10 Things We Learned From TV Insider’s Portlandia/The Last Man on Earth/Togetherness Mega-Panel
The age of the Hollywood multi-multi-hyphenate is here. Stars like Mark and Jay Duplass aren’t happy with just writing, directing and starring in their own projects; they’re also working on other people’s films and TV series.
The Duplass brothers co-created, co-wrote, directed (and Mark starred) in HBO’s Togetherness, while Mark (FX’sThe League) and Jay (Amazon’s Transparent) already star in other TV shows. And that’s just their acting work. “My boom [microphone] work is tight,” jokes Mark Duplass.
Timed to Emmy campaign season, Mark and Jay Duplass joined Will Forte (star/co-creator of Fox’s The Last Man on Earth) and Portlandia‘s Carrie Brownstein (star/co-creator) and Jonathan Krisel (co-creator) on a panel, co-sponsored by TV Guide Magazine and TV Insider, to discuss what it’s like to juggle so many roles on a single show.
TV Guide Magazine and TV Insider chief content officer Michael Schneider moderated the panel. The wide-ranging conversation, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills, covered the current state of comedy, binge-watching, creating complicated characters and changing up show formats. Here’s what we learned:
1. Forte was fine with how polarizing his Last Man On Earth character, Phil Miller, became through the show’s first season. Phil was likable at first, then unlikable later.
Forte says the writers wanted to make the audience unsure about whom they were siding with. The biggest surprise for him as a creator/writer/star of the show? “It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be. I had no idea. Everything was new and I’m an overthinker anyway. I did not do a good job being efficient.”
Asked what he’d do in Season 2, Forte joked, “Kill off my own character in the first episode.” What about the show’s marketing campaign that featured his gloriously bearded face? “I insisted on that! I didn’t fight it!”
2. For Jay and Mark Duplass, producing the first season of Togetherness was like making two indie films, the world they came from and love dearly.
“We’re trying to convey the subtlest form of plot that happens,” Jay Duplass says of what he has grown to love about series TV. “When you realize your relationship’s about to end, it’s probably not a big glorious scene down by the river, it’s on aisle 6 at Rite-Aid. The idea that our audience would get to know our characters so well that they can start to read that plot, that’s what we’ve been trying to do in features.”
3. Do the producers mind that people are binge-viewing the show? “I like it a lot better than when they watch two and stop watching it,” Mark Duplass says. Adds Jay Duplass: “I’m just glad they’re watching it. The fact that people want to watch our stuff and laugh at it is mind-blowing.”
Brownstein likes that viewers have options about how they watch. “TV is not temporal. It has to do with people’s curiosities. I think with Portlandia, because of some of the subject matter, it gets passed around as a cultural reference point. It’s very rewarding when people come up and say they’ve just watched the first season.”
4. How does Portlandia turn mundane details into story fodder? “We really live and die by minutiae,” Brownstein says. “Minutiae adds up to our days. It constitutes our memories. It’s what triggers sentimentality, nostalgia, pain or joy. We’re keen observers of those moments. To explore something so tiny, like a mock epic, something in the middle of that is an epiphany.”
5. The panelists all agreed that their busy schedules leave very little time to socialize. But Krisel says he doesn’t mind. “Sometimes work is a more interesting way to socialize,” he says. “Small talk is overrated.”
In order to keep their heads above water, Mark Duplass says he and Jay have streamlined their work process, “We’re ruthlessly efficient with our time. We don’t read tons of scripts for development. We don’t take any general meetings because we think they’re a huge waste of time. We only work with friends we like. Very few projects we work on aren’t generated or fully funded and produced by us. It maintains that arts and crafts quality that our mom taught us when we were growing up. We’re best when we’re in that process.”
6. Will Brett and Michelle be together in Season 2 of Togetherness? The Duplass brothers say they’ll continue the show’s intimate examination of marriage.
Mark Duplass also says half-jokingly that he’s willing to do “everything” on camera for his art. His nudity on the show “didn’t seem daring. When you sign up to do a show with HBO, it’s not an issue of if you’re going to get naked, but when and how. And it’s usually going to be with some pretty stark lighting that’s unflattering. We talked a lot about marriage nudity and the de-valuing of your body, how everybody just gets used to it and we wanted to portray that.”
7. On Portlandia‘s format change to continuing storylines in Season 5, Krisel says, “It was a really fun exercise. It’s still a sketch show even if it is one short film for 22 minutes. It was a way to, in a fifth season of a show, get a spark of thinking about things differently that helped us a lot.”
8. Brownstein says switching from her TV gig to her continuing role as part of the band Sleater-Kinney is seamless. “It doesn’t feel schizophrenic. I’m so grateful for all of it. It doesn’t feel burdensome or strange or disjointed at all.”
9. The diversity of show budgets: Jay Duplass says he and Mark keep forgetting that they have a budget for songs they want to use in Togetherness so they don’t have to go in their garage and record bad versions of songs. In contrast, Krisel says he agonized for weeks over spending money on a crane for certain shots on Portlandia, only to find that he could easily get two cranes for FX’s Man Seeking Woman (which he also executive produces).
10. Fun facts: Mark Duplass improvised a Togetherness theme song, titled “Finding Myself,” to the tune of the Greatest American Hero opening. Mark Duplass also described Togetherness co-creator/co-star Steve Zissis as their “230 pound balding Greek muse for years. We’ve been obsessed with him and wanted to bring him to the world.”