Mark Duplass pelts his brother Jay with popcorn as Jay bowls a strike from between his legs at Brooklyn Bowl, a popular haunt in Williamsburg. The neighborhood is one of the few places the indie filmmakers might actually be recognized, but fellow keglers take no notice.
“We’re in the best spot right now. We can walk the streets of any city, and nobody knows who the hell we are. But Quentin Tarantino—Tarantino!—comes up to us at a party and for 30 minutes is telling us why he thinks our movies are great,” says Mark, the younger half of the duo that has directed, written or produced 24 films and television shows over the past 13 years, including HBO’s Togetherness, which started its second season on Feb. 21. Actors love them too: Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel have all worked with the pair, usually at a deep discount.
If you do recognize them, it’s likely from their acting roles. With the charisma of a former high school athlete, Mark, 39, has been the face of their movies, such as Safety Not Guaranteed and The One I Love, and starred on FX’s The League. After years behind the camera, Jay, who turns 43 on March 7, was recruited by Jill Soloway for her Emmy-winning Amazon series Transparent.
And after years of rejecting huge paychecks in favor of working on quieter, quirkier fare, they recently cut major deals to develop several projects with HBO and four movies with Netflix—not to mention a book deal with Random House. They make most of their films for under $1 million but have total creative control, a rarity in Hollywood where success usually means being tapped for a blockbuster. But the Duplass brothers have refused such offers.
“I do think it’s possible to make a movie at that level that has some form of integrity and is incredibly enjoyable. I actually thought Guardians of the Galaxy had a fun punk rock spirit to it, and it was a popcorn movie. And people loved it. And I think Chris Pratt is the f—ing greatest thing to happen to movie stars our age. You know, I just love him and what he does there. So that, to me, even though I don’t know how to make that movie good, and it’s not my favorite movie in the world, that movie has a level of integrity to it that’s cool, you know?” says Mark.
“Any time we’ve ever gotten into a discussion about making one of those big things it’s just so blatantly obvious to us—and this is not a bad thing—that it’s a commodity first and foremost. There is somewhere between $150 to $200 million on the line, and you need to service the script and the actors, yeah, but there’s also toys and a ride and creating scenes just so you can have it in the trailer. All these things are, they’re a little bit anathema to the true creative process in our opinion,” he adds.
Read TIME’s full profile of Mark and Jay Duplass here.