Sunday, July 22, 2018


Like Brothers on my bookshelf.
The year was 2005. I had been auditing Professor Ray Carney's classes at Boston University, reading every book he wrote (Cassavetes on Cassavetes among others), corresponding with him frequently over email, habitually checking in on his website and even sometimes riding bikes with him since he only lived five minutes away from me.

One day, Carney posted on his website that he just saw a few short films by the Duplass Brothers and he was blown away by how good they were. The quality of the shorts convinced him that it was worth investing the time to see the Duplass' first feature film The Puffy Chair, which he was equally blown away by. Now, if Ray Carney said he was blown away by something he saw, you didn't take that lightly! As a very anti-Hollywood film scholar, he was perhaps the toughest cookie to please when it came to films.

What I'm getting at is, if Ray Carney said he was blown away by Duplass Brothers movies, I knew I had to see these movies!

Fortunately, I was able to find most of the shorts online -- not on YouTube -- but maybe it was some other video-sharing website or maybe the Duplass Brothers personal website...sorry, this isn't a very important detail. If my memory serves me correctly, I saw This is John first and was surprised by how fun and funny it was. I think I expected a more "difficult" and "complex" work because that's the kind of film I expected Ray Carney to be attracted to. But, no, this was a simple "three dollar film" and it was absolutely hilarious. In fact, I don't think I had ever laughed out loud so hard, the exception being the first time I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's first movie Hercules in New York (I highly recommend you see this movie if you haven't).

But, yes, This is John was hilarious and "simple" but this isn't to say that the film lacked depth. I found the seven-minute short to be a fascinating character study of an insecure man who obsesses over how he wants the outside world to perceive him. I actually went so far as to write a mini-essay on This is John that talked about what-I-referred-to-as "media personas" in this digital age, how we have technology that enables us to carefully craft how others see us. In the case of This is John, it's an answering machine greeting but, today, we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text messaging and all sorts of other ways we manufacture the way in which we want others to see us and also how we would like to see ourselves.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that This Is John and my media persona "essay" became the spark that set fire to my first (good) screenplay, which later became my first (good) novel called JOHNNY CRUISE (available HERE on Amazon -- sorry for the self-promotion), which is all about media personas among other things. I'm not sure if JOHNNY CRUISE ever would have been born if I hadn't seen This is John so I guess I have the Duplass Brothers to thank for my novel, which I consider to be my favorite and best to date.

I should also say that This is John convinced me that there was no reason why I shouldn't be making good short films on my own with what little money I had and what little equipment I owned. Money and equipment mattered little. Story, writing and acting was what mattered the most. 

I ended up making some great shorts with literally no budget and for one of them I didn't even have a crew. Everybody's heard of a one-man-band but I literally made a one-man-movie where I did all the writing, acting, cinematography and editing myself. Who knows: maybe I would have ended up making these movies anyway but This is John made me realize I could start making good movies, like right!

I would eventually go on to see other Duplass shorts like Scrapple and another one I don't remember the name of but it consists of an intervention for a friend who is suspected to be gay but won't come out of the closet. Both shorts were fantastic because they both started as very simple situations but you would go deeper and deeper into characters and the dynamics of a relationship as the film proceeded. They were very interesting character and relationship studies.

Then, I heard The Puffy Chair was coming to the Boston Independent Film Festival. So I went to the screening. Waiting in line to get into the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Katie Aselton's parents were behind me chatting. I don't know how I knew this but they had a little group of extended family members or family friends with them and it was obvious who they were. I was about to turn around and tell them how much I loved Jay and Mark's movies but I wussed out big-time.

As far as the film went, I loved Puffy Chair, especially the ending that was very anti-Hollywood, lacking proper closure and the message was that the complications in relationships never stop and, in some cases, relationships don't end up working out at all. Where in Hollywood movies, conflicts between characters always come to a happy resolution, the Duplass' movie realistically reminded us that relationships between people are always in a state of flux.

A few years passed, the Duplass' careers took off and I would go on to see Baghead, Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives at Home and even a short documentary by brothers-Duplass called Kevin, which was about an amazing guitarist/songwriter got it: Kevin. All great movies.

Anyway, all of the above is a long-winded preface to my review of the Duplass' Brothers new book Like Brothers. This book is not just an inspiring "behind the scenes" look at the Duplass careers and the making of many of their movies, but it's also a great behind-the-scenes look at the soulmate-like relationship between the two brothers. 

Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about the concepts of souls and soulmates and "twin flames" and "past lives" and reincarnation and all that New Age kind of stuff. Why? It's just an interest of mine. I've done extensive research on the subjects, I've visited multiple mediums and psychics, attended spiritualist meetings, etc. If souls actually exist, I can't help but wonder what the "history" is behind Mark and Jay's soul relationship. Are they twins on a soul level? Were they creative partners in a past life and both agreed to incarnate on earth at the same time, become filmmakers and tear sh** up in the independent film world? Have they always been together, whether on earth or in the spirit world? The reason I ponder all this is because, if you read their book, it's immediately apparent that their relationship seemed so close so early on in their lives. It's like they already knew each other before they were even born. Mark and Jay should really see a psychic or regression therapist to investigate into this possibility, and I'm not talking about the ones who have blinking neon signs on their windows that say "ten-dollar palm readings".

But enough of the New Age talk. Putting all that business aside, all I can say is that it's a breath of fresh air to see a relationship where there is so much mutual respect for each other, especially between brothers, for crying out loud! What's especially amazing is how much Jay respected Mark at such a young age. Usually, the big brother teases his little brother, doesn't want to hang with him, denies him three times in front of friends etc. But not Jay. This is another reason why I feel they have a soul history that extends beyond their time on earth, but damn, more New Age talk! Sorry.

Ok, putting all New Age talk aside for real this time (I swear), Like Brothers is a great read for aspiring filmmakers. Halfway through the book, Mark and Jay provide a very pragmatic step-by-step guide explaining how one can "make it" in this "brutal fu**ing [film] business". I won't share that information here but, trust me, it's good, practical advice for people who have no friggin' idea where to start. It's a great game plan that I personally wish I had heard about ten years ago but, hey, better late than never!

Sprinkled throughout the book are also fun, hilarious and rather insightful essays/stories. These stories gave me great ideas on how to improve my storytelling craft. For example, to pass time waiting for their flights, Mark and Jay brew up movie ideas that revolve around random people they see in the airport. Also, in another chapter, Mark tells a story where, during the writing of Puffy Chair, he was literally unable to write because of stress fractures and overall physical pain. He consequently got a tape recorder and "wrote" the movie through speaking it out onto a tape. Talking out your movie is a great way to make the dialogue sound more natural and give you a better idea of pacing and how long scenes should be etc.

By the end of reading Like Brothers, I found myself holding back tears and I don't remember a book ever doing that to me before. I started reading the book thinking I would be more interested in the filmmaking tips, career advice and interesting behind-the-scenes "making of" stories. However, by the end, I realized I was perhaps more interested in the story of Mark and Jay as brothers and the journey of their relationship, from struggling "nobody's" to success stories and everything in between. At times, I could see their story as a movie, like I could literally see the footage in my mind and the soundtrack, the tone etc. For example: Jay destroying what remained of the wooden box (you'll know what I'm talking about when you read the book). That image would say so much and no dialogue would even be necessary. I think brothers Duplass should consider making an autobiographical movie someday...

So, yes, I highly recommend Like Brothers. Mark and Jay basically have the ideal filmmaking careers (i.e. one foot in the indie world and one foot, or maybe just a few toes, in the Hollywood studio world). This book tells us how they got there, as a one-of-a-kind brotherly team.

MATT BURNS is not a New York Times bestselling author but he predicts he will be in the future; thus, he’s confident in saying that he is, indeed, a New York Times bestselling author (it just hasn’t happened quite yet). Both his debut novel "Johnny Cruise" and his filmmaking memoir "Garage Movie" are now available on Amazon. Also available are his numerous Kindle singles, including his best-sellers "Jungle F’ng Fever: My 30-Year Love Affair With Guns N’ Roses", "My Raging Case of Beastie Fever", "Three Days in Hollywood", "I Used to be a Gamer" and "Bostonwood". More notably, he has been published in the Los Angeles-based literary magazine "Poetic Diversity". Burns currently lives outside of Boston and makes films/videos in his spare time. Visit to learn more about him.

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