Mark Duplass

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Sunday’s first keynote address came from the multi-talented filmmaker Mark Duplass. The address lasted 30 minutes and covered topics ranging from the current state of independent filmmaking to filmmaking advice, but his message was simple: “The Calvary will not come.”

Duplass used the hypothetical career trajectory of an imaginary independent filmmaker, “Randy,” to illustrate the difficulties associated with breaking into the film industry. Duplass said most of the work will be done on the filmmaker's end, and, even after mild success, offers will not be great. He stressed that the only solutions was to make films yourself.

Interspersed throughout the Randy narrative, Duplass gave pieces of advice targeted at the aspiring filmmakers. He stressed the importance of finding a group of friends-turned-production team — but a small crew is still preferable.

He warned that your first piece would be a “steaming pile of dog diarrhea,” but he said aspiring filmmakers should stick with their vision.

“Your first film will suck but a gold nugget will appear,” Duplass said. “Flaws are okay because your stories are unique.”

Duplass’ pieces of advice:

1.     Set up free screenings for famous actors to attend. One will like your movie and ask to work with you.

2.     Don’t take business meetings, make movies.

3.     Don’t major in film. Minor in film and major in Spanish or Mandarin.

4.     When you start to make money, give that money to your friends so they can make their films.

5.     Make content you want to show your kids.

6.     Apply to screen your films at A-list film festivals. If it doesn’t get in, go anyways. Connections are invaluable.

7.     If you are an actor, make movies yourself. This will give you street cred and producers and directors will want to work with you.

8.     Work and make movies in small towns. The rent is cheap and connections will come easier.

Dichroic glass finish film by 3M covers the ceiling of their booth at SXSW. They also had a photo booth, live DJ, and and refreshments.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Over the course of this week, we'll be live-blogging SXSW — the good, the bad, and the outrageously hip and sweaty. Follow Daily Texan reporters, photographers and editors as we post the highlights of our work here. For minute-to-minute coverage of the best and the worst that SXSW has to offer, follow us on Twitter at @thedailytexan. Want a recap of Saturday at SXSW? Check out our coverage on yesterday's blog.

Update (7:30 p.m.): “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon spoke about how he adapted the Netflix show from the popular British series and offered advice to up-and-coming directors, writers and producers. The discussion, held in the Capital Ballroom B at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, was light-hearted, and Willimon kept the crowd entertained with a constant stream of jokes.

“First I’m going to do forty-five minutes of transcendental meditation, so we’re going to have to fit this into the last fifteen minutes,” Willimon said.

Willimon discussed the writing process for a season of “House of Cards” and said that it typically starts with coming up with the big ideas and topics that the season will explore. Willimon talked about failure and said it is a key ingredient to the creative process.

‘My first though when I get up in the morning is ‘I’m going to die,’” Willimon said. “To me, it’s a liberating thought. It’s the one truth we can all agree on. When you confront that first thing in the morning, the rest of the day’s easy.”

Willimon opened up the floor to questions and answered a variety of different queries. Many of the questions were about issues of race, diversity and gender in television and on “House of Cards.”Willimon said that he aimed to make the show as apolitical as possible.

“There is no political agenda to the show,” Willimon said. “Our protagonists are not ideological because they view political beliefs as a form of cowardice.”

When on audience member asked if there were was going to be a fourth season of “House of Cards,” Willimon said that the creators “have not officially announced a season four.”

—Alex Pelham

Update (6:15 p.m.): Saturday night, the world premiere of Sally Field’s most recent film, “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” impressed the majority its South by Southwest audience. Read our review here.

On Sunday, Field and the film’s director and writer, Michael Showalter, sat down to discuss the movie and Field’s 53-year-long career.

“I’m here, because you’re here,” Field said, spreading her arms out toward the audience.

Click here for more from the discussion.

—Danielle Lopez

Update (5:50 p.m.): Four years ago, Austin music teacher Quentin Thomas-Oliver went looking for a drummer willing to play the type of music he wanted. When he couldn’t find one, he built one.  

“So I had this idea of playing classical, tribal, industrial music,” Quentin said. “Everyone makes a face, which is fine, but it’s my thing.”

His two homemade robotic drums make up 50 percent of the band Pony Trap. The other two members are Quentin and his wife, Hillary Thomas-Oliver. The husband, wife and their robot band mates spent Sunday afternoon walking up and down Sixth Street promoting their show at The Dive on Friday.  Read more about Pony Trap here.

—Kat Sampson

Update (3:30 p.m.): Tired of the typical SXSW events and crowds? While SXSW offers a lot of the same features, it's still an Austin festival — there's bound to be something weird going on at any given time. Click here to read our roundup of some innovative events.

Update (2:15 p.m.): “Quitters “is full of messed up people. There’s Clark, a teenager who is a selfish, controlling creep. His girlfriend, Natalia, is struggling with accepting her father’s death, while Clark's ex, Etta, is sleeping with her English teacher in order to distance herself from her parent’s collapsing marriage. What follows is a slow-as-molasses tale of teens trying to find their proper place in the worlds.

The great characters in the film save it from being a dull, pretentious movie. Yes, Clark is a social-awkward and unlikeable weirdo, but he clearly expresses his dilemma of finding a home that possess what he believes is “intellect.” “Quitters” may not be the most accessible film for everyone, but it is an interesting portrait of wealthy, spoiled teens going to pieces as everything crumbles around them.

Rating: 5/10 Daddy Issues  

—Alex Pelham

Update: (2:00 p.m.): "Ex-Machina" premiered today at the festival. The film tells the story of what happens when the line between human and machine blurs. While there are some flaws, the movie stands out as a both a sci-fi and psychological thriller. The acting is solid, the visuals are stunning, and the plot is inventive.

If you didn't get the chance to see it, our movie reviewer, Alex Pelham, provided an apt and thorough review of the film. Read his full review here.

Update (1:15 p.m.): Did you miss the festival yesterday? If not, do you want to relive it? Check out our slideshow of Satruday's events from the film and interactive sections. 

Update (12:30 p.m.): Mark Duplass gave some interesting advice to young filmmakers. He emphasized the importance of a well-rounded education, diverse interests and financial intelligence. Despite being a filmmaker, Duplass warned against majoring in film. Rather, he suggests, one ought to study Spanish or Mandarin, and film should, at most, be one's minor.

Our Life&Arts editor, Kat Sampson, rounded up the best of Duplass' advice. Read his words of wisdom here.

Update (11:30 a.m.): South By Southwest can be overwhelming for even the most battle-hardened festival-goer. Be sure to take some time to rest and recharge. Click here to read about some convenient getaways that will let you relax away from SXSW.

Update (10:50 a.m.): Live tweeting will begin at 10:50 for actor Mark Duplass' keynote event. Follow @katclarksamp to catch the event's highlights. Duplass will talk about changing models in the television and film industries.

Update (10:30 a.m.): It’s Sunday, and you know what that means: brunch. Unless you’re going to South By Southwest, in which case, ain’t nobody got time for that. Grab a breakfast taco for the perfect fuel to power you through day three of SXSW. Staff foodie Elisabeth Dillon recommends six tacos to try while you’re in Austin for SXSW.

Update (9:55 a.m.): Good morning! It’s day three, and we hope all of you aren’t as sore as we are.

On our agenda for today:

Mark Duplass Keynote — Director and producer Mark Duplass will discuss the ever-changing film and television industry. When and where: 11 a.m. at the Vimeo Theater.

Love and Mercy —This film follows The Beach Boys’ lead singer and songwriter Brian Wilson’s successful but costly career, featuring John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks. When and where: 2:15–4:15 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre.

David Carr commemoration —  As a tribute to the late New York Times’ columnist, "Page One: Inside The New York Times" will screen followed by a talk with CNN’s Brian Stelter and UT’s School of Journalism director R.B. Brenner. When and where: 5:30–7:30 p.m. at the AT&T Convention Center.

Above Average: A comedy-filled evening hosted by Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow, along with additional members of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. When and where: 8 p.m. at Esther's Follies.

—Danielle Lopez

Update (9:30 a.m.): The front end of South By Southwest is filled with films. Having trouble making sense of all the different types at films at the festival? Wondering what to watch? We recommend “Sweaty Betty,” an entry in the narrative feature category that is showing at 1:30 p.m. at The Alamo Ritz. Read our categorical breakdown of films at SXSW for a complete breakdown with our recommendations.

Update (9:00 a.m.): Weather Report: Looks like today will err on the cooler side, with consistent cloud coverage and temperatures staying below 70 degrees. Wind will pick up throughout the day, so hold on to your hats and consider saving that sundress for tomorrow — lest you have a Marilyn Monroe moment. Check the full weather report here.

Update (8:22 a.m.): Anyone who’s done South By Southwest knows how exhausting of a festival experience it is. Between film premieres, secret shows and food trucks, there’s never a dull moment. But if you think this is exhausting, talk to one of the thousands of volunteers who help make SXSW possible. They may be taking your ticket or helping at the Austin Convention Center. They do it for love of the festival – and a free badge. Read more about the SXSW volunteers program here.

Haunted mirrors, Mark Duplass, and "No No" make strong debuts at SXSW

While SXSW always has an extensive program of narrative features, they’ve got an equally impressive roster of documentaries. Documentaries aren’t normally my priority, but there are a few each year that are absolutely worth seeing. “No No: A Dockumentary,” a moving, often hilarious sports documentary, is high on the top of the pile.

The film chronicles the life of Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who famously threw a no-hitter while high on LSD. Though it starts a little slow, “No No” is at its best when it’s indulging in small anecdotes about Dick. Stories about him impulsively picking a sparring session with Muhammed Ali or reading a letter of support that Jackie Robinson wrote him are highlights of the film. These moments also have a vice grip on a slippery tone, breaking up heavy emotional moments with a perfectly timed joke, or vice versa. “No No” also makes smart use of archival footage, letting damage or distortions to the picture reflect Dock’s oft-elevated mental state.

“No No” ends with an unexpected redemptive arc sneaked into its final half hour, and the tearful interviews with the people Ellis helped in his twilight years are genuinely powerful. “No No: A Dockumentary” is a snapshot of a sports icon’s life, painting an even-handed picture of the pitcher while telling the story of his legacy in emotional fashion.

Saturday night also saw a double feature of films produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions: “Creep” and “Oculus.” Blum is notorious for his high-speed, high-intensity horror productions, and the haunted mirror story “Oculus” is no exception. “Creep,” on the other hand, is an entirely different beast, mixing Blum’s sensibilities with those of lo-fi indie king Mark Duplass.

Duplass, an Austin native, has made a name for himself with the mumblecore films he and his brother Jay have co-written and directed. Duplass often stars in his work, along with a starring role on FX’s “The League, and he’s an incredibly likable presence on screen – easygoing, affable and hugely charming. Duplass brilliantly subverts his image with “Creep,” playing Josef, an ostensibly friendly loner who hires Aaron (Patrick Brice) to document him for a day. Josef is dying of cancer, and wants to leave a video diary for his unborn son to view someday.

At first, Josef is your typical Duplass character, full of incredible enthusiasm and effortlessly sympathetic, but there’s a persistent uneasiness to him that Aaron slowly starts to pick up on. As “Creep” starts to earn its title, Duplass’ performance remains uneasily charming, never losing sight on his earnest demeanor even as his character’s actions are increasingly nefarious. Duplass plays very well off of director/co-writer/co-star Brice, who spends most of the film behind the camera – the film is a found footage exercise, like many of Blum’s productions. Brice shines in his rare moments on-screen, and does a great job selling every unsettled reaction to Josef’s actions.

Before Josef’s façade starts to crack, “Creep” is often very hilarious, and its indulgence in horror staples later in the film is basically a game of tonal Russian roulette. Thankfully, “Creep” makes a major break in format about an hour into the film, and it handles its shift into creepier territory with wit and grace. The film really only has one method of scares: Josef popping out from behind stationary objects. While the jump scare is one of the cheapest in the genre, “Creep” is slyly self-aware, and attempts to comment on the horror genre through its one-note execution. While the film doesn’t fully succeed on that front, it’s funny enough to keep viewers engaged through its brisk 80-minute runtime, and is ultimately an entertaining, worthwhile experiment.

“Oculus,” meanwhile, is a more traditional ghost story, told with thrilling momentum. Karen Gillan stars as Kaylie, an antiques dealer who’s spent her entire life trying to track down the Lasser Glass, a haunted mirror that caused her father (Rory Cochrane) to kill her mother (Katee Sackhoff, effectively terrified and feral as the film’s principal punching bag). Just as she finally finds the object, her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from the mental institution he was sent to after killing their father in self-defense, and she brings her reluctant sibling in on her plan to avenge their parents.

One of my favorite things about “Oculus” is that 15 minutes in, it’s already at what seems like the climax of the film: Kaylie and War going to war with the Lasser Glass. After a grimly determined, powerful introduction from Gillan, the film hits the ground running. It’s set almost entirely in the house where Kaylie and Tim’s parents were killed years earlier, and while the concept of having a standoff with a haunted object may seem silly, the execution is anything but. “Oculus” is relentlessly spooky, and while it only has a few moments of pure visceral terror, there’s a lot to be said for the sensation of overwhelming dread it constantly evokes.

In telling the story of the siblings’ battle with the mirror and their parents’ demise simultaneously, “Oculus” pulls a great trick, switching back and forth between the present day and the past, where Kaylie and Tim are played by Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, respectively. As the film picks up speed, the lines become blurred both for the viewers and the characters, and director Mike Flanagan (who also edited the film) does a great job with the disorienting shifts between time periods. Every transition is incredibly smooth, and though the narrative trick does become a bit overbearing in the finale, it’s a clever way to establish the mirror’s terrifying capabilities while fulfilling lofty narrative goals.

If there’s one bone to pick with “Oculus,” it’s the ending, which underserves Gillan, who gives a fierce, likable performance and gets one sublime moment of terror, in favor of her admittedly effective younger counterpart. The film’s resolution is ultimately unsatisfying, derailing promising character arcs in what feels like a ploy to leave the door open for a sequel down the line. Nonetheless, “Oculus” is a fun ghost story with enough originality, memorable scares, and narrative backflips to keep its lackluster finale from sinking the ship.


Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson star in Colin Trevorrow’s ‘Safety Not Guarenteed.” (Photo courtesy of FilmDistrict)

Many people had no idea who Aubrey Plaza was before she began quietly stealing scenes on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” but once she began popping up in comedy films here and there, her distinctive brand of deadpan surliness began to get her some attention. With “Safety Not Guaranteed,” Plaza gets a huge chance to shine, and her performance alone makes the film worthwhile.

Plaza plays Darius, an intern at a Seattle magazine. Another intern, Jeff (Jake Johnson), finds a compelling ad in the classifieds asking for a partner in time travel and ominously declaring “safety not guaranteed.” He asks Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to go track down the story with him. Darius quickly learns that the ad’s writer is Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a possibly insane but undeniably sweet grocery store worker who may or may not be legitimate in his quest.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” operates in several genres at once and juggles the ensuing demands of its narrative marvelously. The film has the setup of a mystery, a bit of romance (notably in a thematically appropriate offshoot about Jeff chasing down a fling from his past) and even a dash of conspiracy thriller and science-fiction. But above all, it’s a comedy, and the film is wise to never lose sight of that. It’s funny throughout, but its jokes are drawn much less from the plot than from the script’s fantastically developed characters and what we learn about them over the course of the movie.

Plaza’s Darius isn’t who one would normally build this type of story around, usually focusing on the investigative reporter or the paranoid aspiring time traveler, but she makes for an interesting central character. The role is perfectly suited to Plaza, using her curmudgeonly demeanor to mask a sweeter, wounded side, and when the film goes for truly poignant moments, it’s because of her honest performance that they work.

As for the supporting cast, director Trevorrow pieced together a strong group of players, each of them bringing something distinct but essential to the table. Duplass plays his Kenneth as a fundamentally good guy with a strong passion and seriousness for his mission, and the dynamic that his character develops with Darius is unexpectedly tender.

Soni’s awkward intern character looking for resume experience without any real memories to go along with it gives the film tons of unexpected huge laughs, and his effeminate delivery and harmless creepiness is brilliantly deployed throughout. There are several scenes in the film where Soni, Plaza and Johnson are kicking around ideas, and the chemistry between the three of them is so strong, the jokes they bounce off of each other so sharp that they’re some of the film’s highlights.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” may focus on Plaza’s character, but it’s by no means a one-woman show. Great performances showcase a heartfelt, funny script from Derek Connolly, one that’s never satisfied to rein itself into any single genre but still makes some beautiful insights to humanity and our desire to know about our world and the people in it. The film ultimately builds to a triumphant, cathartic conclusion, a daring, unexpected way to end a film that bills itself as a typical comedy. “Safety Not Guaranteed” doesn’t fit into any particular box, and it’s proud of it, which is something that makes the film worth seeking out.

2011 Austin Film Festival

Jason Segel (left) and Ed Helms (right) star in the Duplass brothers' most successful film yet, "Jeff Who Lives at Home."

Jeff Who Lives at Home
Jay & Mark Duplass

Genre: Comedy
Grade: B+

The Duplass brothers started off with 2005’s ultra-mumblecore “The Puffy Chair” and have slowly progressed into more commercial fare, starting with last summer’s “Cyrus.” With “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” the brothers have made their most crowd-pleasing feature yet. The titular character, played by Jason Segel, is introduced to the audience through a hilarious opening monologue about his passion for the M. Night Shamalayan alien film “Signs,” and Segal gives even the most depressing dialogue some comedic heft as we get to know Jeff and his pathetic existence.

When Jeff’s mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him to Home Depot to get wood glue, Jeff stumbles into a series of events that puts him on a collision course with his brother Pat (Ed Helms), whose relationship issues with wife Linda (Judy Greer) become clearer as the film goes on, and ultimately with destiny itself. “Jeff Who Lives at Home” plays out like a warmer, softer episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which delights in putting its characters in a variety of deeply awkward situations playing out across several story threads before tying them all together in an often elegant final sequence. The film succeeds here greatly, slowly bringing its characters together for an ending that’s unexpectedly dramatic but wholly earned, making for a satisfying, moving experience and the Duplass Brothers’ best film yet.