kin director interview

Kin is a crime drama about two brothers on the run from a dangerous man, an intimate story of how family transcends blood. But there’s also a sci-fi gun in the mix.

Summing up the feature debut of directors Jonathan Baker and Josh Baker is a bit tough. It’s a science fiction movie where the genre elements sit at a distance, a movie featuring a powerful (Alien? Experimental? From the future?) laser gun that isn’t actually about the laser gun. It’s just something one of those brothers happened to find. A massive sci-fi world sits adjacent to Kin, even as the film focuses on those two brothers (Jack Reynor and Myles Truitt) and their relationship above all else.

I recently sat down with the Baker brothers, as well as screenwriter Dan Casey, to talk about this wild new movie, how they expanded their original short film, injecting genre elements into a more realistic world, and how Vimeo is the place to be for young filmmakers.

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I really like the movie. It feels like the kind of movie that’s custom-made for our readers. A sci-fi tinged, ‘80s-influenced – is that accurate to say? ‘80s influenced?

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a nostalgia quality to it, for sure.

So what were the inspirations for this? I know it was based on a short, but I detected maybe a little bit of Amblin in there, a nod to some Stranger Things qualities, but what else was behind the original short and the feature?

Jonathan: I think what has always turned us on about that nostalgia of films we grew up with is a kid that’s a bit of an outsider stumbling across something –

Josh: Crazy and fantastic, yeah.

Jonathan: – that changes his whole world. We talked a lot about the classic fable of the sword in the stone, and what is the modern retelling of that? So a kid that can only wield this otherworldly weapon was really exciting, and doing the 2018 version of that.

Josh: Also with the short – I’m sure you’ve seen Bag Man?

No, I missed it at SXSW!

Josh: Oh, you should check it out. It’s online. You’ll definitely see the beginnings of it all there. It’s mostly tone. We’ve called it a tone slice of pie. So really, when we showed it around town, you could show the short and people understood the tone of the feature. I don’t know where I was going with that.

Jonathan: It’s okay. He won’t use that bit anyway. [laughs]

[To Dan Casey] How did you become involved as the screenwriter? What steps did you take, not only to adapt the short, but where did you go when you realized, okay, we need to expand this? What was the process there?

Dan: I was sent the short by the producers. There had been a competitive situation in terms of producing the short and turning it into a feature from a producing prospective, and they went with a company called 21 Laps, which is Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen’s company, and Dan is a very talented producer. He’s also a very intense guy. He calls me up one day and says, “What are you doing right now?”

Jonathan: “I’m eating a sandwich!” [laughs]

Dan: “Lunch!” Yeah, exactly. He goes, “I’m sending you a short. Watch it right now!” I was like, “OK!” I remember watching the short, and you kind of have a true cinematic experience seeing not just this wonderful little world that they created with the short, but immediately the potential for what it could be, I felt like I was able to dial into it. I called Dan Cohen back, and I said, “It was really great, man. What’s going on with it?” You try to play casual, even though you know you love it. And he goes, “The directors are in the Valley right now. Can you get in your car and drive to the Valley?” So I did. I drove out and met these guys, and to tell you the truth, it was the conversation about what they wanted to do. They had quite a few elements of what the feature wound up becoming in place. They knew that there was going to be an older brother, Jimmy, we talked about the death of the father at the end of the first act. The rest of it’s foggy, but I just remember having a great conversation.

Jonathan: More than anything, it was the tone and the combination of multiple genres in the same piece, which worked successfully in the short. It was about, “Let’s create this Sundance film where people think they know what they’re getting, and then let’s flip it on them.” If they stuck around long enough – this kid doesn’t say a word for twelve minutes – if they stick around, they get rewarded with this slap in the face of sci-fi that just comes out of left field. We definitely wanted to do that for Kin.

Josh: It was about combining multiple tones, maybe multiple genres, and we love a lot of things about film. We love indie fare, and we love big sci-fi blockbusters. Why can’t those things live in the same movie? In our opinion, we think they can, and there’s a bunch of movies out there that have done it. Looper, I think, had a decent whack at the same thing. And District 9 was definitely more than one thing. I think those are the interesting ones that people really crave, especially when everything’s a reboot or a Marvel movie. The aim from our side was, let’s tell a sci-fi film where you can take the sci-fi out and the movie still stands. It still works. All the characters, everything plays well. But once you put this silly plasma rifle into the middle of the whole thing, you can’t pull it out, and it just becomes the Macguffin of the film and we’ll try to treat that sophisticated in 2018.

That’s actually what I want to ask about next. What makes the movie really special to me and why I enjoyed it so much is that it is this really personal family crime drama, but it’s adjacent to this sci-fi epic and we see the outline of it, and we don’t get the big picture. It’s intentionally vague. What was the process of designing that sci-fi world?

Jonathan: The good thing is we had a template with the short film, certainly of the weapon. And we had a second shot at it, which is rare. We were able to break it down, see what worked, what didn’t, what we would like to improve. And so we worked with the same team, a group of guys called Super Vixen over in Australia, and they’re super talented. And we made the weapon a little bit slicker and a little bit cooler. We loved the idea of it being a hidden box, a mystery box, that he finds and he has to explore to reveal its full identity throughout the film. We treat it like a character.

Josh: When it comes to the whole film, the sci-fi, I feel like we knew what we wanted to do with it. We wanted it to feel tech-y and mysterious and threatening, and then maybe play with that once you’ve set that up. Play with that in the third act. In the edit, it was a lot about trying to figure out what stages of the movie do you need to reintroduce the sci-fi because people may have forgotten? We didn’t want it to be sci-fi the entire time, obviously, that’s not what the movie is. But it was a lot of trying to figure out, “Okay, at this point in the film, do we need another reminder of this and remember that these two figures are following them?” Constantly revisiting that in a way to keep the tension going.

Jonathan: But we never wanted the audience to feel like that’s what the movie’s about. We all know it’s a brother film and it’s about these two broken characters coming together and what makes them family.

Let’s talk about the brothers. There was a window where they tried to make Jack Reynor into a dashing leading man, and I think he’s so much better as a character actor and a screw-up.

Josh: Absolutely. He would agree with you, as well.

And Myles Truitt is such a discovery. He’s so good in this.

Josh: That’s awesome.

Can you talk about creating them on the page and creating them on the screen?

Dan: I never write for actors. I try not to. Because I feel like you can wind up accidentally impersonating someone you have in mind if you try to write for them, so there was never a clear picture in my head. I left it up to these guys in terms of casting who they would pick.

Jonathan: But we always talked about the Eli character being very introverted and quiet, but yet incredibly powerful in the silence. We’re seeing the movie through his eyes in a lot of scenes, like the dinner table you wrote just these three males in this family, and Eli’s just watching how his father and brother are relating and getting to know his brother for the first time in six or seven years. So a lot of that as an audience we look through Eli’s eyes as well. That needs a really strong, subtle actor, which is a hard thing for a 14-year-old.

Josh: It’s difficult to find. We looked at about 250, 300 kids, and there was a little bit of concerned as we were going through it, because not everyone plays it that way. Not everyone is subtle enough. But we felt like we knew who we wanted, top five, top three, and then one last link came in with one kid on it, and it turned out to be Myles Truitt. He was the very last kid who came to our casting session.

Jonathan: He messed us all up.

Josh: Suddenly, there were e-mails going out to every producer, and everybody e-mailing each other like, “Is this the kid? I think this is the kid. Does everyone feel good about this kid? I feel like this is the kid!” So he nabbed it. He stole it from everyone else at the last second. We then went to Boston and did a chemistry read with Jack Reynor, who was shooting Detroit at the time with Kathryn Bigelow. We brought three kids and we read them with Jack and we tried some of the more improv scenes and some of the emotional scenes, trying to get a range out of each of the kids. I remember we huddled up with Jack afterwards and were like, “Who do we all feel?” And everyone said Myles, so that was a good find. Jack was coming from that character in Detroit, which was literally the opposite of Jimmy which he was about to dive into. He’s spending 24 hours a day beating young black kids, and now we’re asking him to be the brother of one. It was a very different headspace for him.

Jonathan: Which worked in a very interesting way. Myles and him didn’t know each other, so they’re growing into a relationship, which is what we’re doing in the film, and he’s also coming out of prison, and he’s a little standoffish with his brother, which he was because he’s just come from Detroit. So that organically moved into the relationship as well. We were in a really good spot. By the end of the film, they’d grown so tight that they were just messing around the whole time.

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