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Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker on Making 'Kin'

31 Aug, 2018    added by : Kit Bowen








Original Network

Kin is a great thrill ride, which takes a sci-fi concept and throws it into a family crime drama.

The story follows Eli (Myles Truitt), a teenager who finds himself on the run with his ex-con brother (Jack Reynor) after a deal goes bad with a vengeful criminal (James Franco). Thing is, Eli has also brought along a weapon of otherworldly origin that he found in an abandoned warehouse. The kid has no idea where it came from, but it is connected to him – and it becomes his and his brother’s only protection.

ScreenPicks had a great chat with directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, the Australian twin brothers who make their feature film debut with Kin. We talked about the film’s combination of genres, finding the wonderful Myles Truitt – and how the movie leaves you wanting more.

Where did this original concept come from?

Jonathan Baker: Well, we lived in New York when we came up with the short film, Bag Man, and we told the story about Harlem. I think we were after something that felt like it was more than one thing. It started, and it felt like you were getting a Sundance short. You thought you knew exactly where it was going. It had like a few elements that maybe felt like grounded like The Wire a bit and then at the end, we’re gonna flip on you. We’re gonna go somewhere completely different that you just don’t expect and that was really what the whole reason for doing the short was for.

It was just playing with the two genres and playing with that tone and playing with the audience’s expectations in a way. People go in and they think they know what they’re getting and then we give ’em a little surprise. What was in the bag was his McGuffin, but with the film [Kin] you can’t really do that. You can’t hide something because it’s going to be in trailers. People are going to know what it’s about. So, for us, the third act sort of turned. The reveal was more of that kind of surprise element for us and did in a very similar way what the same sort of gag did in Bag Man.

Are you guys big sci-fi fans? I mean, would you love to find a space gun?

Jonathan: Look, we grew up with a lot of wish fulfillment movies in the ’80s. That was our big influence when we were growing up. So, ET made a massive influence on us and I can see a similar structure when it comes to ET and Kin. The other things like Flight of the NavigatorThe Last StarfighterShort Circuit like all those types of movies that you had a kid protagonist and some kind of crazy McGuffin that changes his entire world. That rubs off on filmmakers and I think that influenced the way we saw storytelling in a lot of ways. But then you know our tastes matured. We grew up and we liked indie films. We liked crime dramas and we saw these sort of real, gritty, relatable, almost raw sort of films. Examples being like, I don’t know, MudPlace Beyond the PinesKilling Them Softly, you know things like that that feel very very different from the films we grew up with in the ’80s. So for us, it was about putting these two hands together and combining a lot of those times that don’t generally live in the same film together

Totally. Kin really combines the sci-fi genre with family and crime drama. Even a road movie!

Jonathan: We talked about that a lot actually. This film needed to be able to stand really, really strongly if you took out the sci-fi McGuffin. If you were to replace it with a bag of diamonds or a pistol or something else, and it becomes a very different film, but it all still works. So, we just didn’t want to get carried away with the science fiction elements because you know you need to connect with these characters. You need to find moments of intimacy and quietness and you know really live in the shoes of Eli before you start to care about these bigger sci-fi visuals. You’re in a movie and it’s two hours long and you’re thinking okay where is this gonna go, so we always love the idea of opening a film with him finding this alien technology and then seeing how that influences his very normal real life.

Myles Truitt was quite a find! Talk about that audition process.

Jonathan: It’s really a pleasure to hear you say that because this film really relied on finding a great kid and not just a good kid but like a great kid. This is his first movie. It’s hard to think but at the time we cast him, he didn’t have evidence of any kind of acting we could really look at. I mean, he had shot a little thing for BET called The New Edition Story but that wasn’t even out yet. So, we had no way of knowing what he would be like other than his audition tape, which was very subtle and very restrained. In advertising, we’ve done a decent amount of kid casting before and I tend to think we’re pretty good at casting characters but finding this kid was so important that I don’t even know if we would’ve made the movie if we, you know didn’t find him. The crazy part is he came in last, dead last. He was the last kid to come in after 250, 300 kids and we … I think we generally knew who we wanted and then we saw this one last link with one boy on it – and it turned out to be Myles Truitt.

Josh Baker: He had this honesty, it was just like this quietness about him and he didn’t feel like he had to perform. We ended up taking him to Boston to read with Jack Reynor and with two other kids. They just played some improv scenes and some of the scripted scenes and tried to get a vibe off the two brothers since that was the most important dynamic in the film. All three of us huddled up afterward and was like,”Well, we definitely found our kid.” We were all in agreement that it was Myles.

The diversity of the family dynamics was also a nice addition. Dennis Quaid was quite effective as Eli’s father and Reynor as the wayward son.

Jonathan: Well, yeah and thank you for that. I think, Dennis, he was an actor that we really liked the idea of because we all kind of grew up watching him. We held him up as sort of this iconic American face and in this, he is a very hardworking, loving father that is in construction and obviously trying to keep the whole family afloat after his wife died. He doesn’t really know how to talk to [Eli] and he has this bad relationship with a lot of resentment for Jimmy, his other son. His greatest fear is that Eli is going to go down this bad path and turn into Jimmy in a way. So on one side, we’ve surrounded Eli with two sides of the coin. On one side you have [his dad] Hal, which represents a builder and a positive influence on his life and gives him life lessons, and on the other side you’ve got kind of like the destroyer in Jimmy who has made a lot of poor mistakes and poor decisions and is now kind of paying for it.

The intimacy that is brought into it just makes the whole thing more relatable.

Jonathan: It’s the kind of intimacy and character-driven sort of storylines that you don’t really tend to see in a lot of sci-fi movies. So yeah again, it’s that clashing of genres that represent Kin. I think the bigger action only plays better because we’ve given the chance for the audience to get to know these people and be in some quieter scenes and contrast those big moments with the small moments.

From your experiences directing commercials, how has that help you translate into doing a feature film?

Jonathan: That’s a good question. I mean, we’ve been doing commercials for 15 odd years and since 2007 together in the US. We’ve worked on a variety of budget ranges and styles of commercials and it’s like film school in a way because it’s a great way to develop your style and develop your confidence and control of a film set. And to work with some of the best people in the game you know, DPs and editors and graphic designers that have worked on some of your favorite movies. So, if you have an open mind and you ask questions and you listen you can actually pick up a lot. You know, Academy Award-nominated cinematographers that end up working on your commercial and one day could end up shooting a film for you.

Commercials are short form, but it can still be about storytelling and compelling as well.

Jonathan: Absolutely! When they’re good they’re great. When they’re bad they tend to be pretty bad. So, that’s the other thing you learn as a director doing commercials, you learn to know the difference. You know, lean into sophistication and character and you crave those kinds of commercials because they are few and far between. When you get the chance to step over and do your first feature film and now there’s a real director’s medium that is about character and about its story and less about cold visual effects and things like that then you know, I think naturally you lean into those things and you want to make your first movie as strong as it can be.

As for your working style, is one of you better than the other at one thing and then the other one complements that?

Jonathan: You trying to start a fight?

Josh: I hope not. We directed separately for awhile before linking up in 2007. So, I know that John can run a set and do his own thing and make good work and hope it goes the other way, too. So, yeah, we joined up because I think it’s better as a duo. You’ve got someone to throw ideas off, brainstorming comes really easy, and you can quickly mature an idea and we tend to do that for our own content for film and TV. So, that worked out really well. I think it would be a challenge, sort of a nightmare if your directing partner didn’t have exactly the same sensibility as you. The fact that we are twins and we have the same upbringing, the same tastes, the same experiences, similar friends all of that just helps guide our decisions and our directing voice when we do creative work. In many ways and it takes a lot of the pressure even for moments like now and you know to talk in interviews… I’m working on it.

You’ve done an excellent job with Kin – and it does leave you wanting more. Here’s hoping there is a sequel!

Jonathan: Oh man, honestly, that’s the secret right there, support. You know, it is an original story and original sci-fi is few and far between. So, I think if audiences really connect with this on a very personal level and see themselves in this film then we might get the opportunity to take this further. You know, tell another sort of the chapter of these characters that you’ve fallen in love with in the world that we’ve created.

Josh: Yeah, I mean it’s a bold gamble of a film. It’s something that feels small, and I think it’s really gonna depend on audiences support of the film whether some of the questions that people have when they leave the cinema will get answered or not.

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