JONATHAN AND JOSH BAKER
Jonathan and Josh Baker’s debut feature film KIN follows two adopted brothers who embark on an adventure in which their sole protection is a mysterious weapon that holds unknown powers. KIN was adapted from their short film BAG MAN, which debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in 2015 to rave reviews and developed a cult following. We took the chance to sit down to have a conversation.
Jonathan, Josh - what’s the biggest Australian stereotype?
That we have koala’s climbing trees in our backyards. The truth is it’s actually kangaroos. Throughout a large part of Australia, if someone told you there was currently a roo in your yard, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Name one of your most defining childhood memories.
One of the first Christmas presents we can remember receiving were two BMX bikes, one red and one blue. They ended up defining who we were for the next few years, as that’s all we’d end up doing after school until late into the evening. We’d ride the streets of our rural country neighborhood, exploring and making hideouts and creating worlds together. Just the two of us. A very Amblinesque childhood for two skinny Aussie twins on the other side of the world. It’s such a part of who we are, that we went and named our film company Red Bike Blue Bike.
What did you want to be growing up?
For as long as we can both remember, we were confident we’d become comic book artists when we grew up. When we weren’t riding bikes, we were drawing, mainly pencil stuff and watercolors. It was only when we got to a high school career day that we realized the respectable real world equivalent was ‘Graphic Designer’. So we did that instead.
So, when did you decide to become film makers?
After designing and animating for a few years, we both decided we prefer telling stories. Making things look pretty was fun, but directing felt like it had more longevity to it. Like we could still be refining our craft at 60 years old. Hell, Scorsese is what, 75 now? That guy made ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ in his 70’s.
When you first started doing films, what did you do?
The beginning of our directing careers started in Sydney, Australia. Small music videos, cheap and nasty commercials – things we buried a long time ago. Wasn’t hard, YouTube didn’t even exist back then. It wasn’t until around 2005 that we really started creating work people noticed, and decided to team up permanently in 2007 to move things to the States.
How did you feel when moving to Los Angeles?
We actually first moved to New York City, as a deliberate decision to try something different from the influx of Aussies swarming to LA. We really connected to the cinematic nature of Manhattan, and it was something we couldn’t shake. We spent close to a decade there, and just thrived off the energy that city provides. Some of the best years of both our lives. We used it as a base, flying off to exotic parts of the world to shoot commercials, and always coming back home to the city. It wasn’t until just before the movie development began that we decided to finally make the move to the west coast. Out of necessity, but also sick to death of freezing winters that seem to last half the year.
How do you think living in Los Angeles influences your work?
In a very direct way, it saves us from getting on a plane just to sit meetings with writers, actors and producers, allowing us to get more done. There’s an immediacy to living and working in LA, that was designed for people working in the film industry. Indirectly, I think the consistent weather just makes you less crazy.
Where are you on a regular Sunday afternoon?
Sweet Chick on Fairfax. Hiking or playing at a park with the kids. Maybe Malibu beach if it’s hot enough.
Your debut feature film KIN was adapted from your short film BAG MAN. What was your initial inspiration for the short film?
The chance to tell a slightly longer story than we were used to, at 15min, embracing the challenge of combining different genres and cinematic styles into the same film. We wanted to use the audience’s preconceptions against them, assuming they knew what this story was all about, before rudely switching gears to something completely different.
What fascinates you about the topic of science fiction?
That it’s so wide open in its definition. It can include so much different subject matter, from alien invasion, to space opera, to time travel, to subtle or extreme advances in technology. Our favorites are generally pretty grounded and subtle like ‘Ex-Machina’, but everyone likes a big fun sci-fi film if it’s unique, well made, and respects the audience’s intelligence like ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’. As of this moment, there’s probably a big difference between the size of a sci-fi movie we’d want to watch vs make.
What is KIN all about?
KIN is the story of Eli (played by Myles Truitt), a young adopted teen learning his place in the world and how he fits even into his own family. On the cusp of becoming a man, he has a choice in front of him of what kind of adult he’s going to be. On one side he has a hard-working, moral father (played by Dennis Quaid) who struggles relating to his son, but wants the very best for him. And on the other, he has his brother Jimmy (played by Jack Reynor), recently released from prison and ready to step back into his role as the black sheep. Owing protection money to some dangerous people (lead by James Franco), Jimmy puts his entire family at risk, forcing the brothers to go on the run. Oh, and there’s a crazy alien raygun in there somewhere too.
KIN is equal parts ‘coming-of-age’ story, crime drama and road trip movie, with a surprising dose of science fiction. It behaves like a restrained character-driven indie, allowing the audience to roam in our young hero’s shoes, often without words, before getting slapped with more high-octane action. It has an eclectic tone that feels really fresh in a world of shiny remakes and stale franchises. We made this movie for people craving original sci-fi stories that hark back to going to the theaters when you were a child. Walking in having no idea what journey you’re about to be taken on.
How do you manage to direct a project/movie as brothers?
Respectfully as you can. We’ve been directing together now for around 15 years, and the only way it works is to be mindful of each other’s egos. We see each other as a partner, a sounding board, and a professional bodyguard. It helps to have someone ride with you through the complex journey of creating a feature film, constantly backing you up, and carrying half the load. We do our absolute best to be ‘one voice’ with cast and crew, and try to avoid contradicting each other at all costs. Thinking of an actor saying “Your brother just told me the complete opposite!” gives us both extreme anxiety. On a good day, we’re bouncing new concepts off each other, deflecting bad ideas from others, tag teaming difficult personalities, and generally getting twice as much done.
What is your latest obsession? What do you feel excited about?
We recently worked with the Scottish band Mogwai to compose the score for our film KIN. They’ve been one of our favorite bands for a while now, and it was a total bucket list opportunity to collaborate on something with them. We essentially briefed the band on everything we love about their music, then let them run wild and create a soundscape. What we (they) came up with is emotional, and tense, and fun, and beautiful. It moves from touching piano to droning distorted guitars. Somehow we walked them into creating our favorite Mogwai album of all time. Oh yeah, we didn’t mention – the band decided to take nine tracks they love and turn them into full length songs, which is now an official Mogwai album. It‘s released along with the film on August 31st, and will live forever.
What project would you like to do in the future?
A few years ago we would have said ‘The Last Of Us’ adaptation, but then we saw ‘Logan’. Maybe there’s a way of introducing new unique characters so as not to step on the game, but it might just end up feeling like an expensive episode of ‘The Walking Dead’. Either way, that’s our favorite video game of all time, so nobody better mess that one up. Dead serious.
What’s your favourite book, Josh?
The first half of Hugh Laurie’s ‘The Gun Seller’.
What’s your favourite song, Jonathan?
‘Higher Love’ by Steve Winwood. It should play in the closing credits of every movie ever made.
What’s your top ten of science fiction movies?
Children of Men
Under The Skin
Back To The Future
Blade Runner 2049
As the villain Taylor says in our movie, “Thank you all for comin”.