Sure, there are also parts that seem extraneous or simply don’t work, but the Duplasses never pretend to be masters of their craft. As they write in the book: “It seems that people like the Coen brothers have a specific vision of what their movies will look like from the moment they begin writing them, and then somehow are able to realize that vision and make those movies, for the most part, inspired and impeccably amazing. We, however, are not the Coen brothers.”
In episodic chapters, the Duplasses recount their upbringing in Metairie, La., and boyhood rites of passage like getting cable TV and a video camera to shoot their first movies. There’s a refreshing unpretentiousness to these sections: The brothers are unabashed fans of kitsch like “The Karate Kid Part II” and the soft-rock duo Air Supply, and their close-knit kinship turns poignant when Jay has an emotional breakdown as a student at the University of Texas at Austin and Mark, still in high school, travels there to take care of him.
Though their early, self-financed foray into grown-up moviemaking is a mediocre “Rocky” knockoff called “Vince Del Rio,” the brothers eventually earn acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival: first, in 2003, with a $3 short film called “This Is John,” and then, in 2005, with “The Puffy Chair,” a relationship road-trip feature.
Initially, the Duplasses seem to be living the fantasy of every indie filmmaker: “Buyers, agents, managers, producers and studio executives were all swarming us,” they write. But they quickly realize that these industry big shots are interested in developing other ideas with them, not in acquiring the movie the Duplasses made using $10,000 borrowed from their parents. “In short,” they write, “we seemed to be in demand, but we couldn’t figure out how to actually make money.”
It takes many months for the brothers to receive a legitimate offer for “The Puffy Chair,” and while they are eager to accept it, for the amount of money alone, they somehow find the fortitude to resist, and end up agreeing to a different deal — one that provides no money up front but includes distribution from an upstart DVD-by-mail company called Netflix. It’s a valuable lesson in patience that has continued to pay dividends for the Duplasses, who signed a four-picture deal with Netflix earlier this year.