Mark Duplass on Fighting Anxiety and Helping Other Filmmakers During Quarantine

Marc Malkin

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Mark Duplass is keeping regular office hours while self-quarantining in his Los Angeles home.

“I’ve written a rewrite of a feature film that I have in development. That wasn’t too hefty. That was good. That broke the seal for me that was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to be able to write in this emotionally fragile, strange state,’” he tells Variety. “More importantly for me — I don’t make this a secret — I have dealt a lot with anxiety and depression throughout my life, so this is kind of a dangerous time for somebody like me. I have to be very careful about scheduling myself, and so I’ve made writing a part of my schedule. I get a three or four-hour block every day of it.”

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Duplass makes sure to get in some exercise on a treadmill “to beat back the feelings of, ‘Oh my god. I’m not a good enough writer. Oh my god.’ All that stuff, and just get the endorphins to kind of crank it out.”

He has also written a season of a television series on spec. “I just gave the first group of episodes to my company to help because my thing is I write real fast, and they’re structurally pretty good, but the dialogue’s flawed and the scene descriptions are garbage,” Duplass says. “I have everybody help me fix them.”

Duplass was a week into shooting the second season of “The Morning Show,” the Apple TV Plus series starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, when production shut down amid the pandemic. “It was just in that weird point where we didn’t know what was right [to do] or not,” says Duplass, who appears on the show as the producer of a “Today”-like news program. “Then that night, I was supposed to come back the next day, and they started texting me being like, ‘Leave your phone on because it may not be happening.’”

Before the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival was postponed, Duplass had plans to attend it for the premiere of “Not Going Quietly,” a documentary about Ady Barkan, a well-known progressive activist who has ALS. Duplass, along with his brother Jay Duplass and actor Bradley Whitford, serve as executive producers. “We are in the midst of figuring out what we’re going to do with this movie…Thank god my name means something on a documentary, and I have these sales agents who can take it around the buyers. Our movie’s going to be okay,” he says.

The Duplass brothers are also looking out for other filmmakers who may have a harder time getting attention and distribution in the wake of the festival’s cancellation. “If there are films that are really good, but haven’t nailed it yet because maybe this is your first movie and a distributor sees that and is like, ‘This is almost there, but not,’ they’re just going to turn you down,” he says.

They’re currently looking into screening films with the hope of finding some that they could help shepherd along to a sale. “What we’re doing is going to the distributors and saying, ‘Hey, if you have one of those movies that you’re ready to outright reject, let’s try and open our arms a little bit more in this time because they don’t have another path to this. Call us, and we will be that soft, creative version of the fixer for the movie for you,’” Duplass explains. “We’ll come on, and we’ll put our names on it, and executive produce. That’s part of our special sauce as our company, taking a B- thing we’ve shot and trying to turn it into a B+ and getting it into the world. That’s something we’re trying to do.”

When he’s not working, he and his wife Katie Aselton “have been drinking a little bit more,” Duplass jokes. “We have probably two beers or two glasses of wine a night to kind of take the edge off and allow that ritual to wash away the day around four o’clock when we start cooking.”

They’ve also been watching movies cooped up inside all day. “My children’s patience has gone up for the kinds of movies they’re willing to watch,” he says. “So we watched ‘Castaway.’ My seven-year-old was like, ‘This is my new favorite movie.’ Two-and-a-half hours of just some dude on an island. She loved it.”

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