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JOSH AND JONATHAN BAKER Kith and Kin


On the eve of their first feature film premiere at the vaunted Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, Australian directors Josh and Jonathan Baker have a potential hit on their hands with Kin, which among its attractions features a soundtrack by Scottish post rockers, Mogwai. Based on their 2014 short film Bag Man, Kin sees a young boy (Myles Truitt) discover an alien weapon that changes the destiny of himself and his ex-con step brother (Jack Reynor). Yet this film is more than a run of the mill science fiction film, and draws inspiration from a wide range of sources. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to the Baker brothers about those inspirations, and how this first time feature managed to garner a staggering cast.

Josh: Just before we talk, I’d just like to say we’re Perth boys, and we remember X-Press very fondly and it is a pleasure to talk.

Very happy to hear that. What inspired Kin, it’s come a long way since Bag Man?

Josh: We made a short back in 2014. It’s something we did because we wanted to play with something slower than a 30 second ad. So we wanted to play with a longer narrative, something we could mix a few separate genres together. We were in the edit for that, and we thought people would probably ask when we put this out what the longer story is. So rather than coming up with it when asked, we sat down and figured out what story really interested us. We took the elements from the short that made sense (African American teenager, mystery bag, crazy alien plasma weapon) and said those were the core elements. But what goes deeper than that? We figured out pretty quickly to write what you know, and tell a story about brothers.

OK, there’s a hell of a lot of elements there. You’ve got a family drama, crime story, coming of age story, road trip, a bit of a redemption arc, all with a touch of sci-fi there… was it difficult to balance all that?

Jonathan: You explaining that sounds awesome, I want to see that movie. We had to find a way to mash that all up in a way that felt like it had one voice. It wasn’t five movies. There needs to be an emotional connection to every aspect. So when we had the opportunity to start talking about those characters and where they were going to go, it was a really exciting prospect.

Josh: I feel that it was all our tastes in cinema combined. It is our debut film, so you’re already trying to put your voice on screen, and produce a movie you really want to watch. So that was our focus. We’ve always liked indie cinema, just as we’ve liked Blockbusters – we’re as big a fans of Moonlight as we are of District 9, and we’ve always asked why can’t you have those in the same movie. There’s no reason a movie just has to be one thing, if it done with a tone that matches across the board. We had a taste of that in Bag Man, with a lot of people saying it feels fresh.

You say it’s your debut film, but you’ve been working behind the camera in advertising for… what… 15 years?

Josh: In 2007 we moved to New York, dropped our name and worked under the name of Twin. After a decade of that we felt we just need to do something else that was a bit more credible and dramatic. Something that stands for us as filmmakers. We didn’t want that first film for us to be as directors for hire, and not have a personal link to us as people and filmmakers.

I’ve noticed that you’ve transferred some skills across from there. You exceptional visual story tellers, and tell a story in a very succinct manner. I assuming that comes from you learning in that regard…

Jonathan: Sure, you learn how to tell a visual story in a quick amount of time. It is refreshing to be able to hold a shot, to be able to wonder with a character, and have a conversation happen. These are all things you need to skip with ads, so you do flex a different set of muscles.

You must have had a few science fiction touchstones when planning this, as it’s got a fair few nods and references scattered throughout.

Jonathan: There is a lot. A ‘tip of the hat’ to things we grew up with and made an impact with us. We love the Terminator series and Alien, and more obscure stuff like The Last Starfighter and Flight of the Navigator… stuff like that. Films that were about a young protagonist finding a McGuffin, usually other worldly, and it ends up changing their family, their whole dynamic, and everything they know – puts them on a new path towards a new destiny. That was something that was very nostalgic to us.

Josh: There were also touchstones to the indie sensibilities, talked about movies like Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly… some of that was more crime based stuff. A Perfect World, an early Kevin Costner film about a criminal and a kid, back in the 90s, had an effect on us, and something that came up when we were discussing this story.

You’ve got this great chemistry between Myles Truitt and Jack Reynor. Was that careful casting, or did you take steps to promote that chemistry?

Jonathan: A bit of both. We pride ourselves on good casting. We need to connect with these people, and they need to connect with the role. Finding Myles was a massive thing to do. If we didn’t find “that kid”, then there was no movie. We found him in Atlanta, he was are of the last kids we saw, and we already had a couple of potentials. He came at the eleventh hour and blew us away. So we went to Boston where Jack was filming Detroit. So we sat in the hotel room with him and a couple of kids and did some improv. Cause that is what’s the movie is about and we needed to find that connection.

Josh: We also needed someone that had the charisma but can be a bit of a di… a bit of a dirt-bag

You can say dick. Jack’s character is a bit of a dick…

Josh: A bit of a dick. He’s a hard character to play, and to win audiences over. You need to see that love for his brother.

Besides Truitt and Reynor, you have got a heck of a cast – Dennis Quaid, Zoë Kravitiz, and James Franco. How did you score such a cast for a first feature?

Jonathan: If you have good material, and a strong vision for where you are taking the film, even as first time feature directors, as long as you know where it is going, and have answer for any question asked: I think they are willing to say yes.

Josh: We also had a decent short film, and a pretty damn good screenplay to back it up. It’s all about having a strong package. When we went out to James Franco, he read the script, saw the short, liked it, and was interested in what those film-makers would tell. In the end of the day we were super lucky with the cast, and they crushed it.

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