way to another losing season. Some of the fans were losing hope and gaining shame. They stopped going to the games for fear of being seen as a blindly optimistic fool and ridiculed at work the next day. Some fans, however, would not abandon their beloved home team. Sure, they were embarrassed and ashamed, but they were loyal. They stayed. They believed. But, they needed something to hide their faces. Something cheap, something readily available. Something brown and crinkly, where the eyes and mouth could easily be punched out. Now, this story doesn’t really have anything to do with our movie, but it kinda does. When one looks out over a sea of people in a major NFL stadium wearing bags on their heads, it’s a bit hard to process. It’s definitely a funny sight, but in the right light, it’s kind of terrifying, too. That very dichotomy was exactly what we wanted to explore with Baghead.”