“I guess I’m the villain of the piece,” James Franco concedes.
It’s late, gone 3am, and it’s cold, December in Canada and Den of Geek are shivering on the set of an original science fiction action drama.
“The movie’s called Kin because it features two families, two pairs of brothers, and my brother and I are sort of the criminal element.”
We’re in Scarborough, about an hour out from the city. The driver taking us to the set of Kin helpfully describes it as the South Central of Toronto. It’s dark and we spend the drive trying to formulate an idea of the area through the windows of the van. We’re able to make out small stores, a lot of motels and a seemingly endless expanse of anonymous urban concrete. There’s not much else. Once we’re on set we’re told by a crew member that one colleague, too tired for the long drive home, attempted to rent a room in one of those motels only to be met with surprise when he wanted it for the entire night.
We arrived on set at around 7pm. It’s snowing and a significant step down in temperature from the English winter we left behind, with only a long haul flight and not enough time to adjust to the time difference in between. As well as running colder than London, Canada is also running later. The 6 hour difference and waking up on UK time means that Den of Geek are already tiring as we arrive on set.
The walk to the set is short but bothersome, as an excitable wind attempts to pull us away and snips at us sharply with snow. The building, a former car sales showroom, looks normal enough from the outside, but inside it’s disorienting and maze-like. We climb under taped barriers and over cables and end up at various points in a brick-walled workshop or in a prison cell. The focus of our visit, our first trip through the maze ends with us in a police station.
We note how authentic the police station looks before reminding ourselves that we’ve never actually been to an American police station. Rows of desks, a kitchen area and offices render a convincing realisation of what we expected based on years of watching movies. It’s highly detailed and exudes a feeling of functionality. At least, it feels functional up to the point where you consider the massive hole that they’ve exploded in the wall. That’s how the cold is getting in.
They’re filming an action sequence at what they’re calling the Sulaco Police Station, a nod to both James Cameron’s The Terminator and Aliens. After some time on set watching an effects shot take place we venture back through the snow and the wind to a plush but cramped trailer to sit with producer Dan Cohen, whose name we recognise from throwback Netflix hit Stranger Things.
“There’s some Easter eggs,” Cohen concedes, having already mentioned The Terminator and District 9, “but I don’t think that means we’re trying to do something in the vein of anything. When I first met these guys (writer/director team the Baker brothers) and watched their short and talked to them about what they wanted the movie to be, what I was so impressed with and excited about was the idea I’ve actually never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen a 14-year-old black kid as the protagonist in a movie like this.”
“There are always movies that we’re trying to spiritually emulate, and two of them are the ones I’ve mentioned, but we also talk about movies like True Romance and No Country For Old Men, that have no science fiction in them whatsoever. We always talk about with any of the things that we work on, like Stranger Things or Arrival, if you take the sci-fi out it has to work. We have to still want to be in the movie. There’s a lot of this movie that isn’t science fiction and it’s great, and I want to live in it. I think it passes that test.”
“Yes, there’s things referenced and there’s moments and there’s things that we connect to and emulate, but it’s an original idea of theirs.”
Back on set they’re still working on that special effect. It’s a freeze effect featuring two characters becoming locked in position, almost as if time has stopped. We note the realistic dummies, but we’re only seeing them on a small monitor. As we question whether they’re made with enough detail to pass with an audience in full HD or if they’ll require digital alterations, the director yells cut and Jack Reynor, no dummy at all, starts moving.
The effect itself is a mixture of practical and digital, of old and new. There’s the simple stand to hold their bodies in place and the downright Luddite principal of ‘just stay still’ along with the digital removal of their supports. In other words, a mash-up.
Another take is imminent. We’ve established Jack Reynor, a Den of Geek favourite from Sing Street and Free Fire, but it’s not clear who the other person is. It turns out to be a bloody, mulleted James Franco. Franco winces, finds his spot and then, on ‘action’, freezes and holds deadly still. Cameramen circle both actors, then move in and out, capturing the living statues from a variety of angles.
“Keep that face aggressive,” comes the direction from somewhere we can’t see.
We don’t know who said it. That’d be because Kin has two directors, John and Josh, the Baker brothers.
“We sound identical. You have no chance.”
The Baker brothers are identical twins. You can kind of tell their voices apart, sometimes, although the above quote is going to have to remain unattributed.
Kin is their first feature film. They have a youthful energy about them and are not slowed at all by the late hour. They’re wearing very cool clothes that don’t look quite warm enough for the temperature. It’s their lunch break, but someone is getting them food (delivered as we file out of the prison cell set, where this interview takes place) so that they can block out the next scene. We interrupt to interview them and they seem pleased to talk to us about adapting their short film into a feature.
“The bones of the story were very different,” John explains. “The tone was very similar. We wanted to maintain this indie sensibility in a big sci-fi arena.”
Without missing a beat Josh picks it up. “We really took a couple of key elements from the short film; the boy, the bag and the gun. That was really what it was about, they were the main elements. We said ‘what does this story need to be about?’ And the answer was brothers. It can’t just be about this one kid, it needs to be about the kid in a relationship with someone else, so it ended up becoming a brother story. Surprise, surprise.”
“It’s now the heart of the film,” John continues. “The relationship between two brothers who could not be more different; visually, where they come from, morally. Everything is different about these guys. It’s about bringing them together and showing them what family is all about.”
“Hence the name Kin,” John marks the point for him.
We’re not the only ones who have trouble keeping up with the wily brothers Baker. Later, in the very early hours of the morning we sit down with Jack Reynor.
“It’s like having the same guy walking around twice,” he tells us with gleeful amusement. “It’s absolutely nuts. I’ve never worked with two directors before. It’s kind of fun because I can go and make a proposal to one of them, and if he burns me I can go to the other one.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of those two guys. From the moment I met them I just absolutely loved them and I really wanted to get behind their project and try and help them realise their vision for what they wanted to do, because they really deserve it. They’re just fabulous guys.”
“When I read the script I felt like it was a very original piece of material, and it was unlike anything that I had really seen on film before,” Reynor explains. “It’s not a movie that reminds me of very much. I mean, all this whole police station sequence, you could say that it harks to Terminator, and there’s scenes when they’re out on the road that will remind you of other pop culture films, but ultimately the sum of this movie’s parts are a very unique thing.”
“I just wanted to go in with an open perspective and see what we could make out of it.”
Jack Reynor is such a gentleman that he even indulges our question about having to stay still for the effects shot we’d just seen him filming. Because after having spent several hours downing coffee for the caffeine and warmth, we considered that it’s actually quite difficult to just stay still (our notes looked like they were written on an Etch A Sketch). And when an entire movie production depends on it and everyone is looking at you, what if you can’t do it?
“You’d be surprised, when you come into work and somebody says this is what you’re doing today, you kind of just do it. There have been things that I’ve done where I’ve been totally shitting myself about what I’m going to do and then all of a sudden once you’re in the situation and you’re under pressure you just do it, man.”
“Ok, I got a question. Was there a script I was supposed to memorise or something?” Myles Truitt asks the Lionsgate team as he sits down with us. No, they reassure him.He seems unconvinced that they aren’t just being nice to him. “My mom was like, ‘you have to memorise’…”
“No, you’re all good!” Lionsgate reaffirms.
Myles is excited, and with good reason. Myles is a kid and Kin is his first major film role. He beams as he tells us about getting to do some stunt work on the film. “I drove the car. I did doughnuts in a car, that was pretty cool. It was all me, I had to turn the steering wheel all the way and gas it. But there was a stunt coordinator in the passenger seat, and there was this other brake that controlled my brake, so if he needed to stop it he could stop it. But it was all me, I was driving it. That was the thrill of it and it was so fun.”
Our final interview of the night, falling at some time after 3am and with the production still in full swing, is with James Franco, joining Jack Raynor. The two don’t appear particularly familiar with each other, perhaps owing to Franco’s renowned approach of staying in character while on set. He appears closed off as he enters the room, understandably reticent to step out of character, but soon becomes engaged and opens up.
“I’ve played a few villains and it’s always important to have some sort of emotional grounding” he tells us. “So the fact that there is that deep connection to the brother takes him out of cartoon villain land and makes him a real person. So, he does horrible things but I can understand at least the feelings behind them.”
Like everyone else we’ve spoken to, it was the possibilities of the film, of mashing together different styles and ideas, that attracted Franco to the movie.
“What I loved about it (the short film) was you thought you were watching one thing, it sort of seemed like an urban story or an urban drama, following this kid in these urban settings, and then all of a sudden it just becomes something completely different. I love that, I really appreciate mash-ups of different genres. It’s sort of from a completely different angle but it’s something that I’ve done with Seth Rogen on things like This Is The End or even Pineapple Express where that’s like an action stoner comedy.”
And with the stars back on set and the crew keen to get back to work, we trundle back to the van and head back to Toronto, too tired to feel the edge of the Compton of Canada.
Kin is playing in Showcase Cinemas from 9th November & on Digital Download 12th November.