Jonathan and Josh Baker: Kindred Spirits

August 29, 2018
Having made their mark in commercials and short films, directing duo Jonathan and Josh Baker, twin brothers hailing from Australia but based in the States, have unveiled their feature debut, the sci-fi road movie, Kin.

In Kin, two brothers, young, impressionable Eli (Myles Truitt) and fresh-out-of-jail Jimmy (Jack Reynor) go on the lam after a botched robbery puts them in the sights of a violent crimelord (James Franco). The twist is that Eli has stumbled across a seemingly alien laser gun that only he can use. By injecting a little SF wonder into a grounded crime drama, twin directors Josh and Jonathan Baker have delivered something left of centre, intriguing, and quite singular. We asked them to expand on the premise.

Kin grew out of your short film, Bag Man, but has changed a lot in the process. What kind of decisions did you have to make in expanding your original film to feature length?

Josh: It is a very different beast but I’m hoping you can see the similarities. There’s some very specific stuff that we took from it – obviously the boy and the mystery bag and the weapon that’s inside of it. I think all of the rest of it became tertiary and not really important at the end of the day because we could decide what kind of film we wanted to make and what themes we wanted to use and what characters we wanted to feature. Being brothers, we figured out pretty quickly we had a story to tell about brothers and we wanted to find a way to tell it in a different, unique way.

Jonathan: More importantly what we took from the short was just the tone of it. We set a very specific tone that interests us, which is a combination of multiple genres, but also something that feels like it has a specific intent in its heart and it’s not trying to blow its load as a giant blockbuster. We’re not trying to compete with those kind of movies, we’re trying to stand by ourselves as something a little bit more grounded and a little bit more character driven and hopefully a little bit more unique.

I’d say the film is an indie sci-fi drama rather than a thriller, but were you ever tempted to drift more into the action idiom?

Jonathan: We talked a lot about having all those elements in the film and we just wanted to hold back because I think if you go too hard with some of that stuff – certainly as your first film – it can feel you like you care more about that stuff than storytelling or characters or a bunch of other things.

Josh: I think there was some fun stuff to do there and obviously we’ve got a fairly decent sized third act at the end that, like the short film, flips things a little bit and makes you see things a little bit different but, honestly, no – we were more interested in telling this story about two brothers trying to relate to each other than the stuff like jumping down three storeys into an elevator shaft.

Jonathan: One of our favourite scenes and one that sums up the entire film for us visually and tonally is the image with the young African American boy in his boxer shorts sitting in a shitty Midwest motel bathroom.

Photo credit: Alan Markfield

There are some subtle references to James Cameron in Kin, and the anime Bubblegum Crisis appears in the background at one point. What kind of science fiction are you guys into?

Josh: Good call! We’re kids of the ‘80s. we were born in the late ‘70s and grew up through a lot of fun films that had a young boy protagonist – things like Flight of the Navigator, things like The Last Starfighter, Stand by Me. E.T., things like that, so this is obviously reminiscent of things from our childhood.

Jonathan: Then there was also stuff like Terminator 2, and those big blockbuster ‘80s films as well.

Photo credit: Jonathan and Josh Baker.

Josh: I think it’s about what had an impact on you as a kid and that kind of building-base level and, for us, all the films that we just mentioned built the way that we look at story, so when you get the chance to put your first movie together, it’s really hard not to have that influence in there, especially because we already had that wish-fulfillment concept that we kind of based around The Sword in the Stone, the fable of King Arthur – having a kid be able to wield something that no one else could. It was very natural to lean into more of a James Cameron vibe in some of this stuff and sort of reference some ‘80s nostalgic feeling at the very least.

Jonathan: But we couldn’t leave it there – we had to combine it with a kind of independent spirit or it would just fall into a big blockbuster aesthetic. What’s original to us as filmmakers is a combination of all those feelings you had, those nostalgic feelings you had of watching those movies as a kid, with a very restricted, modern aesthetic that is closer to a Jeff Nichols film than a big blockbuster.

Kin is in cinemas from August 30, 2018. Read our review here

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