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The Puffy Chair

Narrative Feature

Producer/Director: Mark Duplass/Jay Duplass

Budget: $15.000 (thru production); $20,000 (Including post and up-convert to HiDef)

Production: June 2004

Completion date: January 2005

Format shot in: Mini DV

Format screened in: Hi Def

Financing: Parents

World Premiere:  Sundance Film Festival 2005—American Spectrum Section

Awards and Nominations: 2006 Independent Spirit Awards, Nominated for John Cassavetes Award (director/writer) Jay Duplass (producer/writer) Mark Duplass, Nominated for Someone to Watch Award Jay Duplass. 2005 SXSW Film Festival, Winner of Audience Award, Emerging Visions Jay Duplass

 

Festival Prep and World Premiere

Late submission to Sundance—had to call Sundance to get an extension.  Before knowing if they were accepted into the festival, they got a producer rep.  Some friends recommended they screened it to Cinetic, which after seeing the film agreed to represent the movie for 15% of all sales.  Championing the film at Cinetic were Micah Green and Erin Heidenreich.  It was eventually passed to Liesl Copland who eventually locked the sale.

After they got into Sundance, they hired publicist Susan Norget, who lowered her fee, to do the publicity for the film at Sundance.  She was able to get three people to review the film (who were specifically targeted by Cinetic).  They devised a strategy that was minimal.  The idea was to position the film at Sundance was not to hype it up but to let it be a sleeper.

Between travel, accommodations, and publicity materials the filmmakers spent $5,000 to get to Sundance.  They produced postcards for $225, and posters for $1 each.  They designed the materials in Photoshop and printed at Kinko’s.

The premiere of The Puffy Chair was scheduled during the second half of the Festival.  Jay believes this hurt the film, as many of the buyers had already left Park City.

In spite of its late screening within the program, every screening sold out.  The screenings were a great success, with 95% of the audience staying for Q&A sessions.

There was a lot of interest in the film from distributors, but they all expressed concerns about the marketability of the film due to three reasons:

• The film had no bankable stars

• It had no clearly defined genre

• Even though it was funny at times, they felt it could not be marketed as a romantic comedy

They left Sundance without a sale.  Cinetic handed the film from Senior to lower level executives.

After Sundance, they went to SXSW.  Cinetic advised to not overexpose the film with too many festivals, and to hold for those festivals where buyers attend.   They began to understand the film festivals and film sales.

 

The Deal

Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff of Roadside Attractions had expressed interest in the film since its premier.  Roadside fell in love with the movie and Cinetic kept reminding them of their impulse to buy the film.  Once they agreed to acquire the film for distribution, Cinetic facilitated the contract and deal points.  There was no money up-front, instead they agreed on a profit sharing distribution plan, where both parties are taking a risk.

Netflix partnered on the deal, and offered expertise in the area of DVD distribution.

The filmmakers brought to their partnership with Roadside their ideas for grassroots strategies for marketing the film utilizing college bands, viral techniques, social networks such as My Space, and their own website.  They cut the trailer and designed the poster.

The film was marketed through blogs, video blogs, college radio, and Internet interviews, which helped gain momentum and buzz with smart, young, progressive audiences.

 

The Results

The film opened theatrically on June 2, 2006 in five theaters in Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, and Portland.  A month later it opened in Los Angeles and New York.  In Los Angeles, the film opened at the Nuart (which was under construction at the time; many patrons thought it was closed) the same day as Pirates of the Caribbean.  Needless to say, the box office reports were not that great, and the film was pulled out of the theater after the first weekend.

In New York the film played at the Angelika—it played well the first week, when it was the #2 film at the plex, but attendance slumped in the second week.  This was due to problems with the digital projection (using the Cube System); there were sync problems, and 70 minutes in, the film abruptly stopped.  The Angelika never fixed this problem, and the film continued to screen without the final 15 minutes throughout the second week. Jay found out about these problems through friends who’d been to support the film at the Angelika.  In retrospect Jay wishes he had followed the advice of Roadside Attractions to open the film in NY at smaller theaters such as the Quad or the Village.

The final box office totals are roughly $200.000.

 

Advice From the Filmmaker

On production: 

• Give yourself time to be creative: When we go on the set, we spend 80%-90% of the time with the actors and focusing on creative aspects of the movie. Good story and good acting should be the focus.  Our sets are casual and don’t have the vibe of war.

• Make the best movie you can.  You can’t convince people to like your movie. Focus on the work.  Ride the momentum of the film, and don’t become a distributor.

On distribution:

You should look at distribution as a way of getting your movie out to the world, and not as a way of making money. Thinking you’re going to make money without stars is an unrealistic expectation.   In independent film, distribution is rarely about making money, it is about getting your film out to the world and using it as a stepping stone.

 

What the filmmakers are doing now

As a result of the attention they got with The Puffy Chair, the filmmakers signed three studio deals:  For Fox Searchlight they are writing and directing a film, For Universal Pictures they are writing and directing a film, for NBC TV they are working on a TV Show.

 

2011 Update

Following the success of The Puffy Chair, the Duplass brothers went on to make Baghead (2008) and Cyrus, which Fox Searchlight released in 2010. The brothers have several projects complete, awaiting release including the documentary Kevin which will debut at the New York Hell’s Kitchen Film Festival; and Jeff Who Lives at Home (starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms), which will premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

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