SXSW 2014 Interview: Talking to CREEP's Mark Duplass And Patrick Brice
In introducing the following interview with actor/writer Mark Duplass and actor/director Patrick Brice about their new film, Creep, it would probably be advantageous to offer readers some context in the way of plot. But it would best serve the audience to enter Creep with as little information as possible, as the film is a shocking feat that keeps viewers blissfully unaware of the unsettling directions around each bend. Suffice it to say that Creep is one of my special favorites of the many films I've been fortunate enough to catch at the 2014 edition of SXSW. I aim only to whet appetites for what is surely one of the most interesting works from the already fascinating Mark Duplass canon. That the film's director, Patrick Brice, is a first time feature filmmaker bodes incredibly well for what is surely the start of a significant career. If these words have failed to intrigue, I'll lastly drop the tease that the aptly titled Creep may or may not feature a monster known as 'Peach Fuzz.'
ScreenAnarchy: So, how was your first audience reaction? I mean, how was it watching Creep with an audience for the first time?
Mark Duplass: It was great. You know, we had tested the movie quite a few times on people so we had a sense of how it would play but, you know, it's such an interesting viewing experience because when people laugh and when they get scared and jump, it's kind of different at every screening so it's kind of unpredictable... but last night was good.
How do you learn from that, given that it's such a varied response from screening to screening?
MD: Our general feeling is like, as long as you find the movie entertaining and you're not bored, we are okay with whether someone yells or laughs at a certain point and it's kind of fun to watch audience members look at each other in confusion as they're sitting in the same movie experiencing the same piece of cinema and one person just screamed in terror and the other one just laughed. And it's a cool talking point, ya know?
So, you're no stranger to seat-of-the-pants film making. How is it transitioning that style into horror?
MD: It never felt like we were making a horror movie at least for the first like 80% of it.
Patrick Brice: Yeah, no, it kinda found us. In the material, I mean, we knew these were themes we wanted to explore in general, just dealing with somebody who's psychologically disturbed. But I guess we didn't even consider or realize it was... that it was going to be a part of it until we were actually in it.
MD: Yeah, and when we started shooting it, you know the initial shoot was like this extended period where we were finding the film and it was coming, and we almost resisted it because we're comfortable in relationship movies and we almost try to fight it off and as we started showing pieces of it to audiences they were like, this wants to go there. It's begging you to go there, not resist this, and that's kinda when we brought on Jason Blum to help us craft this hybrid of a really sensitive relationship movie and in-depth character study about these two strange people and then seeing how terrifying it can go.
That being said, at the premiere you guys referenced Duel and Death Trap as examples of cat and mouse dynamics. Even though you kind of fell ass backwards into horror, Creep is a really suspenseful movie.
MD: Thank you.
It is, it totally is. I mean, I think you probably felt it in the audience. So Duel is super suspenseful but did you take any other suspense cues? Because there's a lot more going on here than the cat and mouse chase of Duel.
MD: No, I mean I would say, we really created that posthumously and when I say posthumously I mean post script, ya know? We would find camera angles, we were on our feet constantly and um, I would say Patrick is a much more visually oriented filmmaker than I am. He kind of has an understanding of "what would this shot look like?" and what it will do and I'm much more of a performance oriented person. And each of us in there, we're discovering it the whole time and Chris, our editor, is a huge part of creating that suspense. And I think movies have a movie pace to them in the way people talk. It's just what we do. Everybody talks faster in movies. You don't notice it when you're watching it but they do that, so you can get through a movie in 90 minutes. We did not do that this movie and the amount of odd silence and strange weird moments where you're staring at each other, I think cumulatively, over the course of this movie, create a sense of "what the fuck is going on?".
Absolutely. I'm picturing Peach Fuzz blocking the door for Patrick's character, and it's just like 10 seconds of...
MD: "How is this going to happen?"
Yeah, like "when's the bottom going to drop?" or something like that. Patrick, you mentioned that you did film school late in life? You're just kind of now graduating film school?
So what kind of style would you say you'd been flirting with in film school? Mark just mentioned your sensibilities. How would you have described your sensibilities pre-Creep?
PB: I'd say a lot more control visually.
PB: (Laughs) Yeah,
PB: Yeah, no, film school completely. I went back to finish my undergrad at Cal Arts for a year and a half and the last semester I spent making my thesis, I went to Paris and made this film about the last porno theater in Paris and it still played 35mm film.
PB: Documentary, a short documentary, yeah. And Mark saw that and that was actually one of the catalysts for us starting to work together.
MD: Yeah and so, while you may have thought you were going to be a more like uh, curated 35mm filmmaker, I will say that Maurice... There's 100% the seed of Creep in Maurice where basically Patrick is like the documentarian holding the camera taking in this odd French guy who runs this old porno theater and Patrick has, just as a person, a certain kind of energy, it's just, sort of a kind of - documentary filmmakers have this - they invite, he's very inviting, he's very warm. Patrick is the person, if you sit next to him on a Greyhound bus, within a half hour, you're going to be telling him about all your divorces and everything and he brought it out of Maurice. And I think that was in the back of my mind, like, what if we created a scenario like this, y'know? And you can see the seeds of it in that movie.
I want to ask you a little bit about the found footage genre that's become such a thing since Blair Witch.
MD: Yeah, totally it has. We don't love found footage movies, per se, but we love the form. We started talking about movies in the form. It facilitated our ability to run and gun and also reshoot when we need to because the major goal of this was not to overthink it, get in there and shoot and let the movie find itself. And if you're doing that with a 150 person crew and a 35 mm film, it gets expensive real quickly. So as an exploration piece this was very good. It's the difference between making a record at home as a musician vs. going into the studio. We decided to do an at home version.
PB: That's one of the reasons having Jason Blum involved was so amazing because we fell into the genre. We went in making a found footage movie, like with me having only seen the Blair Witch Project...
MD: Cause we don't know these movies... He did not want to even watch our cut of our movie-
On account of the genre?
MD: I'm friends with him.. yeah and we've done movies together and I was like; check this out and he's like I don't want to, y'know? I get sent every piece of shit of found footage you can imagine y'know? And we watched it and he was like, Oh we have to do this. I was like; why the turn? And he was like; because you got the performances right. These movies never get the performances right and that's the key. I can help punch up the horror and I'll use all my team and help and that stuff, that's easy. As a form we were excited about it because it facilitated us exploring. And also our belief was a form isn't inherently bad, how you use that form is bad and I think how people are using the found footage form is getting really repetitive and boring as shit so we were trying to lighten it up a bit with our weird tone.
I suppose there are so many just because it's so accessible, just very DIY. Switching gears, I want to touch on the relation between one of Creep's villains "Peach Fuzz" and, say, something like Bag Head. What is this fascination with bizarre monsters?
MD: I don't know, I don't see those two as related, honestly. To me, Bag Head was very clearly, without spoiling the film, was born out of a desire that all of us have. To everyone in the movie, Bag Head is understandable and completely normal and the situation got a little out of hand. And Creep, as a film, and the characters in that film, both of them in my opinion have something very wrong with them.
I suppose, to clarify my comparison, the only linkage I meant was you seem, in Bag Head, tickled by the idea of somebody with a bag over their head being terrifying and now in Peach Fuzz we have this sketchy mask...
MD: Yeah. I guess I would say that, for me, it's umm...it's hard to explain but it's like uh...this is gonna sound so cheesy...
PB: Someone's scarier with a mask. *laughs*
MD: *laughs* No. If you watch trends in music, something gets popular, then people go crazy with it, take it as far as it can go, then it gets maxed out and then they have to reset the bar. So, like in jazz, it went crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy from the '20s to the late '50s. Then Miles Davis put out 'Kind of Blue' in '59 and the whole movie he's going just like *he imitates Miles*, that's kind of what this is. It's like we've gone so far with blood and guts and sound scares and everything you could possibly do so the only thing you could do now is go right back to the beginning again and hopefully it feels new.
PB: Mark can jump out from behind a tree and say BOO...
MD: And hopefully that does it, y'know?
Patrick, how was it being on camera? Are you used to that?
PB: No I'm not, I had to learn as we went.
MD: I forced him to do that. He was terrified.
Were you able to make him comfortable by your experience?
MD: I knew it was going to be great. What I did was - (To Brice) and I don't know if I ever even talked to you about this - as we were building the film I would sneak into improvisations with you, I would do my character and I would test you and you would always be able to do it naturally and come in and out of it. So within an hour of our first brainstorm I knew he was going to be able to do it.
The whole process of shooting for a year, reshooting, editing, finding the film in post, going back, etc... Did you have a favorite part of the production? Most fun?
MD: Shooting to me was always the most fun.
PB: Yeah, at first it was like a weird men's retreat.
MD: Yeah it was really fun and again, it's the being on your feet. We didn't have the camera angles set, we would find them, we would get those surprises. It felt very vital and it's like... people always ask me "What are you doing making a movie like this when you could go direct multi-million-dollar-studio-movies now? You have that access." and I just have the most fun doing this and I feel the most alive and I feel like I felt when... you know when you're like 13 and you first get a musical instrument in your hands and you're like "The whole world could be mine some day!" that's what I feel like when I'm doing this.
Are you going to try and preserve that feeling for the duration of your career?
MD: I'm trying to, yeah, because all my heroes, most of them, I would say, had a run where they were great. But they all end. Maybe it's ten years but I don't want that to happen to me.
Besides Duel and...
Yeah... what are some horrors that really do it for you? You were talking about your heroes and stuff. Who are the guys that you're still looking up to, that you looked up to when you guys were 14 and falling in love with film?
MD: Yeah, I mean, I don't have so many horror filmmaker heroes but I have pieces of art that really terrified me and most of them were on the documentary front. You know like, if you've seen the docu-series 'The Staircase' , it's really really fucking creepy and weird and you'd be shocked what happens. And there is a laughing and terrified combo to that.
PB: There's a protagonist that you really can't read.
MD: Like "What is happening here?". So it's really like most of my inspiration for everything I do comes from the immediacy of documentaries and how, you can see in the film, we create incidents that feel disadvantageous because that's how things are captured. In a documentary, sometimes the climax of the film happens off screen and it happens in a black-and-white credit.
At the q&a you also mentioned Steve James's Stevie, which I thought was an interesting comparison. Can you tell me a little bit about your people watching hobbies?
MD: Yeah, I mean we're just like socially friends so whether it's us out and watching or referencing something we saw that day...
PB: Yeah or that the guy who served us coffee made some comment that went too deep or something, we'll both acknowledge that.
MD: Patrick and I had a moment last night where like...
PB: Oh god...
MD: ...where we were going to this party and of course, we're very close, and I was like "I want to make sure the party's not too loud because I want to be able to have a quiet moment with you about how great our movie played." And so we stepped out from the party and we're giving each other hugs and we're like "Thank you so much man, you're so awesome." and literally, as this is happening, the perfect two shot from behind our heads, some insanely drunk dude with a beard comes walking up to us and we had an interaction that cannot...
PB: With the full biker badge on.
MD: ...that cannot be described. The next five minutes that we spent with this dude and how he was trying to talk to us, the shame he experienced, the reattempts at reconnecting, he wouldn't leave and I was like "Oh, this is...
PB: This is straight going.
MD: This is it, yeah...