10 Series Secrets From the Duplass Brothers
Multi-faceted filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass attended a screening of the first two installments Season 2 of Togetherness at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The series creators were interviewed by TV critic Alan Sepinwall who also opened the floor to fan questions. Read on to learn more about the brothers’ craft, Steve Zissis’ sex appeal at 17 and how their storytelling is inspired by E.T.
Spoilers follow from the Season 2 premiere.
1. THERE’S MORE STORY THIS SEASON
Going into Season 1, the Duplass brothers were new to television, something Mark felt acutely. “We realized we were writing too much stuff,” he explained. “We needed to write shorter scripts for the second season so it would an easier story to shoot and manage.” How’d that pan out? “We did the exact opposite," he confessed. "We wrote longer episodes that had way too much story and then ended up cutting down.” As a result, “the story pumps at a little quicker of a clip. The first season is more wallowing in what’s happening at the space in between. That interpersonal dynamic stuff is still happening, but it clicks along at a plot level.”
2. THEY CATERED TO AMANDA PEET
Jay called the actor behind Tina “a wellspring of intelligence, insanity, 13-year-old boy humor and barking.” Jay revealed that he and Mark focused on Peet while crafting the new episodes. “She’s just brilliant and a very complex human being. We spent a lot of time with her and brought a lot of that to our writing in Season 2.”
3. STEVE ZISSIS RETURNED TO HIS SEX GOD ROOTS
Mark shared how excited he was to see “Steve Zissis become a different kind of person than we had seen from Alex Pappas in the first season.” Alex’s storyline has real life roots: “It’s based on us having known Steve since high school,” Mark explained. “He was a golden Greek god at 17 years old; the president of our student council and playing in a cover band called Blueberry Jam where he would sing the falsetto of [Led Zeppelin’s] 'Immigrant Song' perfectly, just holding the microphone cable out with sex oozing out all over the place. Only Jay and I know that about him – but not any more, because that stuff’s coming through the tube!”
4. THEY LET MELANIE REACT
Another huge takeaway from Season 1? “What Melanie Lynskey can do with her face,” Mark said. “Jay and I are so verbal and improv-based, this year, we had the confidence to just take the words away from her and let her do her thing.”
5. ALEX’S WEIGHT LOSS IS REAL
“He worked his ass off,” Jay Duplass revealed of Steve’s trimmed-down look this season. “We’d talk all the time about how he needs to lose weight and be in shape and he’s like, ‘You’re just going to have to write it into a movie. I can do anything for a movie. But I’m not just going go to the gym.’ All we had to do was create an HBO show. It’s just that easy.”
6. EVERY TAKE IS IMPROVISED…
Mark explained how improv works on set: “We work from a very traditional script. The dialogue’s all written out, but we’re not like, ‘Let’s do four takes on the script and then improvise one.’ Every take is improvised in that the actors are allowed to say whatever they want; to resay the lines however they want to say them; to throw our surprises. It’s like telling a 4-year-old they can run away from home. They need to know that and go a little bit out; but what ends up happening is they just circle the block and stay close.”
7… BUT THE ACTORS HAVE THEIR OWN IMPROV STYLE
“Everyone has a different way of how they go about it,” Mark described. “Some people are a little more narrative-minded. Amanda is a playwright, so she thinks like a writer when she’s improvising; she’s very conscious of where the story is moving around. It’s wonderful at times; sometimes we have to say, try not to worry about that. Melanie is more of a true actress, so she wants you to give her the narrative nuggets to guide. Steve and Jay and I, as creators of the show have our brains on the story.”
8. THEY WERE (ALSO) SURPRISED BY MICHELLE'S CHOICES
“It was a surprise to us,” Jay admitted about Michelle’s affair with David. “We actually thought that she wouldn’t go through with it, and then when we were creating Season 2, we started to realize that this was going to happen and it would give us a richer season. It’s just the perfect storm; David’s so nice and handsome and Brett’s just not there for her at that point in time.”
9. THEIR TV IS INSPIRED BY E.T.
“The show was originally created for our friend Steve Zissis so he could not die in obscurity,” Jay confesses, “Then HBO had this idea that instead of Steve being the lead with three tertiary characters, they wanted it to be a four-hander.”
Mark admits that although the duo was defensive of their initial idea, they came around. “They were like, ‘What you have is a story that’s a long movie, but you’ll be dead in the water by Season 2. If you can create this four sustainable leads, this will allow you to have a TV show that lasts for multiple seasons.’ If there’s one thing we learned as feature filmmakers, you have 90 minutes, as soon as the plane’s in the air you know you have to land the goddamn plane. We’re always trying to close the story. They told us, ‘Open the story.’ Whenever we’re in the writers’ room, we think about E.T. – that moment when he has all the little red planets, he throws them up and they stay in the air. That’s what we need to do with our stories –to get them up there and let them hang.”
10. THEY KILL WITH KINDNESS
When asked how they got two separate series on HBO at once [Check out Animals.], the brothers were matter of fact. “I will say that the more momentum that you get, the easier it is to do things in this industry,” Jay observed, “and we’ve been at this for a very, very long time. Mark and I have been talking to HBO for 10 years since [their feature film debut] The Puffy Chair about doing something. It just felt like this story could go on and on, so we sold that to HBO.” Meanwhile, HBO bought Animals. at Sundance. “Part of that had to do with the fact that Togetherness is a show they really love. It is not an expensive show. We deliver it on budget and on time every time. We’re nice.”