Mark Duplass has established himself as half of an independent film power couple. Over the last few years, the writer-director-producer-actor of the micro-budget mumblecore genre and his brother Jay (who are together known as the — and whose production company is called — Duplass Brothers) have worked on character-rich feature films like Safety Not Guaranteed, Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
But this isn't the only way Duplass keeps it in the family. With his latest film,Black Rock, he re-teams with his wife (and co-star on the F/X comedy The League) Katie Aselton. The feature, which Duplass wrote and Aselton directs and co-stars in with Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth, centers on childhood friends who set out on a camping trip to rekindle their friendships and end up in life-threatening circumstances after a drunken night of flirtation goes awry, opens May 17.
The film is, at times, dark with disturbing scenes that take on hot-button issues like war veterans' mental wellness and a woman's right to say no. The writer-director collaboration in making the film, however, wasn't nearly as polarizing.
“Unlike working with other writers, I do get to sit there and say, 'This isn't working. This dialogue doesn't sound like a woman speaking,' and he's like 'Cool, change it. Do what you want to do,'” says director Aselton, acknowledging that “there's a lot of freedom in there that you don't get when you're not sleeping with the writer.”
Aselton and Duplass have collaborated on projects for years. She appears in a number of his films and she says he encouraged her to make her first film, The Freebie with Dax Shepard, which was released in 2010.
“He really respected my voice as a filmmaker and let me tell the story I wanted to tell,” she says. “I definitely think you sit down and see Black Rock and it is not a Duplass Brothers movie. He totally was down with idea of making something different. I love that he doesn't shoe-horn me into his ideas of what a great movie is.”
But from the in-the-know audience's point of view, there is the fact that Duplass has created some violent scenes involving his wife's character.
“We were talking about different story ideas and what her next movie could be and got very excited about the feeling of Deliverance and what that might feel like if women were in a similar situation,” he says.
He says he and Aselton weren't trying to create a socio-political statement with these plot points. Rather, “We felt like a sexual threat was a great place to start.”
“Obviously, this is extremely sensitive,” he says. “It really worked to have a girl be very, very flirty so some people in the audience could feel sympathy for the male character, i.e. she may have been giving him some signs that egged him on and certain people in the audience will certainly feel like, you know, no means no argument. We don't feel one way or another. We're just trying to present a situation where people can essentially springboard the plot from.”
A Hollywood couple without an agenda? How refreshing.