Trend-spotting is a treasured sport when Academy Award nominations are announced. The revelations each year can range from the affirming (minorities make inroads) to the yawningly trivial (each nominated movie features a scene in a coffee shop).
But this year, with the screenplay nominations of Chris & Paul Weitz for "About a Boy," Alfonso & Carlos Cuaron for "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and Charlie & Donald Kaufman for "Adaptation," the Oscars reflect a flowering subgenre of film artist: sibling teams.
What initially seemed a quaint factoid when Joel and Ethan Coen broke onto the scene is now practically a movement: Witness the prominence of the brothers Hughes, Farrelly and Wachowski; and indie staples the Polish brothers, the Dardennes from Belgium, plus the sisters Sprecher.
Call it a kind of sibling revelry in the movie industry these days. With filmmaking a notoriously collaborative medium, a partnership based in family can have an advantage. Says Paul Weitz, "In film, there's always another person, and it's better to have it be your brother than anybody else."
Y tu hermano tambien
Alfonso Cuaron confesses to a certain guilt about luring his book-minded younger brother Carlos -- who as a student had novelistic dreams of being another Garcia Marquez or Fuentes -- into working in movies. "He was married to this beautiful, amazingly great woman called Literature," says Alfonso, "and then I introduced him to the hooker that is Screenwriting."
Carlos traces it back even further, to a time when Alfonso was a 12-year-old who knew his filmmaking destiny and Carlos was a reluctant 7-year-old "prop." "Every time I saw the guy coming with his camera, I was like, 'No! Not again!' "
But by 1999, when Carlos got a call from Alfonso to resurrect a 10-year-old idea about two boys on a road trip to the beach that would eventually become the Alfonso-directed hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien," the Mexico City-raised brothers had found each other to be indispensable collaborators.
"For us, working is telepathic," says Alfonso, 41, who first worked with Carlos in Mexican TV in the '80s and made his feature debut with Carlos' script for the 1992 comedy "Love in the Time of Hysteria."
"The hardest thing is to decide what project to do. But once we start, we allow a stream of consciousness to come out." Also emerging, Carlos says, is their inner teenage boy. "I don't think we have ever left adolescence," says Carlos, 36. "Tenoch and Julio are not based on ourselves, but they are based on our common reality."
The brothers hashed out "Y Tu Mama" over 10 days in the garden of Alfonso's New York home, where the raucous camaraderie of the pair -- not to mention the "stupid guys" they were writing about -- hardly seemed like toiling. Adds Alfonso, "My son was saying, 'When are you going to start working?' Because we were just laughing."
Not that arguments aren't common. Since Alfonso is usually the director, Carlos -- who has directed many shorts and is hoping to get a feature going -- knows how to pick battles. "Cosmetic things I don't want to fight about, like 'I want that lollipop to be blue.' It's stupid because the director is going to win, but we have discussions and fights regarding character and plot."
The beefs, he says, are more about their roles than about their dynamic as brothers. "I can tell you that he's allowed to answer phone calls and get distracted, but I am not," says Carlos, laughing.
But no matter whose project it is, they see themselves always seeking the other for that special shorthand. "We evolve ideas very quickly," says Alfonso. "Even if he didn't write the script, we start talking and in one night I have more clarity than struggling with a story by myself or with another writer."
Working apart together
Chris and Paul Weitz may have to be on set together as directors, but writing, they realize, must be done separately. Otherwise, says Paul, 37, "we would leap at and strangle each other."
Chris, 33, explains the process that has proven to be most harmonious. "We break everything down very carefully beforehand, know exactly what everyone's supposed to write, and then we take each scene back to our lair and gnaw over it like a dog worrying a bone until it's at the point you can swap it over. That keeps us from killing one another."
The two were, however, a joined-at-the-hip comedy team in their childhood, dreaming up zonked-out bits with absurd characters. "When you're kids, you have all these in-jokes and weird skits you do in order to survive the dominance of your parents," says Paul, "so it was an oddly natural thing for us to work together."