The Duplass Brothers: The First Time We Got Cable TV

Posted May 3, 2018 11:59 p.m. EDT

It is dark. It is late. It is 1984.

We are lying next to each other in one of our single beds. But, predictably, we are not asleep. We are talking about life. And our dreams. And the great mystery of cable television.


“Yes, Mark.”

(Silence. Mark has always loved the dramatic silence. I am older by four years and should find this annoying, but I love this about him.)

“When is it coming?”


“How soon?”

(I take a moment to mitigate expectations and not get my 7-year-old baby brother too excited.)

“Dad said by next week it’ll be here.”

“How does it work?”

“I don’t know.”

(Mark thinks on this. Wide-eyed. Young mind grappling with what it all means.)

“What is going to happen to us, Jay?”

“Nothing crazy. I don’t think. Or maybe everything.”

Two weeks later, cable arrived at our home. And everything changed.

Within six months, we were hooked. But not in the way our peers were hooked. We lived in a suburb of New Orleans called Metairie, which offered cheap land and wide streets for families with young kids. On weekends, most of those kids rode their bikes and talked about “Star Wars.” And while we did some of that, we were more taken by other movies that HBO had to offer. What many people don’t remember about the early days of HBO is that the programming wasn’t exactly curated for the time of day it was airing. So, we’d wake up on Saturday, start with a viewing of “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Then we’d roll right into “Gandhi,” or “Ordinary People.” And then lighten the mood with “The Deer Hunter” or “Sophie’s Choice.” Every now and then we’d take in “Every Which Way but Loose,” but mostly we were watching the hard-hitting dramas of the ’70s and ’80s. And we loved them. But not in a pretentious “We’re more erudite than ‘Star Wars” kind of way. We just loved watching people emote, and we deeply connected with the spirits of those dealing with divorce, hunger, PTSD and death. It wasn’t that we were morbid, we were just — into it.

Around the same time, our dad brought home our first video camera. This was huge. Not metaphorically. Literally. The thing was a beast. And, like most dads in the ’80s, he was terrible with electronics and couldn’t figure out how to use it, so he basically left it in our hands. Jay, being the older-smarter-stronger one, picked up the manual and became the first one to figure it all out. (Mark: To this day, I do not know how to assemble anything, because Jay was always there to do it.) But he needed a second person to carry the separate videotape recorder (which attached to the camera via an enormous cable) and act in the “films” he was brewing. I got the job. And thus began the two-person filmmaking team known as the Duplass Brothers, circa 1985 (ages 12 and 8).

Now, let’s be clear. There are tales of the childhood films of the Coen Brothers and Steven Spielberg showing the seeds of the great filmmakers they would eventually become. Our films were not like those. Ours were dull, boring, uninspired and fairly stupid. We re-created “The Blob” by throwing our beanbag down the stairs. We took a stab at remaking “The Invisible Man” by taking quick shots of an empty pair of shoes walking around our living room.

Eventually, however, we cracked our first narrative. The story of a young karate master whose home was invaded by a robber. The film itself is lost to us forever, but we remember the story perfectly, so we’ve taken the liberty of recreating the script here.

int. modest home — day

A KARATE MASTER, played by Mark, casually saunters around his living room in a gi, thinking about stuff. [Note: “The Karate Kid” had just come out and we were taking karate lessons.]

Suddenly, we see a ROBBER, played by our neighbor Brandt, who didn’t really want to be doing this. The Robber sloooooooooooooooowly turns the door handle and walks into the living room. He pulls out a “cigarette” (blue Bic pen) and lights it (mimed). The Karate Master sees the Robber and runs toward him. He jumps into the air, kicking the cigarette out of the burglar’s hand.

There is a quick scuffle (too quick) and the Robber throws the Karate Master out of the house.

cut to:

Sometime later. So much later that the Robber now seems to have taken ownership of the house? Sure. In fact, he is so comfortable that he seems to be casually lifting weights in the living room. [Note: These were pink hand weights that came with our mother’s Jane Fonda workout video set.]

In a wide shot, the Karate Master comes flying into the room, and jumps on top of the Robber. [Mark: I accidentally dropped my knee into Brandt’s crotch. The pain he displayed and the yelp he emitted were, according to Jay, “like gold.” We kept it in.]

cut to:

The Karate Master has reassumed control of his home. He is preparing dinner for himself (bowl of Corn Flakes), unaware that a mysterious presence lurks just beyond him. When the Karate Master finally sees the Robber, he notices that the Robber is holding a knife. A knife that already has blood (ketchup) on it, though he hasn’t killed the Karate Master yet? It was super dramatic, so we went with it.

As the Robber closes in on our doomed Karate Master, the Robber utters these final, chilling words:

“These days, you cannot ... trust — anyone.”

cut to black THE END

We watched the film over and over that day. Three scenes. Five minutes. We were so proud of ourselves. We showed it to our parents, who did what proved to be the perfect thing. They neither praised nor dismissed it. They simply observed, gently supported the effort, and quickly left us to figure out the next steps.

In bed that night, swimming in the unknown waters of what we had just accomplished and who we might become, I couldn’t help but raise the unthinkable question to my big brother ...


“Yes, Mark.”

“Do you think ... do you think, maybe, one day ... one of our movies might be on cable?”

Jay considered this, his face a blend of doubt, fear and unbridled excitement.

“I don’t know. Let’s get some sleep.”

But neither of us could sleep.