Eli’s (Myles Truitt) troubled teenage life is in a state of unbalance, as his actions have caused tensions to rise between him and his adopted father Hal (Dennis Quaid). The single dad has struggled to keep Eli from going down the path of his just paroled older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor). A tragic decision by Jimmy leads to him and Eli having to go on the run from dangerous criminals led by Taylor Balick (James Franco). This might not sound like your typical SciFi movie. Did we mention that on one of his illegal scavenging trips, Eli has found a powerful, futuristic weapon of unknown origin? Now, the brothers are possibly in more danger than they had thought.
For all the technological advancements that allow SciFi films to take us to infinite worlds and times, one of the hardest things for them to do is to fill these worlds created by the dazzling effects at their disposal with actual “human” characters to inhabit those worlds. In KIN, directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, with screenwriter Daniel Casey have accomplished an impressive feat in adapting the brothers’ SXSW 2015 short film BAG MAN into a feature that not just builds a world, but gives us actual characters to draw us into that world.
We had a chance to chat with KIN directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, and screenwriter Daniel Casey after the film’s screening in Austin, TX.
When did you decide that BAG MAN would be adapted from a short into a feature and how did Daniel come on board to write it?
Josh Baker: We made the short in 2014, and it had its main life in 2015, which was when it went to SXSW. As we were finishing the short, I remember saying to John that we have to figure out what the longer version is because people are probably going to ask. So we went away and spent a month or so coming up with a story and characters that we like, and surprise, surprise it was about brothers. The film came out, it got some attention, and then started going around Hollywood. It was being sent to a lot of studios and producers. We started getting emails saying that they really liked it and asking if there was a feature in the works. So, we worked up our pitch and went around town pitching it to a bunch of people. We ended up collaborating with Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen from 21 LAPS. They’ve done STRANGER THINGS and ARRIVAL, both of which we weren’t aware of at the time, as they were in development under different names. We were really lucky to link up with people that saw the same kind of movie that we did.
Jonathan Baker: We quickly found Daniel Casey, who writes in different styles, but we specifically asked not to see any of his SciFi work. We really wanted to ground this film in a crime, road trip, family drama story, and allow the SciFi be sprinkled over the top.
Daniel Casey: I remember being sent the short by Dan Cohen and him saying, “What are you doing right now?” and I told him that I was working on this or that, so he sends me BAG MAN, and it was fantastic. I remember clicking right in creatively with tone, sensibility, and specifically the texture that I thought was so unique in terms of the characters and the word. I told Dan that it was fantastic and he said, “We just got it. The directors are in the valley. Can you drive out there right now?” So, I got into my car and drove out to this warehouse where the brothers were shooting something. I sat down with them and I remember that they had all these amazing ideas on how they were going to build the short into a feature film. The short was set in Harlem and upstate New York and they wanted to set the feature in Detroit. Me being from there, we were able to kick off the conversation in a very non-SciFi way. I told them about growing up in Detroit, and it turns out that we had a lot of experiences as kids that were similar. It just went from there.
JOSH: It was weird for two kids from Australia to come up the same way, experiencing the same things, riding bikes, exploring, and doing all that fun 80’s stuff.
Daniel: The cool thing about growing up in Detroit is that some of these sections are just wide-open spaces. Buildings had existed and had been torn down when industries moved out. As a kid, it felt like rural exploring.
Jonathan: It really is a weird mix of rural and urban on top of each other. You might have construction going on right next to a building where nature is climbing back onto it. We loved that; visually about filming in Detroit.
The film features many great actors and performances, at the center of which is Myles Truitt as Eli. What went into finding him?
Josh: The heart of the movie is the character of Eli, and finding the right actor was a challenge, but one we were really excited about. We found Myles Truitt in Atlanta. He hadn’t done a movie before, and just killed it. He had this subtle sensibility on his face. He was very observant, introspective, and quiet. He was all the things we loved about the character in BAG MAN.
Jonathan: I would be interested to go back and look at that audition tape. I haven’t seen it in quite a while. Miles was doing a lot without doing that much. I remember commenting on how good his facial expressions were. He was able to draw you in, and that’s what we were after. Not every kid is able to do that.
As the title reveals, KIN is about family. As brothers, what is it like working with each other?
Josh: A lot of people might find it challenging the thought of working with their brother or sister. Will you get into fights or get along? We’ve been in each other’s pockets our whole lives. We watch the same movies. We love the same stuff. We have a very similar style of working, and a style of shorthand.
Jonathan: It means at times we probably get twice as much done, which really helps the process of filmmaking, as you’re always racing. There really isn’t a point where you’re not. I thought that we’d get a little bit more of a chance to chill with our first movie, where you can stop and think about things. No, I was mistaken. Things move very quickly on a feature film at all times, and if you’re not careful you run out of time. So, having a twin brother helps because sometimes we can get twice as much done, and other times, you have someone to bounce ideas off of and to brainstorm with right next to you.
What were some of the SciFi films that left a lasting impression on you as you were growing up?
Josh: We grew up in the 80’s, so there’s a lot of 80’s references that influenced our storytelling abilities and how we looked at stories. I think BACK TO THE FUTURE is a perfect film, and something that we probably watched a thousand times growing up, and went back to over and over again.
Jonathan: That was one of the first movies that I can remember that combined a fantastical SciFi theme with a grounded family story. It was very relatable. It was about a regular kid and his family.
Josh: We were fascinated by the Alien universe. ALIEN, ALIENS and everything after… we still are, to a big degree. I think that I’ll still watch every one that they put out, even as they get worse and worse. So, I think James Cameron’s work had a big influence on us, personally.
Daniel: Frank Herbert’s Dune. I read those books when I was 12 or 13. Also, O.G. ROBOCOP.
Jonathan: TERMINATOR was also a big thing for us growing up, especially TERMINATOR 2. We didn’t have a TV at home for many, many years. We actually saw TERMINATOR 2 before we saw the first TERMINATOR. So, that big reveal didn’t really work on us. We were like, “Oh, Arnie’s the good guy and he’s rollin’ with this kid.” I remember watching TERMINATOR later on going, “Wait! He’s the bad guy in this?”
Josh: We watched TERMINATOR 2 at someone else’s house and Dad came to pick us up. We were both going, “Don’t tell Dad that we saw TERMINATOR 2.” He overheard as and said, “What’s this about TERMINATOR 2”? We were like, “Oh no! This is going badly!” (laughs)
KIN opens nationwide Friday, August 31st