Jay Duplass Explains What Makes a Good Netflix Film

by Stacy Lambe 12:25 PM PDT, October 29, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

An as actor, writer, director, producer, and brother, Jay Duplass is one half of an unlikely powerhouse duo that has taken over Hollywood. Between him and his sibling, Mark, the two have struck a four-picture film deal with Netflix, created HBO’s Togetherness, and produced a number of buzzworthy films -- The Overnight, The Skeleton Twins and Tangerine -- over the past year.

Their latest release is Manson Family Vacation, which debuted on Netflix this week, and also features Jay in front of the lens. A tale of two brothers, who bond over a road trip through Charles Manson’s legacy, it is part drama, part comedy, part thriller. And it’s the kind of film that’s perfect for the streaming network.

Without big stars or huge special effects to warrant a theatrical release, the Duplass brothers have chosen to release it online, knowing that all movies don’t require viewers to spend $14 at the theaters. “You are probably going to lose money on it,” Jay says if they went the traditional route.

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“What we’ve just learned to do is to support the film in the way that it best is going to reach its audience,” Jay says. “With this movie, there’s no doubt about it, its audience is on VOD and on Netflix.”

Their instincts are proving correct.

The One I Love came out in theaters for the enthusiasts and did a chunk of business on VOD,” Mark told Wired in July. “But when it started streaming on Netflix, it exploded. Same thing with Safety Not Guaranteed.”

In a rare move, Netflix even released the streaming numbers for Beasts of No Nation, a big picture acquisition that’s also seen as the network’s first Oscar contender. It was a flop at the box office, only making $50,699 in 31 theaters its opening weekend, but was streamed three million times, according to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

“I think [that] is a bigger audience than any specialty film could ever hope for in its first two weeks of release, and maybe for its entire run,” Sarandos told Deadline. “We are just thrilled with the total audience reach of this film, not just in North America but the world. In the first week of release, Beasts of No Nation was the most watched movie on Netflix, in every country we operate in.”

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The numbers seemingly support what the Duplass brothers knew when they signed a deal with Netflix back in January. And now, as their success continues to grow, Mark and Jay are also getting into the Oscar race. Their first real contender, Tangerine, is a revenge drama about two transgender sex workers who want to teach their pimp a lesson.

In October, they launched an Oscar campaign for the film’s stars, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, two transgender actresses vying for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. It’s a potentially historic move as no transgender person has been nominated for the Academy Awards’ acting prizes.

"Jay and I are new to the Academy, so we’re just figuring this whole thing out,” Mark told Variety. “One thing that has become apparent to us as we look at this stuff, it seems that the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the Trans movement with Transparent (which also stars Jay) and Orange is the New Black. We feel that the film Academy is a little behind on that front.”

The film, an independent release, which has become one of the best reviewed movies of the year, also seems like it would have been the perfect Netflix release. It’s a niche film and doesn’t have any big names attached to it. It was even shot entirely on iPhone 5s. But Jay argues the opposite. “We felt like it could make a splash theatrically, because there is no other movie like it out there,” he says, marking a distinct difference between Tangerine and Manson Family Vacation.

“We felt very bullish and confident that these girls did such an amazing job in the film and hit a new level in terms of honest portrayal,” Jay adds. “We wanted to take that chance and try and get it out there, and it’s done really, really well.”

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While it’s too early to know how the Duplass brothers’ Oscar hopes will pan out, they’re busy working on their next projects. Jay will direct Mark in Togetherness, which returns to HBO in February. He will also reprise his role as Josh Pfefferman in season two of Transparent, which returns to Amazon on Dec. 2.

And it’s the Emmy-winning series that really has driven home the importance of fighting for Tangerine.

“Being an advocate is something that I take a lot of pride in. It is important to me,” he says. “I live in a very gender fluid world, so much so that I don’t even notice it anymore. So, when I notice the world being unfriendly in any way, I definitely tend to do whatever it takes to help however I can.”