Jeff, Who Lives at Home by Jay and Mark Duplass

With their feature-length films “Cyrus,” “Baghead” and “The Puffy Chair” – not to mention a spate of short films – Jay and Mark Duplass have established themselves as endlessly creative filmmakers who continue to mine extraordinary stories from (what many people would term) ordinary life: a recently divorced man dating his dream woman, while trying to cope with her nightmare of a son; a group of actors trying to make their careers by creating their own horror film; a man, accompanied by his girlfriend and his brother, driving to pick up an eBay purchase as a birthday present for his father.

And now, with “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” Jay and Mark return not only to focusing their camera on a group of ‘everyday’ people, but also to a part of the United States they know intimately – their childhood home.  Known for their in-depth, character-driven films as much as their low-key, cost-effective filmmaking, the brothers experienced a case of life imitating art for their latest feature film:  in their signature style, Mark and Jay brought their own families with them as they moved back into their parents’ home while filming on-location in Louisiana for “Jeff.”

Jay Duplass states, “We grew up in New Orleans, in a middle class, hard-studying, hard-working environment, where our electives in high school were Greek and Latin.  We believed in the kind of life where you just work your ass off and you get it done, but we were also obsessed with the arts and film.  But it seemed very outside to us, very magical.  We never dreamed we would be in the positions that we are in now.  For both of us, we want to be Jeff.  We want to believe in magic and in the universe.”

Mark Duplass picks up, “We admire people who live their lives like that, even when it’s repeatedly punching them in the face.  So, for this film, we were excited to have two brothers, who thought in polar opposite ways, and watch the conflict and the humor that would come out of that.”

The script had been written by the brothers about five years ago, then put in a drawer – not to be forgotten, but kept as their “special project, for making when the time and the place were both right,” offers Jay.  “Mark and I lived in Austin, Texas for a long time, and we were friends with several people who spent about six or seven years in college, and then moved laterally from college into efficiencies and basement apartments throughout the city.  Then, they proceeded to philosophize about the nature of existence, the nature of their place in existence, the nature of destiny, and sometimes, that philosophizing was accompanied by some herbal enhancement.”

Mark is quick to point out, “Jay and I feel that the movie is not really about a stoner, but more about taking one of these sort of neo-philosophers and sending him out into the universe, where they rarely go, watching him interact while some of his theories potentially start to come true.  We’ve always been in love with characters who are lovable losers – sweethearts, naively hopeful about everything in life and trying to do their best, but also crippled by their inability to really do anything.  It’s heartwarming for us to see that guy go out into the world and engage in a bunch of little adventures.”

The ‘adventure’ for “Jeff” as a film began when the brothers partnered with Jason Reitman of Right of Way Films, Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith of Mr. Mudd and the team at Indian Paintbrush – “the perfect combination of producing people.  Our goal was to make a movie that had magic to it, by people who believe, and one that wasn’t really cynical or sarcastic.  In many ways, ‘Jeff’ is a movie about fate versus chance.  Here is a guy who believes, maybe more than he should, that his life has a great destiny ahead of him, while his brother, Pat, doesn’t believe in anything.  It was a great exercise for us to put these two guys together and see what happens to them on one eventful day.”

Mark confesses that this was their first script written without specific performers in mind for the parts created.  So, they looked to the serendipitous process of casting – what the universe would bring them – while searching for actors to bring their characters to life.  Because of their unique and focused filmmaking process (one that relies heavily on creating in-the-moment realism through studied improvisation), those who have been lucky enough to collaborate with the Duplass brothers are also quick to spread the word about the wonderful experience of working on a film with Jay and Mark.

For the brothers, an actor’s willingness to immerse in the process far outweighs marquee value.  Jay states, “Mark and I started with the philosophy, that we  only want to work with people who are incredibly nice, and who are excited to try our sort of unconventional, unorthodox way of working, which does involve a lot of improv and finding our way in the moment.”

The writer/directors worked with producers Jason Reitman, Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith, who were eager to collaborate on the involved process of casting.  When the team discussed Jason Segel potentially playing the title character, Jay and Mark met with the comic actor, and it was “immediately obvious to us that he understood the character of this hopeful person.  He really got our sense of humor and what we were trying to accomplish.  Jason Segel has a huge heart, and he’s a very magical and special person, which we felt made him the right choice for Jeff.”