It’s not everyday films are co-directed by siblings. In the case of the Australian-born brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker, these fraternal twins have combined their creativity to direct their first feature film “KIN.”
The brothers combine crime, thrill and subtle elements of sci-fi to produce a film that explores the ups and downs of family relationships through brotherly bonding, road-trips and sacrifice.
“KIN” tells the story of recently released ex-con, Jimmy Solinski (Jack Reynor) and his adopted brother, Eli (Myles Truitt) as they are chased by criminal Taylor Bolek (James Franco) and otherworldly soldiers.
After being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Jimmy and Eli are forced to go on the run with a mysteriously powerful weapon as their only protection.
Along the way, the brothers meet Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a dancer who acts as an older sister to Eli. Kravitz plays an essential role in “KIN,” acting as the glue which keeps the Solinski family together.
“Zoë was at the top of our list for the Millie role. [She’s] someone that we really think had a sense of authentic cool that’s hard to fake,” Jonathan said. “Recently I’ve noticed — we’ve watched the movie a lot — all the other actors are better when they’re on-screen with her. There’s something about her that brings other people up, and I think that’s a really good talent.”
“KIN” is based on “Bag Man,” a 15-minute short film written and directed by the Bakers.
“Bag Man” follows the story of a twelve-year-old boy who embarks on an introspective journey from the city to upstate New York with only a duffle bag in hand. The contents of the bag are unknown to the audience but the significance of these items is revealed throughout the film.
In a similar manner as the young boy in “Bag Man,” Eli travels cross country with only a backpack filled with clothes and newly-discovered raygun, a weapon that fires destructive energy. As the movie progresses, Eli discovers the extreme powers of his gun, which he uses to protect Milly and his brother from the pimps and con men who cross their paths.
When creating “KIN,” Jonathan and Josh said they wanted to portray a personal subject matter. As brothers who got along and valued each other, the duo said they felt basing a film off two brothers made the most sense.
“[KIN is] about family, but specifically, it’s about unconventional brothers,” Jonathan said. “… I think that’s where the connection is to us, as filmmakers. Then you look deeper — what actually defines brotherhood? Is it blood? Is it circumstance and trauma and things that you go through?”
The Baker brothers gathered inspiration from ‘80s and ‘90s films including “Short Circuit,” “E.T.,” “A Perfect World” and “Paper Moon” for their project. Jonathan and Josh also drew on their childhood adventures to lay the groundwork for their film.
The film opens with a gritty scene showing Eli roaming an abandoned warehouse. He’s exploring, which was something the Baker brothers often did as children, according to Jonathan.
“We were pretty much in each other’s pockets, hanging out the whole time,” Josh said. Jonathan added, “[As kids], we were insular. It was mostly [Josh] on a red bike BMX and me on a blue BMX, rolling around, exploring, which is what the first ten minutes of this movie is.”
The brothers, who look so alike they’re often confused for being identical, began their careers in the design world. For the better part of 15 years, the duo worked shooting commercials, creating music videos and filming short features, including “Bag Man” and “Little Kaiju.”
“[Advertising] was the perfect preparation to step over into this industry and manage millions of dollars on our first movie,” Josh said. “… we’ve been on hundreds of sets and I just feel like, film school for us was being around really experienced crew members, working with editors and cinematographers hundreds of times. Then, when we actually get to do it for our first film, all of that is in the past and we can focus on the story we want to tell.”
The Baker brothers acquired experience collaborating with companies such as Nike, Google and Beats by Dre.
During pre-production, the movie rights to “KIN” were purchased by Lionsgate at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. “Stranger Things” and “Arrival” producer Dan Cohen at 21 Laps Entertainment produced the film.
From creating commercials, shooting million-dollar projects together was a way for the Baker brothers to “stretch their legs” and expose their more quiet, dramatic side as filmmakers, Josh said.
“We enjoy working together,” Jonathan said. “It takes a lot of the pressure off in making a movie — making a movie puts a lot of pressure on the shoulder of a director, so it’s nice to look over and have your bro there with you the whole time, someone who has very similar taste to you in cinema and style of working and being a human being.”
Developing and directing feature films is the brothers’ clear answer when asked if they prefer creating short projects or feature films, Josh said.
“You get to tell a long story, so you can pace yourself and really play with a beginning, middle and end, which you kind of can in ads, but not really,” Josh said. “We were doing a lot of short-form storytelling in 30 or 60 second spots. That takes a certain type of discipline to just tell stories that quick. It actually is hilarious now that we’ve done a two-hour film thinking about what you can actually get across to an audience in 30 seconds, or sometimes even 15 seconds.”
“KIN” was created to stray from the popular superhero blockbuster movies that are released so often in today’s day.
“The way that we shot it, there’s grain in it,” Jonathan said. “You don’t get a lot of that in these big blockbuster films. They’re a lot glossier. One thing we did on purpose early on when we were talking to that cinematographer was, ‘Let’s throw away all that slickery. Let’s keep it dirty, messy and way more raw.’ Raw was a big keyword for this film.”
The movie’s press tour will take the brothers from Chicago to Philadelphia and then back home to Los Angeles, where they’ll continue to experiment with new ideas and create projects.
“This is the first press tour we’ve ever been on, and it is overwhelming, but the feedback has been amazing,” Jonathan said. “It’s been a really warm audience in every city we’ve been in, and I’m very interested to see how it goes down here in Chicago.”
“KIN” will premiere in theaters nationwide Aug. 31.