Episode 155 — Directors of the Feature Film KIN

 

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Episode 155 — Directors of the Feature Film KIN

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 155! I’m speaking with Jonathan and Josh Baker, the directors of the new feature film Kin. I’m really excited for this one! The film is coming out this week. I will be chatting with Jonathan and Josh about making Kin and what it took to get it made.

I’ve known Jon and Josh my whole adult career. It was always obvious that they would be successful because of their discipline. The Baker brothers are proof that you have to make your own opportunities and be in it to win it. You have to live and breathe your passion and work yourself to death. Jon and Josh would always be doing things on the side, and it takes that drive and getting out of your comfort zone to level up. They are a really great case study for success. They had big goals and they were always moving forward — and relying on each other — and making big leaps forward because of their sheer drive to succeed.

I hope this is going to inspire you too. Just because no one around you isn’t pushing themselves, doesn’t mean that you have to set expectations that low. I think Michael Jordan was the perfect example: He set his own expectations, against himself. He didn’t look to others as the level to beat. If you go with what the average is, it’s a lot less than what’s possible. Set your own bar and set the tone for your high achievement.

The Baker brothers are artists who’ve had major success. And it isn’t because of luck. They created their own opportunity. They pushed themselves and measured their successes and failures as part of the process.

Let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[5:49] If you haven’t gotten the Ultimate Demo Reel Guide, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. You will be able to download the book and have access to a free 2-hour Master Class.

 

INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTORS OF THE FEATURE FILM KIN JONATHAN AND JOSH BAKER

TWIN (http://twin.work) are directing duo brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker. Born in Australia, they studied design graphic design, motion graphics and eventually Live Action, while doing filmmaking in their spare time. They moved to the U.S. in 2007 and have made a name for themselves directing short films and commercials.

Their first feature film KIN premiers on August 31st, 2018 in theaters in the U.S. and internationally. Its cast includes Carrie Coon, Zoe Kravitz, James Franco and Dennis Quaid.

In this Episode, Jonathan and Josh talk about the crucial role passion, drive, dedication and discipline play in filmmaking — and the long journey to their first feature film Kin (coming to theatres 8.31.2018).

 

[6:29] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat, guys! Do you want to introduce yourselves?

Jonathan: Yeah, thanks for having us. Hey! I’m Jonathan.

Josh: I’m Josh. Thanks for having us on the show!

[6:42] Allan: Can talk about your background? Did you come from Canberra? You had that batch of guys like Eddie…

The Baker Twins: We actually met Eddie at Ambience. We’re kind of from all over; we grew up in Maitland which is attached to New Castle. We went to Perth for all of high school and college. And then we went to Sydney because it was the only place in the country to be doing anything at a high level. We know a lot of those guys though.

[7:21] Allan: That’s cool! For you, guys, you started in design and motion graphics. But even back then, your drive to do film was clear. 

The Baker Twins: I think we grew up having abilities in illustration and generally liking the aesthetics of things. That was kind of our school base. We got into college back in ’97 with pencil illustration portfolios. We didn’t know Photoshop or any of that stuff. When we got into design school, we figured graphic design was the best way to make our skills work. To be honest, when you were in school and got those brochures about what you were going to be when you grew up — we didn’t know [we were going to be graphic designers]! And comic art was fascinating to us, too. We did a design course for three years. Which turns out to be a pretty good one in Perth, where a lot of people have come out of it. And now, they’re in the industry. We dived into digital design and before we knew it, we were animating.

We think it was probably around 2002-2003 that we realized there was a ceiling for this stuff. There were a lot of 18-year-olds coming in — like yourself, Allan! — and taking over. As 20-year-olds, we were thinking, “How long can we be doing this and doing a lot of the same stuff?” A lot of designers around me were designing 24 hours and sleeping on the floors of their studios, and I was questioning if I could hold up through my 40s, 50s. When it came down to it, film was always interesting to us. There was something about fill that was pulling on me. I thought maybe I wanted to become an actor. It was more about making movies. So in 2004, we started to do more Live Action and jumped into doing commercials.

[11:25] Allan: To anyone who knew you back in the day, it was clear that you were destined for bigger things. You had that work ethic from the beginning: let’s make a short film, let’s make an experimental project. You were pushing ahead at your own pace.

The Baker Twins: That’s cool man, thanks! Honestly, that was the way we got out of one field and into another: by overlapping them and faking it. There is two of us and there is a natural competition there, and you end up pushing each other to do better. We ended up combining our reels and skills sets, and a bunch of other things; and decided to work together as twins.

[13:10] Allan: Could you identify any key characteristics that made you, guys, stand out? 

The Baker Twins: One of the things was being a sponge for what’s being done. I care a little less these days. But when you’re building your own voice, you need to have a general awareness for good work. A lot of this is trend based. You want to be ahead of the trend and be the leader. You need to know what the trends are switching to. When you’re doing commercials, you want to know what’s happening around you.

And we’ve seen it in film. You don’t want to be that guy who isn’t aware of what’s out there. It’s important! And having that drive — while everyone else is sleeping — has definitely gotten us ahead. I always say, “What we lack in talent — we make up for in drive.”

[15:05] Allan: Josh, I noticed you’ve always filled in your knowledge in areas where you needed to learn. You started in design, but just as you were leaving Ambience, you were getting into flame compositing and doing 3D. It became obvious that you were getting the knowledge of all the tools available to you.

The Baker Twins: I think you’ve got that right. I really can find parallels between design and film: You want to know everyone’s job better than they do, in a way. I see a lot of directors who say, “I don’t handle that.” Yeah, but you’re also the director. You should know everyone’s gig. That’s why directors like David Fincher are so good: He can literally do anyone’s job better than them. It’s not about micromanaging things. It’s like being able to speak the language of the people in each department and do it in a smart, educated way. 

[16:51] Allan: Have you ever read Rebel without a Crew, the Robert Rodriguez book? One of his addendum was about learning everyone else’s job [and that it] scares the shit out everyone because there is no more gray area.

The Baker Twins: I think there is a respect level that comes from the crew when they see that you know what you’re talking about. You can have a conversation about it and they aren’t babying you or rolling their eyes because [you sound clueless]. Especially, as a first timer! That’s the last thing you want: to have a professional crew and be the first-time director and be the least experienced person on set (while having to be the leader). You have to be on your A-game.

[18:04] Allan: I remember how you were winning all these contests you found in newspapers. You would win just because no one else was submitting stuff. And no one else does. They think, “Someone else is going to win, so why bother?” Most people give up at the starting line. You guys would win everything.

The Baker Twins: One of the things I hear a lot is, “You, twins, have such great luck!” And I guess there is a bit of that. There are two of us doing the same thing. I don’t see it as luck as much as being in the right place at the right time; and when you have an opportunity put in front of you, you know what to do with it. A lot of people don’t know what they want; so when an opportunity arrives, they miss it. I think it’s part of confidence: knowing that it’s always going to work out. I know where I’m going, I know what I want to do, I know what kind of movie I want to make. The financiers may not know it yet.

[19:42] Allan: I think a lot of people wait for that one opportunity. They don’t realize that if you’re doing it every day, there are opportunities everywhere. And most people are oblivious to that because they are waiting for permission to come along. It’s more about which one you want to grab.

The Baker Twins: I couldn’t agree more! That’s so wise!

[20:06] Allan: What was it like to make the transition once you moved to the U.S.? Did you transition over time?

The Baker Twins: It was one of those things: It was always in our future. We never put a date to it. [We thought,] “We’ll make a movie one day, but for right now, commercials are mini movies. We were building our skill set.” We moved to New York in 2007, but we’ve been properly directing only since 2005. When we got to New York, we combined our reels. Movies will come and you put in years into building relationships. Movies were always on the horizon. Living in New York, we weren’t on the lap of the Hollywood world. It was a choice we made on purpose.

Quite quickly, in 2008, we got an agent. We got offered a half-a-million dollar animated movie by a producer in Hollywood. We read the script and we didn’t like it. I could never see us doing that sort of script, especially for our first project. We turned it down and we felt bad about it; but the guy had a smile on his face. We said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll find you another movie.” At the end of the meeting, he asked, “Who’s your agent?” We didn’t have one and he connected us with his favorite agent. That person is still our agent today, all those years later. He’s the nicest guy in Hollywood! He sends us stuff and offers us things that are really big (that we would never get) or small horror projects. We became very picky. Hollywood was becoming an option while we were doing commercials. We decided to not jump on our first movie as someone else’s project. For the last six years, we were looking for what would speak to us and we could own it. That’s where Kin came from.

[23:45] Allan: I assume a lot of it came from Bag Man, when you guys teamed up for the short.

The Baker Twins: We were getting a little stressed that we weren’t able to stretch our legs. We just went out and started playing with experimental things. We did this short called Little Kaiju and this other experimental thing with the guy with shoes on (which you know well, Allan, because you worked on it). And after a while of having these little side projects, we were saying, “There should never be a time when you don’t have something happening on the side.” You’re making money doing these big commercials. But at the end of the day, when no one saw them, they don’t define you. But these short films help your creativity and you’re building your creative team. They were really fruitful.

That ended up leading to Bag Man, which we wrote and put together. We shot it locally in New York. We used the crew we’ve built over 9 years, visual effects people. It went to SXSW in 2015. It got a Staff Pick. It got a lot of eyes on it. We did not do it as a proof of concept. It was contained and it had this quiet journey, which is something we wanted to experiment with. It’s mixed genre. You think you know what the movie is, and then it flips at the 10-minute mark.

[26:13] Allan: It’s such a shift!

The Baker Twins: That was the purpose: Can we do it and make it work? Since it was a decent success, we were lucky that we during post-time sat down and came up with themes and characters, loosely based on Bag Man.

[26:49] Allan: What were some of the bigger challenges, especially coming on as first time directors? Having the experience doing shorts, is it a night and day experience [doing a feature]?

The Baker Twins: It is and it isn’t. In some ways, it’s really similar. It was amazing to look at each other at the end of the first week: “It’s kind of like making an ad.” Except that it’s more of a marathon rather than a sprint. Make sure you pace yourself and don’t burn out in the first two weeks. You have to manage your time (which we’ve never had to deal with before). When you look at commercials, there are studios and financiers. There is a lot of comparisons. You’re dealing with large budgets. A lot of those lessons we’ve learned in commercials.

There were some things we were doing for the first time. We had meetings for car chases and stunt guys standing around you (and you’re like, “I’ve seen this on the DVD’s! The behind the scenes!”) There are a lot of those pinch-me moments. We just did a directors commentary. [We realized] you had to pace yourself and it was really fun.

What we realized quite quickly is that if you aren’t in love with your film — and you are not proud of it — it would be a very difficult process. Right now, we’re in the marketing process. If we didn’t love it, it would be so much harder. It’s been so long! It feels like we’ve done four projects. Just the screenplay drafting took 10 months to get it to the place it needed to be! And then you’re casting. And then, you’re in pre-production and then you’re shooting. And then you take a break, and then you’re editing. And then you do post and sound which was a really extensive process. We mixed this thing for 2.5 weeks. And then [we were] working with this Scottish band doing their music for our first feature. It’s so damn big, it feels like it’s spread over these 3 years.

[31:26] Allan: Are there any moments when you’re uncertain? The two of you get to play off each other, which must help.

The Baker Twins: So much! Mostly, in boardrooms with people in suits looking at you. The amount of pressure that’s singularly on your shoulders is mind-blowing. There were some facets that felt like that. Visual effects was not one of them. We worked with the guys at Image Engine in Vancouver. Weirdly enough, David Morley was our Supervisor. I remember going on the site and seeing his name and going, “What are the chances!” The company was interested and suddenly, we’re working with the guys who made District 9. It was great working with Dave, we had a short hand already. He gets how we work; and with those occasional emails you have to send, “Bro, I don’t know how we’re going to do this” — he’d respond, “I GOT YOU!” It’s priceless.

It threw us into the deep end of making visual effects that keep you emotionally engaged in the movie. It was a great process!

[33:30] Allan: I actually had Supervisors from Image Engine do a round table a few months back (www.allanmckay.com/91/). I talked to them about creature work.

The Baker Twins: They’re a good level company for a film like this! We’re a small movie posing as a big movie. Before Lions Gate came on, it was a big-budget indie that was R-Rated before we went PG-13. We didn’t have to make many sacrifices to get it there. The film was a grown-up film with this 14-year old kid as the lead. Not a kid movie! It had to keep a certain tone. We were dealing with some blockbuster sequences sitting on top of an indie tone.

[34:52] Allan: In the trailers, it feels like it’s going to have a retro feel to it. Not just in the title sequence! By the way, who did the title?

The Baker Twins: The title was fairly simple. They were a team we went to college with. They helped us out with creating those sci fi language that becomes the iconography. We wanted to keep it simple. We didn’t want a big Marvel sequence in the beginning. It wasn’t that type of that film. There are some retro influences. We grew up in the 80s. There were things like Amblin films that had a huge influence on us; or the wish fulfillment concept. There’s some darker stuff but that’s on the bigger side. There was this indie cinema with textural world. We’ve been lucky that the poster work that’s coming out is doing a pretty good job of reflecting the tone of the film. It’s a struggle to manage people’s expectations. The studio wants to make it feel like a giant film, but we don’t want to lose the intimate side of it. Some of the poster work has that nostalgic feel. One thing we tried to bring to the film is working with people we always loved, be in poster or concept designers. If you’re going to be making a movie, why not create cool elements that you can get into while you’re making it? It’s selfish. If I were watching this film, what would I want it to be. Hopefully, there are people out there who will respond too.

[38:57] Allan: I think that if you’re passionate about it, it really shows in the work you’re doing and the content you’re building around it. If you don’t love it, you can’t sell it.

The Baker Twins: We realized a couple of weeks back that it’s not about good or bad at this point. We think we made a good movie. It’s about: Is it your cup of tea? We live in the world where it’s polarized: I love it or I hate it. There is no in between.

[39:46] Allan: Like or dislike!

The Baker Twins: That’s right, thumbs up or thumbs down. It’s not for everybody, and it doesn’t make it bad. It’s a medium size Hollywood film. I now have respect for bad movies. It’s hard to make any movie, man! It’s different perspective. It’s impossible to make a good film. And the downside of social media is that everybody thinks they can do anything. It’s a tough audience. If we’re making something for ourselves, there’s going to be love.

[41:10] Allan: You’re going to get people who really love it or really hate it. You can’t please everyone. 

The Baker Twins: We’re also in the industry with giant things. This film is for people who want an original story and it isn’t a remake. It’s not a comic book.

[41:52] Allan: In terms of visual effects, obviously, you’re pretty confident in those. Coming from that background, did it make you more confident on set?

The Baker Twins: Yeah, I think so. As we said earlier, it’s about knowing how to speak to that group of people. Coming from the visual effects background and knowing how to speak that language definitely helped. But I think we also wanted to make a movie without green screening it. We aren’t doing giant backgrounds of fakery. That adjusts your frame of thinking. It pushed us into practical. It’s down that frame of thinking. Even our big effects were comping over practical lighting and rig removal. It has an in-camera practical vibe to it. There is a challenge to it and visual effect companies respond to it.

[43:57] Allan: Which studio worked on it?

The Baker Twins: It’s small, man. We basically gave it to Image Engine for 80 percent, and then we gave it to Rocket Science for the rest of it. They’re in Toronto.

[44:25] Allan: What cameras were you shooting on?

The Baker Twins: Well, we shot Alexa. We mostly kept it to two cameras. We shot up to 4 cameras for action sequences. It was nice to feel like Michael Bay for a couple of shots. We aimed to not have it feel like Alexa. We colored with Moonlight colorist Alex Bickel, to make it look like not feel like Alexa. It becomes its own thing and doesn’t have that digital look. It’s not super crispy. The last thing we wanted is a clean image. It’s grainy. When the trailer came out, the guys at IMAX saw it and said, “This is something we’d love to feature”. We’re doing an IMAX release in the first week. They used their software to reduce the grain to put on their screens.

[46:22] Allan: It definitely has that feel. It doesn’t have that creamy digital feel.

The Baker Twins: I would advise you to check it out in IMAX. You see a close up or an emotional scene, and it makes an impact.

[47:13] Allan: That’s so cool! One thing that’s critical for anyone who aspires to be a filmmaker, what advice would you give?

The Baker Twins: There is a couple of things, man:

One thing: If you’re working on cool stuff, people will want to be involved. People think, “How am going to attract this DP?” From DP, to Production Designers, to Casting Directors — if you’re doing something cool, most people will want to be involved. A lot of people have jumped on Kin because of the unique ideas.

The next thing: You just have to ask. You will either get a yes or a no.

[48:32] Allan: Do you think that people underplay that a little bit? They don’t put themselves out that way.

The Baker Twins: We live in a society that likes to put everything / everyone in boxes. “I’m not big enough.” You just put yourself out there — and you can back it up and you have the respect for other creatives around you — asking goes a long way.

[49:03] Allan: How critical do you think to build relationships?

The Baker Twins: We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t [build those]! This would be a different experience if we had done two short films and then jumped into Hollywood. We aren’t going to underplay the time that we’ve put in and spent in the trenches, and the mistakes we’ve made and learning from those. It’s part of the journey! We feel like we’ve arrived.

[49:44] Allan: Where would we go to find out more about you and Kin?

The Baker Twins: You can find stuff online or on Twitter (at @KIN). It comes our August 31st. It’s getting an international release.

[50:35] Allan: You guys have put in so much hard work over time to land where you are! I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.

The Baker Twins: Thanks, Allan! Really appreciate talking to you! We’ve been big fans of your since 2001. It’s great to do an interview with you, on your show.

 

I want to thank Josh and Jon for taking the time out of their busy schedule to chat. I know they’re flying internationally, to promote Kin. I hope you got a lot of great insight from this Episode. This is just the beginning of their career, but it’s hard work and strategic thinking and passion that got them there. You have to be in it — to win it! Set your own goals and expectations. Be your own better self!

  • My next Episode will be covering the one thing that’s more important than your demo reel.
  • I just did a Live Demo Reel Review with my students. Go get the Demo Reel Book at www.allanmckay.com/myreel/.

All of these resources are focused on getting the success that you need.

Until next week —

Rock on!

 

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