Mark Duplass’ SXSW 2015 Keynote

mark duplass sxsw keynote

I really like┬ámumblecore film (i.e. microbudget, no-budget film). If you go the archives from years past, you can see I’ve done some film reviews, usually of independent films. Of the independent films I watch, Mark Duplass is a stand out I like. He’s gotten sorta huge in the past few years. Currently he has a TV show he writes and produces on FX called The League, HBO show Togetherness that he writes and produces, and has a guest-starring role on Fox’s The Mindy Project, all while still managing to have a movie career outside of all of those other projects. Busy guy!

He wasn’t always this way.

He used to be just like the rest of us: working a day job, living in a crappy apartment in South Austin, TX, and wanting to have a career as a filmmaker but having no connections to the industry. This wasn’t the typical tale of some twenty-something guy who passionately wrote a screenplay, happened to know someone who worked in the Warner Brothers mail room, and the script ended up at the studio heads who loved it and immediately produced it. That usually only happens in lofty dreams/hollywood movies.

Duplass didn’t know anyone who worked in the mail room at a studio. He didn’t know anyone in connection with Hollywood film, for that matter. He just knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. So set out to do that by making a no-budget short film with his brother, Jay Duplass, that cost them only $3 bucks. According to him the film was poorly shot and not that good. Despite the production quality, the taste and vision was there.

He worked at his day job, diligently saving money, and continued to make short films almost every weekend. He and his brother started to build a community of people they collaborated with, acted with, wrote with, and edited with.

Big piece of advice? Don’t go to film school. He says to minor in film and major in something that can get you a good paying job (since you’ll need to save money). When a guy in the audience asked a question about if he should go even go to college and film school, Duplass told him to think hard about it and maybe even skip college due to how expensive it is.

Duplass had some incredibly great, fresh, advice on up and coming filmmakers trying to break into the industry further. He talked about his experiences going from a guy having no connections to honing in on his craft, building a community, and moving up in the industry. There were eight tips he touched on.

1. The $3 Short Film

When you’re just starting out, find out the resources and locations you can work with and build the short film around that. Duplass said he and his brother spent $65,000 on a film called “Vince Del Rio”, it was their first film and it turned out horribly bad and him and his brother got depressed and almost gave up. They didn’t. They persevered and made another low/no-budget film and submitted it to a bunch of festivals.

“It doesn’t matter what your film looks like as long as it has a distinct quality and unique aspect to it”

2. Make a Feature for Under $1,000

Again, figure out all the resources, locations, and people that can help you and make a super low-budget film. Go make the movie on your own, with your own team.

3. Show Your Movie to Notable Stars

Even better, notable stars who are frustrated by the lack of choice in roles they get. Let them see your $1,000 movie at a festival and tell them you will build a movie character based on what they want. A lot of them won’t respond, but some will.

4.┬áMake Another Cheap Movie–But With Notable Star

The cheap movie with the notable star will have the power to get distribution to video on demand services (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc).

5. VOD is the indie film’s savior

“This is where I think VOD is an amazing thing to have for independent film” Duplass says

The cheap movie made with notable star will get some attention on VOD, unlike it would if it played in just a few theaters, and agents and other people will start to notice you.

6. Next Stop: TV

At the beginning of the keynote, Duplass mentioned how much of middle class film is dead. There aren’t that many $5 million to $10 million dollar budget films that are produced unless they have a notable star in them. TV is the replacement. TV is the new age medium indie filmmakers can go to.

You pitch a show to a network, it will probably get denied, and so you independently produce a few episodes of the show and sell it to a network looking for fresh, inexpensive programming.

7. Raise Your Friends and Help Them Out

Now that you are in a better place, help out your lower level friends produce their projects. All about building a community of people.

8. Crossroads

People will be offering you directing, writing, and producing jobs. They will be tempting to take. A lot of the offers will fall through. It’s okay though. You have built yourself up. You won’t be rich but you’ll have a solid reputation, people will see you as a filmmaker. You will be able to show your kids your movies and say that was 100% no compromise, your movie. Some studio doesn’t own it, you do.

 

The speech ends at around the 25:00 minute mark. The floor is open for questions. One that stood out was about moving to Los Angeles. A person wondered about if, when they should move. Duplass answered by saying a filmmaker should keep making films where they are, where they know lots of people that can help them (with locations, props, crew,etc) and can get to know themselves. A filmmaker just starting out can’t do that kind of thing in LA.

Two pieces of great advice (don’t move to LA until you find your style/voice and don’t major in film) and eight tips on success in the film industry.

Watch the keynote for yourself. It’s a great viewing with lots of original and fresh bits of advice and anecdotes.