Jonathan and Josh Baker, the co-directors of Kin, aren’t just brothers. They’re identical twins.
Kin, which is the brothers’ feature directing debut, is based on the brothers’ short film Bag Man (watch film here), which is about an African-American boy from Harlem who possesses a mysterious weapon that has the power to vaporize anything it targets.
When Bag Man premiered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in 2015, the brothers soon found themselves being courted by various Hollywood studios. The filming of Kin began in Toronto in October of 2016, approximately one month after Lionsgate bought the film rights to Kin at the Toronto Film Festival for $30 million.
In Kin, an African-American teenage boy named Elijah (Myles Truitt) takes possession of a mysterious weapon of unknown origin and finds himself being hunted by otherworldly soldiers and a ruthless criminal. In this interview, the Baker Brothers discuss the journey they’ve taken with the project, from short film to feature, and the virtues of co-directing.
DG: Although co-directed feature films are still rare, there have been more co-directed feature film that have been released in the past decade than in the previous century. What are you feelings about the co-directing method of filmmaking?
Jonathan: Making a film is very stressful, and I think that a filmmaking duo increases efficiency. We’ve been working together for approximately fifteen years, and while we don’t always bring the exact same ideas and vision to a project, we respect each other’s opinions, and we’re always unified in front of the cast and crew. When it comes to the filmmaking process, I think that two heads are definitely better than one. I think that you’re going to see it happen more and more in the future because I think it’s the best way to make a film.
DG: Kin is based on your 2014 short film Bag Man. When you made the short film, did you visualize that you would eventually turn the concept into a feature film?
Jonathan: We never intended Bag Man to be a feature film. It was a contained project, and we had no intention, initially, of turning it into a feature film. It wasn’t until we had the great reaction at the Southwest festival that we started giving serious thought to how we would turn the short film into a feature.
Josh: When we made Bag Man, we had been working in advertising, shooting commercials, for approximately twelve years, and we were looking for a narrative refresher. Although we enjoyed making commercials, it’s hard to tell a story within the commercial format, so Bag Man seemed like a smart thing to do. With Bag Man, we wanted to show science fiction in a different way and combine science fiction with drama and other elements.
DG: How would you describe the process of turning the fifteen-minute Bag Man into the feature-length Kin?
Josh: In Bag Man, there’s a duffle bag, a boy, a gun inside the bag, and there’s gangsters, and that’s pretty much it. With Kin, we wanted the film to have a mashed-up feel and tone to it, and we focused primarily on drama and the relationships between the characters. None of the influences we brought to Kin were related to science fiction. When we met with [screenwriter] Daniel Casey, we told him that we didn’t want to see any science fiction that he’d written. We only wanted to see character and drama. Daniel is a native of Detroit, which led us to move the setting from Harlem to Detroit.
DG: How would you describe Elijah, the film’s teenage protagonist, played by Myles Truitt?
Jonathan: Elijah is a street smart kid who is far wiser than his age. Elijah has been adopted into a middle-class Polish-American family, and they live in Detroit, in Poletown, where there’s a lot of crime and gang life. As an African-American boy living in a Caucasian household, Elijah has never truly felt accepted, although he’s very close to his adopted brother, Jimmy, who has just gotten out of prison. Jimmy is a cool guy who has a lot of charisma but has chosen a bad path in his life. Although Elijah and Jimmy are very different people, innocence versus corruption, they love each other very much. After Elijah finds the weapon, they’re forced to go on the run.
DG: How would you describe Elijah’s relationship with the mysterious weapon that appears in the film?
Josh: Elijah has a kind of Sword in the Stone existence in the film, in terms of his relationship with the weapon and the journey Elijah takes throughout the film. He finds the weapon early in the film, about twelve minutes in, and the weapon acts as a symbol throughout the rest of the film. The weapon is like a ray-gun, and it’s similar to the weapon in the short film, which vaporized everyone it shot at. The gun has a flat end, and it can shift itself into a box, so we’re not always sure what end we’re looking at. Elijah has a love-hate relationship with the weapon throughout the film.
DG: What was your inspiration in terms of conceptualizing the weapon and its origin?
Jonathan: The weapon in the film is a mystery in terms of what it is and where it came from—just like the box on Lost. Is it alien? Is it from the future? It functions like a ray-gun, with its vaporizing effect, and the challenge for us was to do something interesting with the weapon in the film. We didn’t want it to look like a ray-gun from the 1950s. The weapon is to this film what the ring is to The Lord of the Rings. It symbolizes everything that happens in the film.
DG: How would you describe Taylor, the character played by James Franco?
Josh: Taylor is a mash-up villain in the vein of the villains in films like No Country for Old Men and Out of the Furnace. He’s a lowlife, a smalltime gangster whom Jimmy owes money to because of a prison debt. It was one of those things where Jimmy had to pay protection money to survive in prison, thousands of dollars, and that didn’t stop when he got out, and now Taylor’s after him. I would describe Taylor as resembling Reverend Harry Powell in the film The Night of the Hunter. James was great. He loves playing different characters, and he enjoyed mashing up his look in this film. He has a mullet and stringy hair.
DG: What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the film?
Jonathan: The biggest challenge we faced in the making of this film was filming in Toronto when it was close to winter. We filmed in Toronto from October to December in 2016, and we did a lot of filming at night, often at three and four in the morning, and it was grueling. It was so dark sometimes that we couldn’t see anything, and we had to do that because so much of the film takes place at night.
DG: Why do you think audiences should be excited to see this film?
Josh: When we did the short film, we wanted to play with the audience’s expectations, make them believe that they were going to see one thing, see one kind of story, and then show them something else that completely surprises them. Kin is in the science fiction zone, but it doesn’t contain the familiar elements that exist in so many blockbuster science fiction films. It’s a drama and a gangster film and a science fiction film. It’s more than one thing.
Kin opens in theaters on August 31. Watch the theatrical trailer here.