A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a short film, titled ‘Kin,’ and mentioned how it carried the atmosphere he wanted to convey in live action role-play. I was utterly bewitched from start to finish, and had to sit for a few moments afterwards to gather my thoughts. I remember muttering to myself ‘wow…just…wow.’
‘Kin’ is a stunning, captivating film, one which you experience on multiple levels. It’s not something you watch and forget, it’s something you watch and hold close to your spirit for the rest of your days.
I’m delighted I had the opportunity to interview the two McKinnon brothers who made the film, Seb and Ben.
Can you please talk about the premise behind Kin, and what inspired you to create it?
Seb: The ideas for this project took root when I started delving into music production. It was all new to me, a real time of discovery. When I started playing around with sounds and beats, images and scenes began to play in my head. Faces of characters, places… To start a track with a single vocal sample was akin to writing the first sentence of a story. You could go anywhere with it. Anything could happen. So I made this one song about a year ago, and it sparked a fantastical journey.
Ben: Around that time Seb and I took a trip to Scotland. We backpacked all of it. It’s a place of legend and myths over there. You feel like you’re walking on enchanted ground, so it was really inspiring. It was there that we promised each other that when we got home, we’d create something that would push us to our limits. To make something as grand as we could.
Do you have backgrounds in film, or is Kin a venture into something new?
Ben: We’ve been making little homemade films since childhood. Every year, I soaked in anything that had to do with filmmaking. Shooting, editing, colour correcting, cinematography… I started offering my services through our company Five Knights Productions (we’re 5 Mckinnon brothers in total, Seb and I being the eldest) and I learned from my experiences with things like coporate ads, music videos and general videography work. I’m still learning! And continuing to develop Five Knights Productions as a production company based here in Montreal. I learned a lot making Kin with Seb. Hands-on experience is the best kind of education out there in my opinion.
Seb: We’re in our early 20’s, so yes we’re youngbloods, but Ben has been doing this for years. I’ve been there along the way, perhaps more as an art director. But ”Kin” is the first time we work as a duo team of directors and producers. We could not have accomplished this without the other.
On your website, there are four fables listed, and I was wondering if it was the plan from the beginning to create four separate short films?
Seb: When I first started to gather the artists I needed for the project, I was pitching them the idea that there would be 9 short films! Through their eyes I probably looked like this crazy over-ambitious kid.
And I suppose I was at the beginning! But we decided to condense the story into 3 main films (good old trilogies), with one sort of ”intermission” kind of film.
Aside the films, what other components make up the Kin project?
Ben: We were keen on making this a multimedia project. We focus on the films, but on the side we have artwork, like concept art and photography, a graphic novel Seb is working on, to explore more of the characters and their back-story, and a music album, offering the sounds that give Kin its whole vibe.
Have you been able to stay true to your ideas?
Seb: Absolutely. Of course, things can change due to production complications. Unforeseen events often hinder your original vision. And minor things have happened. But the core of the film, the feelings and emotions we aimed to convey from the beginning never altered. We had a story to tell with these symbolic characters, and we’re happy to look back and feel that we did them justice.
I am led to believe Kin has already won an award. Can you please go into more details about this?
Ben: Yeah! One of the biggest film festivals in Montreal is the Fantasia International Film Festival. ”Kin” was awarded Best Cinematography in the Quebec Short Film Category.
The young actors in Kin were utterly spellbinding. Did it take a while to find the right individuals for the parts?
Seb: Oh yes. It took months. I was putting ads out on Craigslist, contacting schools and theatre companies. But with every submission I received, it became clear to me how difficult it would be to find children that had that mysterious and ethereal quality. Fair skin, blue eyes, blond hair… I really connect with northern European culture, and for the artistic vision of this film project, the kids had to look like they belonged in a Scandinavian folk tale.
Ben: We were pre-producing in spring, and as months went by, we were beginning to think we wouldn’t find the right actors in time, since we definitely weren’t going to film in winter. It was thanks to our loving mom that we found these kids.
Seb: Yeah it was a real stroke of luck. Our mom knew about our quest to find the main characters of the story, and one day they walked right into her shop. They were 9 years old and twins. Our mom spoke with their mom and before long we were doing auditions. But we knew the moment we saw them that they were the ones.
Ben: And they weren’t even actors! They’d never been in front of a camera before. It was magical to witness their characters come to life. They both have such depth and maturity for kids their age. They understood and acted upon our direction with perfection.
Seb: They were able to inhabit their characters with rare subtlety. They’re so much fun to work with. Exceptional kids.
The internet and multimedia has enabled us to interact with a story like never before. How do you believe Kin benefits from this new and ever improving technology?
Ben: It benefits ”Kin” greatly, and all artistic work in general, since it’s all accessible. Once it’s out there on line, you never know what will happen. Perhaps only a handful of people will see it, but there is always a potential to reach that wider audience. To add different dimensions to a project, is to increase your chances of reaching them. Maybe someone will see a piece of KIN concept art they like. Maybe they’ll hear the music somewhere before seeing the film…Our current technology allows us to harness the power of sharing; telling other people about things that resonate with us. And in the end that’s we hope people do with Kin, because we have more to offer.
Seb: You know what I’m dreaming of? I hope our personal heroes get to see it. Guys like Neil Gaiman or Yoann Lemoine or Peter Jackson for instance, the ones responsible for giving us that desire to tell stories, make music and create films in the first place.
The setting for your film looks stunning and wild. Where did filming take place, and how long did the filming process take?
Seb: The shooting took place in Montebello, Quebec. We spent our childhood summers there with our family. The locations you see in the film are special to us in that way.
Ben: It took 6 days to film. Quite a challenge to get to one location to another in a small amount of time. From mountain tops, to haunted forests and swamps, to white water rapids… well worth it.
What did you learn during the making of the film? Is there anything you would do differently next time?
Seb: Never underestimate the value of prep work, like storyboards, and take more time than you think you need to film a scene.
Ben: Yeah it got quite stressful at times. We had a very limited budget, so we didn’t have all the time in the world to make this happen. For example, we shot the scene of the knight and the horse, and the scene with the kids by the river in one day. Looking back, they should each have been dedicated a full day. Everything takes time, more time than you initially think.
Seb: And this was in fall. So the days were getting shorter. We pretty much shot every day until sunset.
What part of the film’s creation did you enjoy the most?
Seb: Collaborating with the artists that made this happen. It was a joy for me to go out of my way, out of my comfort zone let’s say, and seek the cast and crew that would bring the vision to life. Such amazing people I would never have known if I didn’t make this film. I got a creative high every time I would meet-up with the dancers for a choreography rehearsal, or when I had meetings with the wood carver to discuss mask concepts, or having a coffee with the vocalist who would lend her voice to give the film its haunting nature.
And I must say I really enjoyed my time with Sasha and Sophia, the two kids. We had loads of fun. I remember this one moment filming in a clearing in the woods ( a scene reserved for the next films!). The forest was on an island, on a big lake. While filming, this great storm came out of nowhere, so we rushed to the boat to get back to the mainland. We were unprepared for heavy rain; our camera and gear were getting soaked. Driving full speed through the white caped-waves, the black water, high winds whipping, raindrops stinging our faces, Ben yelling at me about the sad state of our gear, thunder booming, scared to death about being hit by lighting in open water, and then seeing Sasha and Sophia, still in costume, laughing and screaming in the front of the boat. It was fantastic. We made hot chocolate and played chess afterwards. Perfect.
Ben: Our camera miraculously turned out to be completely ok, by the way. For me, it was filming the horse riding scenes. Daphne Lamoureux was the knight stunt double, she’s a pro. For one scene we had Seb driving this ATV as fast as he could through the woods, while I was leaning over the back with a steadicam set-up holding up the camera. Between us was our buddy Joel making sure I wouldn’t fall off. Then maybe 3 feet away from our overcrowded speeding little vehicle, you find Daphne riding her majestic horse Diva at top speeds. It was heart-racing!
The costumes in Kin, especially for the spirit dancers, were spectacular. Who was behind their creation and the creation of the masks?
Seb: I came up with the concepts. Sketching away, I was inspired by Canadian aboriginal culture, especially the Inuits, and the work of Hayao Myazaki. When we finalized the designs, I brought my sketches to contractor Norm Hodgson, a friend of the family. He carved them out of blocks of wood, giving them the shape and size we needed, and indicating the main features (eyes, nose, mouth). When he finished, they were beautifully sanded, smooth and polished, and then it was my job to mess that up! I weathered them, with small carving tools and various staining methods. I wanted to give the feeling that these spirits had been inhabiting their masks for a long long time. As if they has pulled them from the earth long ago, from a different time.
As for the costumes, the incredible work was done by Tatiana Cusson, who’s had experience working on Cirque du Soleil projects. So talented. It took quite some time to stitch those feathered capes!
Who was responsible for the gorgeous accompanying music and the incredible special effects?
Seb: I did the music, under the name Clann. Charlotte Loseth, better known as Sea Oleena, was kind enough to lend her voice to the project. She’s kind of a celebrity in the Montreal indie music scene. I discovered her music around the time the first ideas of Kin were taking hold in my mind. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew only she could bring to the score that undefinable quality I was after. Something haunting, eerie, but beautiful and innocent at the same time. To me the music is the soul of the film. I owe much of it to her. I strongly suggest you to check out her stuff!
Ben: For the FX, we contacted Gunnar Hansen and Carole Bouchard. They are professionals in their field, with extensive experience in major motion pictures. So we were very lucky and thrilled to have them take part in this, despite our restricted funds. They were just so encouraging and enthusiastic. Great people. As soon as we had the footage of the raven, Gunnar began doing some tests, and once things got rolling, he delegated the bulk of the work to Simon Lachapelle and Oliver Bolduc, who had just graduated from vfx school. Gunnar coached them, and Carole oversaw the workload.
Seb: Together we spent countless hours going over the shots, waiting for render times, tweaking frames, etc…We didn’t exactly have the fastest computers! But I’m so grateful for their unwavering will and dedication from start to finnish. It was a great VFX team.
What do you hope people feel when they are watching your film, and when they walk away at the end?
Seb: It doesn’t matter exactly what I hope they feel, really. As long as they feel something. Because I felt something during the whole process. I know the emotion I wanted to capture, the mood. It felt true to me. So I guess, if people could feel that truth, I’d be happy. Obviously, if people feel inspired, or entertained, or intrigued or whatever, than that’s the cherry on the cake, a sign that maybe we did something right.
Ben: We had to intrigue the audience. The point is to allow the viewer to make up their own story, give their own meaning to the characters and events happening. We know what it means to us, we know what the characters represent, and we’ll never divulge that. I just hope that when they walk away, they feel things are unresolved. For us, it’s not the end. People watching Kin are only just beginning to explore a new world.
Can you give us a brief snippet of what to expect next?
Ben: We really want to keep everything a surprise. All we’ll say is that the characters come back, but perhaps not the way you would expect them to. Also, the second film will be shot in Newfoundland, one of the most mysterious, epic, and desolate places Canada has to offer.
Where can people go to find out more about Kin?
Seb: On our website kinfables.com. From there you can find links to our Facebook page and Tumblr. Follow us for updates on the project. Or feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org We would love to hear anything from anybody. Get in touch!
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