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CYRUS

Welcome To The Duplassian Method
Working with Jay and Mark Duplass has always been a unique experience for both cast and crew members, and the brothers saw no reason to change their idiosyncratic approach for their first Hollywood film. Their unconventional methods ranged from shooting the script in chronological order to allowing the actors to develop their own dialogue and blocking. Even the most experienced hands were surprised and energized by it.

"I think we should write a book about the ‘Duplassian Method,' because it is fascinating on every level,” says co-producer Chrisann Verges. "For me, the most wonderful thing about the way they worked was that we shot in script order. We could see the story unfolding and watching dailies was like a soap opera. What's happening to Molly and Cyrus and John today? The actors told me they really enjoyed that because they were able to grow in their relationships, much as you would in real life.”

In another major break from more traditional filmmaking, the brothers don't set up specific action for their shots. "We bring the camera to the actors as opposed to bringing the actors to the camera,” says Jay. "We found that we couldn't get the performances we were looking for by putting actors on marks, so we started fostering realistic experiences and capturing them like documentary filmmakers. In the beginning, Mark was holding a boom, I was holding the camera, and it was all literally going down right in front of us.” 

As irregular as that technique may seem, it creates the immediacy the Duplasses—and their actors—value. "I love the way they use the camera,” say Marisa Tomei. "A lot of the time they had two cameras going at once, which allowed them to catch everything as it happened the first time. It was really great for the actors, because we were able to be right there at the same exact moment as our scene partners.” 

To further that sense of realism, the brothers flood the set with light so the actors can go where they want to go, without worrying about hitting their marks. "We had to spend a lot of time rigging the set,” says Verges. "But once it's rigged, the actors can get in there and do their scenes. And once we started shooting, we shot a lot. Since we were using an HD camera, we didn't have to be concerned with how much or how long we shot. We might shoot five hours of footage a day.”

As recently as five years ago, those long takes wouldn't have been possible, but the advent of high definition systems, like the RED camera used on CYRUS, gives filmmakers amazing flexibility. "We did 15-minute takes in this movie and we got gold by not interrupting them,” says Jay. "Plus, shooting 35 millimeter film, you have a giant beast of a camera on your shoulders. I'm one of the camera operators and I'm not a strong person, so that was a big part of the decision to go with RED as well.” 

But it's the improvisation that is truly the heart of the brothers' unique brand of filmmaking. "We would start with the script and then go into improv,” says Verges. "Maybe the first third of a take was scripted, but just when you thought the scene was over, they'd let the camera run a little bit more and get these great nuggets at the end.”

And while that's a big part of what makes their films special, it also means the filmmakers must be able to rely on their actors to know the characters inside and out. "These actors are really intelligent,” says Jay. "They know what they're doing and they understand scripts and storytelling a lot better than most people. What Mark and I do is give them a very specific objective for each scene. For instance, ‘You are very angry with this person and your job is to get out of this room.'  "And then we secretly tell the other person, ‘Whatever you do, do not let this person out of the room,'” he continues. "If you just go with those two objectives, you're going to have a scene, and

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