KIN Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker Offer A Thrilling Ride

The Riveting Movie KIN is an Explosive Sci-fi, Crime Thriller That Keeps Us Guessing

Rarely does a film take us on such a wild adventure that we cannot predict anything that is coming next, and we are at the edge of our seats wanting more and more – basically it is a thrilling ride!

Part crime thriller, sci-fi, part buddy road trip, part Western, and part family drama, the movie KIN, from the creative minds of brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker is thrilling.

From Lionsgate, KIN which opened the fall film season is a pulse-pounding crime thriller is the unique story of an unexpected hero destined for greatness.

Chased by a vengeful criminal (James Franco) and two other otherworldly soldiers, a recently released ex-con (Jack Reynor) and Eli his 14-year-old African-American adopted brother (newcomer Myles Truitt), are forced to hit the road with a weapon of mysterious origin as their only protection. The riveting story centers around Eli, a teenage boy, and his adoptive father, Hal, a compassionate, yet strict construction site supervisor and widower who is concerned that his son may be heading into delinquency. Hal is, played by Dennis Quaid, in one of his most challenging recent film roles.

At the same time, Hal’s older biological son, Eli’s brother Jimmy, has just returned from a prison stint, eager to reconnect with his brother and forge a new bond with his father, while at the same time he has a big debt to pay to a local gangster, who kept him alive inside the prison walls.

For Eli, learning what this mysterious and powerful weapon can accomplish becomes more than just a case of protection – it may just reveal his destiny.

Dennis Quaid says that the film’s “gritty realism” is what attracted him to his role in KIN. “I like that the story is about feeling alienated in the world. It’s about family and it’s about belonging and everyone relates to that sometime in their life.”

Twin brothers and filmmakers Jonathan and Josh Baker offer a fresh take on movies with KIN, which offers the best of several genres all rolled into one.

Natives of Sydney, Australia, they are best known as advertising writers and music videos under the name Twin, are exploding onto the movie scene with their directing debut in KIN, a memorable new movie that gives us a wild ride. Here is an exclusive interview with filmmaker brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker about their inspirations, music videos, brotherly bond and their movie, KIN.

[Producer Shawn Levy and Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker on the set of KIN. Photo by: Alan Markfield.]

 I was sitting next to a radio film critic and at the end of your movie we both just looked at one another and said ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ We were blown away.

Josh Baker: That’s literally the best compliment we could get.

Jonathan Baker: This is why we made the movie.

So, let’s start with the basics. Why did you want to make this movie as opposed to something else? Why this story? I mean, you got Western stuff going on, you’ve got sci-fi stuff going on.

Jonathan: Not many people mention the Western stuff, but there’s Western in this, for sure. There’s definitely cowboy filter. A road trip, there’s a coming-of-age story

Josh: I think the short answer is, when you’re making your first film, it feels overwhelmingly personal. It feels like something that you want to make that represents you. So, we kind of combined all of our tastes in cinema, and we’re guys that like the movie Little Miss Sunshine just as much as we like Iron Man, and I think we wanted to get some indie fair feeling crime drama, family drama in there, but we also wanted to get some big sci-fi ideas that – and why can’t you put those two things together?

Jonathan: A lot of those different tones and different genres just don’t often get put together, and honestly, don’t belong together in many ways, but we’ve managed to create a film that works and has its own unique voice, and we’re really proud of that.

Is it difficult to get such major talent in your first feature film? I mean, it doesn’t escape me that I’m watching an indie film with Dennis Quaid, James Franco, and Zoë Kravitz, and several actors that I hadn’t known before.

Jonathan: So, you hadn’t seen Jack Reynor in anything before? I mean, he’s a real Irish indie actor. He’s definitely not a household name, but he was in Sing Street. He was the brother in Sing Street. He did really well in that, and then he’s done a bunch of Irish indie film, which we were a big fan of.

Josh: He’s probably known in America the most for Transformers. Not anything he particularly wants to write home about, but we really responded to his Irish indie cinema that he’s a real actor’s actor, a real character actor, and to plant this film with this brother relationship is African-American teenage lead in Myles Truitt, who had never done a movie before.

His first movie – that is amazing. Myles was wonderful.

Josh: He is a real marvel, and we surrounded him with TLC.

I was worried about him during his entire journey.

Jonathan: Good, good, you should be. He’s going to some dirty places. You should be worried about him. We really wanted to convey that…

His character of Eli already been through so much when the movie started that I just, as a mom and as a caring person, I felt very protective. I even felt protective of the brother even though he made some poor choices.

Josh: Absolutely. I completely agree.

Jonathan: Yeah, I think Jimmy’s character, as much as he can’t get out of his own way and he’s his own worst enemy, he is motivated by protecting his family, and he’s desperate in those moments, and he makes some really bad moves, but I think, at the end of the day, he did it to protect his father and his brother, so he is redeemable.

What are the highlights of having this movie made and making it versus the challenges?

Josh: We should start with Bag Man?

Jonathan: Yeah, we made a short film called Bag Man back in 2014, and we’ve been making ads together for a while now; like 15 years. And you make ads, they’re 30 seconds, they’re 60 seconds, so it’s very short. It’s about like the smallest amount of shots to tell a story. You really yearn for something that’s a little longer and both duration, but also you can just hold moments and it can stretch out, take your time. So, we made Bag Man, this short film that was pretty quiet, that essentially plays with the audience’s expectations. It starts as a bit of Sundance-feeling short and then ends up flipping things completely.

Josh: Literally.

Jonathan: Yeah, literally and becoming this sci-fi concept at the back end, and people don’t see it coming. So, we did that for ourselves and then realized, at the back end of making that short, the people are probably going to ask from Hollywood what the longer version of this is. This thing is working.

Tell me about Bag Man?

Jonathan: It is the story of an African-American teen who journeys out of his rough New York City neighborhood to the countryside with a mysterious duffle bag, later revealed to contain a futuristic weapon.

Josh: We have something we’re proud of that represents us as filmmakers that is longer and bolder choices than we’d made up to that point. So, Hollywood’s going to come asking because they’re hungry for original content, and we probably should have something planned out for them. So, we really put together a document of things that we love about the short, and if we were to make a longer movie out of it, the ingredients that should be in there, but also a lot of the themes that we explored in KIN that weren’t in the original short film, and we found the producing partners in 21 Laps, Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, and the other guys behind Stranger Things, and Arrival, and a lot of the movies that we really, really like, and we connected on films.

Jonathan: Yeah, they’d made the independent film like The Spectacular Now, and they’ve made big films like Real Steel. So, they’ve kind of got their taste in a lot of different places similar to us, so they were kind of a great partner for this one. And then from there –we made our movie KIN as quickly from a short to a feature as you possibly can do it. We’ve been on this for about three and a half years, but the short had just come out, and then suddenly, we’re riding it, and we’re casting it, and then we’re shooting it, and then now we’re here doing the press tour.

[Eli (Myles Truitt) and Milly (Zoe Kravitz) in KIN. Photo by: Alan Markfield.]

How long did it take to actually film the movie KIN?

Jonathan: That was probably the back end of 2016, from about September to just before Christmas.

Josh: Shoot days, we had 47 days up in Toronto, and unfortunately, it took place in the winter time.

Jonathan: Yeah, in the coldest winter in Toronto; it was full-on. then we spent all of 2017 editing and doing post-production, and then 2018 was mostly just been waiting for our window because this is a very specific kind of film. It’s got blockbuster elements, but it’s quite a small movie, and so we couldn’t position ourselves around all these giant summer movies and get monster-trucked by them.

That makes sense.

Josh: Also, we didn’t want to pretend we were that. We wanted to be kind of right on that line between all of this.

Jonathan: So, we’re the last movie of the summer.

Josh: Yeah, end of summer to sort of moving into a little bit smarter movie-making. So, I think that’s pretty much where we belong.

Obviously, without spoiling anything – and there are a lot of spoilers we have to avoid — do you each see certain messages or takeaways in the movie…

Jonathan: Well, I think we’re playing with some very interesting things in this film, one of which we can’t avoid and we don’t want to, is rights and diversity, and it’s a conversation that is hot right now in Hollywood and it’s something that’s being talked about. It’s weird for us because we made this film back in 2015 and 2016, and here we are, we’ve fallen into this position where its post-Black Panther and people are paying attention to movies that have black leads in them. So, I think this one, in particular, we were very interested in an African-American teenager, someone that doesn’t get the opportunity to be the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster or a big Hollywood movie very often. So, it’s very important to us, and somehow, when we made it, we were doing the interesting different choice, and here we are with something that is topical and the audience is actually hungry for.

Josh: Yeah, and it’s been really refreshing and exciting to see screenings around the country, especially places like Atlanta and Philadelphia that have a lot of young African-American teenagers watching themselves represented on the screen, sometimes, for the first time.

Jonathan: So, it’s incredibly positive.

Josh: Walking out of that, feeling empowered and excited, that’s super-cool to Aussie filmmakers.

Jonathan: I mean, just three days ago, we had someone in Chicago come up to us and say, ‘You’re representing me,’ and it was an actor who was excited about the next movies we would make, and then we had a 60-year-old gentleman in Atlanta who came up to us and said, ‘I just want to shake your hands.’ That type of thing is become more of an emotional connection with an audience that I actually didn’t expect, and coming out on this press tour, and seeing people, and being able to screen it with the audience has been a really special experience.

How difficult was it to find Myles, the teenage boy who played Eli?

Josh: It was tough. Myles Truitt is a 14-year-old kid from Atlanta. He’d never done a movie before. At the time, when we cast him, he came in as the last kid that we saw on a link by himself, and we actually thought we knew the direction we were going to go with other kids, and he ended up really impressing us with the confidence he had to be subtle and to not overly impress us in his tape. It was all about his face, and his quietness, and his eyes, and he was very observational, and that’s exactly what we wanted Eli to be. Because, in a lot of these scenes, you’re looking through the eyes of this child and seeing the way his family relates to each other around him.

Jonathan: He’s pretty insular.

Josh: So, we needed that level of emotional maturity in a kid, and it’s rare. So, he had filmed the New Edition Story, he played a small role in a flashback sort of sequence.

Jonathan: Which hadn’t come out yet.

Josh: But, we didn’t see that. We just really had nothing to go by other than his tape, and he was really impressive.

Jonathan: Also, we were prepared to and wanted to go with a first-timer for this. I think we wanted to find a kid that could hold his own in a room full of adults and had never necessarily done that much, and I think we did with Myles. He gets the warmest reaction from the audience out of everybody who genuinely cares about this kid, which is great, because at the end of the day, it’s a hero’s journey, and that’s who we really want to barrack for.

Josh: I just heard, today, that mothers love him, which is music to my ears. I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective. He’s a sweet kid.

[Cleaner in KIN. Photo by: Jonathan and Josh Baker.]

As a mom of a 12-year-old son, he’s on the ground, the brother’s saying, ‘Put the hands up over your head,’ and we all know what can happen during run-ins with law enforcement in heated situations.

Jonathan: One-hundred percent true.

Josh: We had his mom on set crying when she saw that visual of her 14-year-old kid in a heated moment and in a compromising position with the police.

How difficult, or easy, is it to direct together? I mean, you’re brothers, so who’s older, who’s younger?

Jonathan: Josh is a whopping five minutes older.

Josh: Wiser, we say.

Five minutes, okay.

Jonathan: We’ve been directing together now for some 14, 15 years. So, we directed separately before that, so we’re both well-aware that each other has the individual talent to do their own project, but we choose to direct together, which in 2007, we moved from Sydney to New York, and teamed up for mostly advertising and music videos under the name “Twin,” and that’s been going really well. It’s just I think every director looks to feature films as the ultimate endgame, and —

Josh: We knew it would happen. It was just about how it would happen.  Jonathan: Yeah, we knew it was on the horizon. It’s just we didn’t really know which one would be our first, and we’ve been offered a lot of stuff over the years from big, giant genre films to tiny, horror movies, and none of them connected with us. I think we always knew that the first one needs to be special to us and actually mean something. So, this was ours.

Josh: We come from advertising where you have this anonymity, and we get to experience a bunch of different storytelling, you learn technique, we learn style, we get to experiment, and we make mistakes.

Jonathan: You get to work with a different crew.

Josh: You work with feature filmmaking teams from DPs, to editors, to production designers, to the whole thing, producers. So, you’re stepping out of that where no one really knows what you do or who did it, and you’re moving into movies that everybody seems to care about in this 2018 sort of world we live in. Everyone’s an expert, everyone knows what’s coming out, and everyone knows what’s getting made.

Jonathan: Everyone’s very cynical.

Josh: We knew that that first movie we did was going to either be the bar that we set for ourselves or haunt us. So, we just wanted to make a very personal film for ourselves and know that if we stay true to that, there’ll be an audience out there for it.

[KIN Filmmakers and brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker]

Do you have your next project lined up yet?

Josh: The short answer is yes.

Jonathan: One could say the answer is yes, but it’s something that’s been written in the background. We like to work with screenwriters rather than writing the screenplays ourselves.

Josh: I think directing is such an insular process already that we try to embrace the collaborative sort of working method, and there’s two of us, so that helps us verbalize everything. We can come up with concepts very easily together because you’ve got a sounding board there, and then working with key crew like a DP, or like an editor, or like a writer, that now becomes a very egoless sort of process because it’s the three of us working together, and it’s not me versus you. It’s us as a group. So, we love working with writers.

Jonathan: We’ve got a couple concepts being written right now. We’ve got a TV show that we’re really excited about that, hopefully, we’ll end up in the premium space. But, what’s actually most exciting is this movie hasn’t even come out yet. So, we’re really interested in the impact that this might have on the career and just whether people like the vibe that we’ve put in this film and whether it opens a couple doors. the next few months will be very interesting to see who comes knocking.

Josh: People have been saying for so long that they crave original storytelling and, ‘We’re kind of over this trend of big franchises and all of that that seem like they’re just re-dos and remakes,’ and time and time again…

Jonathan: People glazing over.

Josh: So, I think we made this for people that crave sort of nostalgic, original stories that they go to the theater and they don’t know what journey they’re going to be taking over.

This is why I personally think that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Come Hell Or High Water, are such remarkable movies.

Josh: Two amazing films.

Yeah, and like your film, they are nothing that I had ever seen before, and nothing I could predict, original, very well-done.

Jonathan: I would say the same thing for Ex Machina. That was a sci-fi that didn’t necessarily feel very futuristic. It was more of a three-way relationship drama in some ways. That’s a sci-fi that’s very subtle and really well-done by Alex Garland. Lupa was another movie that went in a whole different direction that I couldn’t see where it was going, as I was watching.

What movies have inspired you over the years?

Jonathan: A lot of gritty crime movies that were influences for us like The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly, Out of the Furnace, and Mud, and movies like that that are really small and intimate. Well, that was the aim from the beginning of making it feel not glossy. Take away all that slickery and replace it with grime, and a bit of dirt, and something that feels very grounded.

Josh: And also human.

Jonathan: And human, and if we can do that from the first act and make people care about these characters, then we can do some bigger stuff and take them there.

If I gave you some time off, how would you spend it? I mean, are you always working?

Jonathan: I would probably end up on a beach. I am shocked that I have still never been to Hawaii, so that’s in my near future. Usually, I’m on the Caribbean side. My wife is half Costa-Rican and half Martinique, West Indies, so we end up on a beach most of the time.

Josh: We’re tropical guys. We love relaxing on a beach. We actually came up with the concept of this movie on a beach in Costa Rica…

Jonathan: We did. So, I don’t know. That’s where I hope to be in the next few months.
Do you get tired of each other since you are brothers and working partners?

Jonathan: Yeah, all the time.

Josh: We hang out a lot.

Could your family have predicted this great collaboration?

Jonathan: That’s interesting. We’ve never been asked that question. Realistically, yes. Although, I think, coming from a small country town in Australia on the other side of the world from this. I think they still kind of are surprised and they don’t fully understand what we do. I don’t think Hollywood was a real option from where we came up in Australia. I don’t know anyone in my entire life has got close to working in this type of career.

Please tell me more.

Jonathan: Well, it’s not like we were following in the footsteps of anyone. It was more just that we were obsessive kids when it came to movies, and I think we ever so slowly made these steps to get from Maitland to Sydney, and then Sydney to New York, and then New York to LA, and suddenly, now we find ourselves in Hollywood. It’s a long time coming.

Just very quickly, Zoë Kravitz, James Franco, and Dennis Quaid, please give me a couple of thoughts about each of them.

Josh: It is a great cast. We’re blessed to have such an amazing cast in our first movie. I would say Dennis Quaid, unexpectedly funny and great sense of humor, doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Jonathan: But, playing a role that might be the hardest and serious I’ve seen from him in a long time.

Josh: Zoë Kravitz, authentic and cool, and you can’t fake that role, and she was our number one choice, and again, we’re shocked she said yes.

Jonathan: Zoe is incredibly warm, often making our scenes all the better because she’s in them. Brought a level of heart to this movie and to the trio that we needed, and I think it was just a great decision.

Josh: James Franco.

Hated, hated his character.

Josh: Great, but in a good way.

I’m wanted to throw something at him, oh yeah.

Josh: Great, great, love it. Franco’s other movies are the ones that are charismatic and scary all at the same time, and filthy, and tired eyes, and we’re shooting at four in the morning, and that helped, and we put a mullet on him. He just loves being transported to a character and he just dives right in.

Jonathan: He was very willing to go places, and for first-time directors, that was a pleasure.

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