TORONTO - Writer and actor Mark Duplass had "The People v. O.J. Simpson" star Sarah Paulson on his mind for his whimsical drama "Blue Jay," about two former high school sweethearts who are serendipitously reunited decades after graduation.
"I was really struck by how wonderfully silly, goofy and sweet she is as a person," Duplass said of the Emmy-winning actress, who he knew through friends.
"You watch her ... play Marcia Clark and you don't have that sense of what a loving, normal girl she is."
The unconventional black-and-white film, which is now available to rent on iTunes before hitting Netflix later in the year, focuses solely on the two lead characters. It's the kind of offbeat project Duplass lives for.
Despite starring in the HBO series "Togetherness" and having a recurring role on "The Mindy Project," Duplass has spent most of his career as writer, director and actor in independent films like "Cyrus," "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" and "Creep."
His company Duplass Brothers Productions, which he owns with sibling Jay, recently signed a four-picture deal with Netflix that hinges on an attractive proposition: the streaming giant hands over money for a low-budget project, but then gives Duplass the creative freedom to make his vision without any tinkering from executives.
"Blue Jay" is the first film of the batch. It's firmly entrenched in the spirit of 1990s indie filmmaking, a time when maverick directors gathered money from family and friends to fund their stories.
The entire film was shot in seven days from a 20-page outline drafted by the stars, director Alex Lehmann and three producers.
"We would have these hour-long creative sessions where we'd talk about how to flesh out the storylines," Duplass said.
At the table, they'd discuss their own personal challenges before "thinly veiling some of those things so they weren't directly stolen."
Duplass would then write pages for the next day's shoot, giving himself and Paulson almost no time to memorize the scenes.
"It's by design so that when the lightning strikes while you're shooting, you can capture it," he said.
In the current Hollywood climate dominated by superheroes and blockbuster titles, "Blue Jay" is an anomaly in nearly every respect. Small projects like this usually don't get made without major international star power.
Duplass is hopeful viewers will discover and appreciate the film's charm.
"We were questioning ... can we just play a two-character chamber piece in black and white and still be entertaining and relevant," he said.
"We spent (time making) sure the movie plays nice, slow and organically, but also rewards the person for sticking around."
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