Jonathan and Josh Baker are on the verge of time

Jonathan and Josh Baker are on the verge of time

It’s March, 2018 and Jonathan and Josh Baker just received the first run of printed posters for their debut feature film, KIN. “They look great, but the edges are completely fucked”, laments Josh. “So we'll just tell them to send it again." 

It’s important that every detail for this film is on-point, considering how much is riding on it. A sci-fi exploration of brotherhood in decaying America, it’s the culmination of a lifelong career between the directorial duo (professionally known as TWIN); produced by the brains behind IPs like Arrival and Stranger Things and featuring a design team of greatest-hits collaborators including GMunk, Ryan Hayes at MPC, sound designer Joseph Fraioli, the creative team at Supervixen and Aussie vfx legend Dave Morley. The cast, featuring James Franco, Zoe Kravitz, Jack Reynor, Dennis Quaid and newcomer Myles Truitt, is just the icing on the cake. 

TWIN spoke at the very first Semi Permanent back in 2001, so its fitting that founder Murray Bell interviewed the pair from their home in Los Angeles to capture the moment before everything is about to change. 

Murray Bell: I’m interested to find out what ‘time’ means to you both.

Josh: There's a short answer and a long answer. We're at a time where no one really knows who we are or what we're going to become. We know that we're between things and we've got something that the world is about to see. But we're waiting for that time to come. So it is a weird stage where I feel very confident and comfortable with what my life was, but we've gone back to the beginning and we're starting again in some regards. So I've been thinking about time quite a bit recently of just what the next five years looks like, what the next 10 years looks like, what do we want to be doing at age 60? 

 

MB: Kin is giving you a moment to stick a pole in the ground and acknowledge that something ends and something starts here…

Jon: Exactly. A feature film was always the end game in many ways. Now that we've reached that, it actually puts a lot into perspective on what's next for us. 

Josh: In one way it's the end and in another way it's just the beginning. 

 

MB: Does that feel sad or exciting? 

Josh: It's really intriguing as to where it all goes. It's an open book and you've got a lot of people around you (agents, publicists) telling you what your future could look like. But no one knows, it's all up in the air.

Jon: We’ve come from 15 years of doing commercials knowing that if you do a bad one, no one is really going to find out about it. But (with a feature film) we’re stepping into an arena where we genuinely care about the quality of everything we say yes to. You can't hide anymore. Kin is going to be our number one on imdb and that is something we’ve thought long and hard about. That first thing needs to represent us in a very real way. We need to be proud of that project because we're going to become known for it. 

MB: Some directors treat their first feature film as the one they’ve always wanted to make, and others make concessions in the hope that their 2nd or 3rd will give them that opportunity. 

Josh: Making a concession was always an option for us, but because there's two of us, we can look at each other and hold our feet to the fire a little bit and say ‘we're not messing around’. So film number one needed to be the one that opened doors and the one that we can hang our hats on and be proud of. 

But you do see different journeys with filmmakers; you see the directors that take the first thing offered to them and mess it up. You see the directors that are super picky and take way too long — a lot of people do that with their second project, which we're quite mindful about right now. Any heat you might have goes away. We really want to be careful about what our second film is, but we don't want to overthink it either. 

Jon: This was all a big learning experience. We've learned so much just in the making of this film. But it's finished now, it's locked. We look back and see things, ‘man, that was a first timer mistake. I'm a little bit embarrassed about that’. But overall we're proud and it's very us. The film is our unique voice as filmmakers. 

 

MB: If you didn't really have this perspective of time, your film has given you that. You don’t have the pressure of producing your first feature by a certain date.

Josh: One thing my dad said a while ago to us was—

Jon: Your dad?

Josh: Yeah, just my dad. [He said] ‘the person who has the most options wins’. I think what's great about this experience is it's just opened up a whole range of new options for us. So yes, we still have advertising, we've got music videos, we've got whatever we want to work on that we've done in the past. But we've also got this extra stuff in front us, now that a new door has opened. That‘s the exciting part right there. 

Jon: If you take the feature side of that point, we didn't go and release the one million dollar Sundance film that gives you options within a certain bracket of the industry. We wanted to do something that we thought was the perfect balance between a big genre film with an indie aesthetic. So now we've actually given ourselves multiple options. We can go make an A24-type film next if we wanted to, or we can go do a larger studio film. Again, it's all about options.

MB: Do you believe in religion or karma?

Josh: I definitely believe in moments that provide a path in your life. You look back and say ‘everything before that moment’ and ‘everything after that moment’. We've had a few major ones in life disconnected to our careers. This one right here, we're in the middle of one right now that I will forever look back and be like ‘this changed everything’. Jon said it the other day, ‘our lives are about to change’. For better or worse. This is one of those moments — everything before, everything after. 

Jon: After we did the Semi Permanent talk and a few commercials, a lot of people would say ‘you have the best luck’. I don't really believe in that. I think that we educate ourselves, we are socially aware, we do our research, we work really hard, and we've got a certain amount of talent. With all of those things combined, we set ourselves up in a position where we're then in the right place at the right time. That’s the luck we make for ourselves.

 

MB: You mentioned earlier those moments where everything comes before or after. Can you name five moments in time that have gotten you to this point? The moments where if they didn’t happen, things could have ended up quite differently.

I: Semi Permanent 

Josh: Semi Permanent would have to be one of them. 

Jon: The first Semi Permanent conference that you were generous enough to ask us to speak at, we had no reason being there whatsoever. We were ‘Jonathan and Josh Baker’. Two regular people. It wasn't until we were physically backstage at the event that we were looking at the posters thinking…

Josh: …’everyone's got a cool brand’. 

Jon: We didn’t even have a name, it was just our names. So we said ‘well let's come up with a name’ and we went with TWIN. 

Josh: We came up with TWIN as a singular entity that was also plural, which describes us really well. We even came up with a logo on the spot, sketching on a napkin. We were like ‘ok cool, so now we know who we are’. And the first time we used it was at Semi Permanent. 

MB: Okay, that's number one. 

II: Becoming A Director

Josh: Another moment for me personally was when a guy at a visual effects company I was working at called me into his office and said ‘if you could work at any production company in Sydney, who would it be?’ I asked why, and he said ‘because I want to loan you out 50% of the time as a director to a production company and 50% of the time you can work here. I want to basically give you a leg up’. I was like ‘okay.’ So I wrote a list of Australian production companies that I was interested in, and met with them all. I came away after meeting with Sydney Film Company and they needed someone like me, as much as I needed them. That started everything for me as a director.

 

MB: That’s an awesome symbol of not having to look at things in a linear fashion. 

Josh: Totally. If it wasn't for that conversation specifically, things would've gone a different direction. That was a real pinnacle moment for me.

III: New York

Jon: The next one was in 2007, feeling like we could be in the Australian game for the rest of our careers. We could stay in Sydney, working at the level we are right now, playing it safe.

Or we could move to the States. We knew that LA was probably not the first place we wanted to be, and we‘d probably end up there anyway if we pushed things far enough. But New York was somewhere that always had that culture and hip-hop and the energy of the city and movies and everything we loved. We just had this thing about Manhattan that we wanted to inhale. So in 2007, we teamed up full-time as TWIN, dropped the individual names and decided to pursue that over in the States. New York City became our home for the next decade. 

 

IV: Meeting our Agent

Josh: The next one I would say is we shot a commercial when we arrived in New York, it was big for us and played during the NBA Finals. 

Jon: I remember it was a million dollar commercial, we were like ‘we made it, we just made a commercial for a million dollars.’ 

Josh: [A very well known movie producer] saw it and flew to New York to offer us a $100 million film. He sent us the script and we weren't into it at all. We were really scared to tell him that it wasn't for us, but when we did say no, he had this smile on his face and said, ‘that's okay’. We looked at each other and we were like, ‘that's okay?’

Jon: This dude just flew out from LA to meet these kid directors. Offers us a giant studio movie and we turn him down to his face, and he goes ‘sure’. 

Josh: He seemed totally fine about it and said, ‘it's okay, if you don't want to do it, we'll just find you another one’. Suddenly my mind just expanded to the fact that you can turn shit down and get other opportunities. At the end of that meeting he said, ‘so who is your agent?’ We said we didn’t have one, and he says ‘cool, then let me introduce you to my favourite agent in Hollywood’, and Jeff Gorin is still our agent to this day. 

V: This is my Court

Jon: You can publish this one, I don't care anymore. We were on a huge commercial job for a questionable conglomerate. We were ethically challenged, but it was a five and a half million dollar commercial. I mean we had two private jets on this thing. 

Josh: At the time we thought ‘this is a job we’re not going to be particularly proud of’, but we were shooting in six cities, had a large amount of money and resources and the best crew you could get, so why not just shoot something for us while we were there? But it had to be without the agency or client knowing about it.

Jon: We shot 24-hours worth of additional footage around the country, then got home and cut it up with our editor Ben Suenaga. We created this black and white lyrical piece that captured our version of a quiet Nike basketball spot. We put it out there and it kind of blew up, and has had a decent amount of copycats since. 

Josh: It helped open up doors we needed to strategically open. 

Jon: Yeah, so we believe in taking your career into your own hands, and if you want to change it, go change it. 

MB: What's the moment you’re most excited for audiences to see in the film?

Jon: We have a pretty powerful third act. I think that’s one of the hardest things to pull off. There’s a lot of solid films you see and you’re like ‘pity about the way that ended’. I think our blessing on this film was that even if you think the pace is slow or it's boring or whatever, it all ramps up to a pretty exciting ending.

MB: What is something people should look for when they’re watching the film? 

Josh: Ultimately the mixing of genres is one thing that the film wears on its sleeve. So our biggest task was policing the tone. Different tones from different genres and making them all fit together into the one unified story. 

Jon: Yeah, one day we’d be shooting one character in a small bathroom of a shitty hotel in the Midwest. The next day we're shooting major stunts with flipping cars and people jumping off three-stories with wire rigs. So the challenge, both on set with the crew and in the edit, is balancing these very, very different experiences into the one film. 

James Franco

We were lucky enough to find people that wanted to make the same movie that we did.

Jonathan Baker
Zoë Kravitz

MB: Going back to the posters, it’s kind of amazing considering it says 'from the Producers of Stranger Things and Arrival'.  That’s huge!

Josh: Yeah, having both on the same poster is super cool. We were really blessed to have people that saw the same movie as we did, because the number one thing you don't want when you end up in the edit room is to realise that everybody else is seeing a different movie to you. Now of course you’re fighting, because you’re making two different films.

Jon: We were lucky enough to find people that wanted to make the same movie that we did. It’s one of the biggest pieces of advice we could offer.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

KIN is in theatres on August 31st worldwide. 

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