Around ten years ago, Mark and Jay Duplass had an idea: make an anthology TV show set inside a single room, with every episode veering into a new genre. But as Mark Duplass explained, they weren’t popular enough at that point to pull it off. “Our agents were like, ‘You can’t make this show. This is an anthology show. People don’t really watch anthology shows that much. Nobody’s going to buy this,'” so they shelved the idea for nearly a decade.
Then, after a string of critically lauded films helped to establish their voice, the Duplass brothers revisited the idea, which became Room 104, set to premiere on HBO this Friday night. With the series taking place inside one hotel room, they hope to redefine their narrative voices and stretch the limits of what they’re known for. During the ATX TV Fest last month, we got the chance to talk to co-creator Mark Duplass and producer Sydney Fleischmann, who explained why now was the perfect time to bring this idea back to life.
Let’s start off with the basics: How did this all come together?
Duplass: It was something we always wanted to do throughout the years. I think the real impulse of it was to kind of just try something that really took off our skin that we’d become known for. We’ve become a bit of a brand. [So] we were starting to slowly push against that with some of the movies that we had made, like The One I Love or Creep. We’re not just a sensitive dramedy people. We like other things.
Also, honestly, I’m a little bit afraid that there might be some rejection from people who know us for that. I think that, for whatever reason, we were like, “We’re popular enough to make this show right now. People will let us do it. We should just go kind of hog wild and try out new stuff.”
Did TV’s current evolution help open up some possibilities for you?
Duplass: I think so. As much as it was wonderful to make Togetherness, to a certain degree, Togetherness was not a show that appealed to a lot of people. I don’t know that there’s many places for that right now on TV.
I’ve got fifty shows like that on my queue. They’re all going to be good. It’s great. As to the Peak TV component of it, we were like, “What if we just allow ourselves to explore all the weird stuff that we were wanting to do? Maybe that will cut through for a small group of people.” If we make it cheaply enough and we take a bunch of chances, worst case scenario we make an interesting failure, which I’ve never allowed myself the possibility that could happen. I’ve always been like, “No! You can nail it or else don’t do it!” This one was just like stepping off a cliff, [and] we had a great relationship with HBO. It was like, “Yeah. Let’s try a Friday night crazy late show. Let’s see what sticks.”
And HBO agreed, obviously.
Duplass: We took it easy on them. We were like, “We’ll do it somewhat cheaply. You don’t have to be in pain if it doesn’t crank the way we want it to.”
Is that where the idea of doing it all in one room came from?
Duplass: Yeah, it wasn’t consciously this, [but] we talked about just exercising limits, and the creativity that can come out of that, which we’ve been doing quite a bit in the film world. Like Tangerine. It’s a $100,000 movie. What can you do with that? We had limits. We shot it on our iPhone, [and it] turned out to be a very interesting thing. The theory of limits inspiring creativity led into that.