Science fiction films come in every shape, form, and even species. Although they may often borrow elements from each other, each one is truly unique. There is a strength that comes from sci-fi films that are meant to take place in our contemporary world, but have science fiction elements put inside of them. Films like Terminator and Predator come to mind. Kin now joins the list as it puts a kid from Detroit into an intense situation after he finds a high-tech gun that sets off an avalanche of complications. I sat down with twin filmmakers Jonathan and Josh Baker as we talk about being socially conscious when crafting Kin, the influence of 80’s films, Michael B. Jordan’s involvement, and more.
Many people don’t know, but Kin is actually based on a short you both created called “Bag Man”. Out of all of the shorts you’ve worked on, why did you want to expand the universe in this on?
Josh Baker: I think it was the first short we put our all into. All of the other shorts were sort of mess around projects on the side to test things and try things. “Bag Man” was the first one where we wanted to give it a little duration — 15 minutes — and use up all of our favors from 10 years in New York in advertising. We wanted to do something really interesting that plays with tone. It starts as one thing and ends as something very different.
The film has a great mix of crisp visuals and the Rust Belt aesthetic. It has an almost post-apocalyptic vibe at the beginning. It takes me back to 80’s sci-fis like Terminator and Predator. What were some of your sci-fi influences when creating the film?
Jonathan Baker: Firstly, I’ll say that the post-apocalyptic thing is just Detroit in many places. Detroit has this destruction of an industry vibe with all of the abandoned factories. Although we didn’t want to say that it was all that Detroit is, it’s certainly a beautiful side of the city. That’s why we set the story there.
Josh: It’s also a big part of one of the themes of the film: decay. We wanted to have the decay of characters, but also have it reflect on the location. At the beginning of the film, it does have that Escape from New York vibe to it because that’s the way some of those parts of town look.
Jonathan: We are 80’s kids since we were born in the late 70’s. We definitely got into a lot of those wish fulfillment type of films that have young protagonists that find some McGuffin that changes everything up. I’d say movies like The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator, and even E.T. are films we responded to the structure in the storytelling when we were making Kin.
Past all of the sci-fi aspects, Kin, like the name suggests, is a family film. Not about the family you’re into necessarily, but about the family you create. One that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. How important do you think a message like that is to society, especially now?
Josh: Massively important. It’s all about representation. There are two reasons for doing it. First, it’s way more interesting as directors to do something that doesn’t look like everything else. From the other side of things, you realize really quickly that it’s also about who you put up on screen for the people who aren’t normally represented there. For the last 6 months, we’ve been doing screenings and we’ve had people come up and saying that they have never seen a character like that be the hero of that type of movie before. It’s all been so encouraging. It’s the best feeling you can have to give people a voice when it’s past time that they’ve had one. I’m not just talking about African-American teenagers because of our lead, but the way all of the other characters are developed, especially in the latter half of the film.
Speaking of family, every project you’ve worked on you’ve both worked on together. Tell me a little bit about your dynamic.
Jonathan: We’ve obviously known each other our whole lives. We met in the womb. We came up liking the same kind of films and interests, and that forged a closeness. Although a lot of people don’t like working with family or siblings, we embraced it. For us, it’s kind of like a Voltron effect where we feel more powerful together than alone.
Josh: There’s a brainstorming ability that we have built-in when you can have one idea and turn it into a bigger idea quickly just because you have someone with the same taste as you to bounce it off of.
Jonathan: It’s the ultimate partnership because you never feel alone, like when you’re pitching an idea to major studio executives. Just having that confidence knowing someone has your back is very powerful.
Gun control is obviously a serious issue in America. The film not only puts a powerful weapon in the hands of a child but a child of color. Obviously, this is a work of fiction, but how hard was it to toe-the-line between real-world issues and creating this fantasy parallel world?
Jonathan: It should be an uncomfortable image for a lot of people so that it can start a dialogue and we can have a conversation about it. Originally, the idea came from the classic fable about the sword in the stone, which is about a young innocent finding an ultimate, powerful weapon. Being the only one who can wield it, does it take him down the wrong road or the right road?
Josh: This movie is about choices and choosing your own future. The whole way through the film, we’re taking him down a bad road on purpose. If you watch the movie, you’ll realize that the weapon only leads to more and more bad decisions. You have this brother, Jimmy, who represents negativity, and a father who represents good. One is a builder and the other is a destroyer. Dennis Quaid plays a character who is in construction on purpose. It’s about Eli choosing which way he wants to take, and what kind of man he wants to become.
The story might be based in fiction, but the film’s real strength comes from the powerful emotional depth of the characters. James Franco plays the perfect scumbag villain that’s kind of reminiscent of his role in Springbreakers. It also works to the character’s favor that his public image currently matches. How did the casting come together, because you have fantastic talents like Dennis Quaid, Zoë Kravitz, Carrie Coon, and a breakout performance from Myles Truitt?
Jonathan: Firstly, Myles needs major shoutouts because he had never done a movie before.
I have seen him in several shows like Queen Sugar and Atlanta.
Jonathan: Those were actually all done after Kin. We actually hired him on a self-tape audition and had nothing to back that up except our instincts on his talents and his subtlety as an actor. Then having him step into an arena with the likes of Dennis Quaid, who’s done how many movies since we were all kids?
Josh: That’s a big ask for a kid, but within the first week you could tell that it was no big deal for him. He could switch from a kid that is just messing around on a film set into a level of focus and emotion that is so above his year. From the beginning to the end of the film, you can see him mature as the character did.
Jonathan: Then you have the childlike quality of Myles rubbing off on people like Dennis Quaid, and you backstage and you see them rapping to some trap song from Atlanta together.
I would love to see that. Will it be in the special features?
Josh: There is video somewhere so maybe.
Jonathan: In the end, the set became like a little family unit, which is great for a movie called Kin.
I saw Michael B. Jordan was a producer for the film. How early on did he join the project?
Josh: Well, he’s a massive sci-fi and comic book fan. He’s just really interested in this kind of material. When we made “Bag Man” and it went out there, he got shown it from a number of different people. We got a call to do a dinner with Michael and he said he was a fan and wanted to help in any way he can. It made sense to bring his on and have him as a sounding board.