The Kinnane Brothers are basically a full-service film crew and production house creating magic during quarantine.
If there's one good thing that's come out of Hollywood's closure, it might be the surge in creativity seen from actors, writers, and directors who have been forced to think smaller in the wake of a global pandemic. John Kransinski created Some Good News. The WGA has held several Zoom panels with writers of acclaimed shows. Directors and writers are sharing their film and book recs with fans.
And if you've kept up with viral YouTube videos over the past few months, you've probably noticed that comedian Kevin James has been churning out high-quality weekly content, garnering millions of views since starting the channel in February. Most are punchy one- or two-minute original shorts, but there's also a recurring character, "Sound Guy," who keeps popping up in all our favorite movies, like There Will Be Blood and A Star Is Born.
James has been working with a group, the Kinnane Brothers, to develop and shoot these awesome shorts. They've made about 30 so far and aren't stopping anytime soon.
Director Charles Kinnane spoke to No Film School via Zoom to give us a peek behind their process.
Kinnane started as a documentary filmmaker in Brooklyn. At one point, he and producing partner Jeffrey Azize were struggling to gather a crew for a film. Back then, Kinnane's brothers worked construction in Rhode Island but also made YouTube sketches for fun, and they decided to team up.
"You know, they say you wish you could duplicate yourself sometimes on a project," Kinnane said. "I feel like we've done that, but with guys who are way more talented, way more creative that I would ever hope to be."
Kinnane Brothers was born, consisting of the seven brothers and one brother-in-law.
But how did this amazing collaboration start? Kevin James had seen some of the team's work and reached out about making something together. They happened to connect just as James' Netflix show The Crew halted production due to the pandemic. The brothers decided to stay nearby and limit their contact to continue working.
"We've been quarantining with Kevin James the entire time," Kinnane said with a laugh.
How they work
Kinnane said they set up a post studio in James' garage and commuted between there and an Airbnb. The entire process on a short is highly collaborative.
"We'll pitch ideas," Kinnane said. "Some of the guys are real writers, some of the guys just [have] creative ideas."
At times James gravitates more to certain ideas. Kinnane has found that creating some form of previs helps them decide what to make. They sometimes shoot comps, using themselves as stand-ins, to show James what a short might look like. They did this, Kinnane said, for the Sound Guy.
"I know I'm a very visual person," he said. "When it's on the page, it's one thing, but if you can show more visually, I think it helps everybody. We've found that very helpful."
How long they spend on each short depends on the level of planning of visual effects it will need. Sometimes they can finish work as quickly as one night. "Red Light" is an example.
"That was an idea we had, and we literally went out to the parking lot and set up the lights and shot it," Kinnane said. "It was just a simple idea, let's go shoot it right now. And I think Kevin likes that. He's used to the studios with months of notes, and the networks. And so having the freedom that we as a small film crew have to move quickly, I think he really loves that."
A more challenging short was the Sound Guy in A Star Is Born. That kind of complex compositing is done in Adobe After Effects using content-aware fill, and Kinnane said it took youngest brother John Kinnane about three weeks to do, resulting in about a full month's work to complete the short.
Kinnane also pointed to the importance of lighting to make sure their shoots look just as good as the original and said they spend about 90% of their time nailing that. The green screen they use is a simple, affordable one from Amazon.
Quarantine filmmaking and creativity
The team is operating with a small cast and crew to keep everything contained, and that's been the only way they could keep working safely during the pandemic.
"I think what we've learned is you can do a lot with a small crew," Kinnane said.
He pointed out that restrictions can be a benefit to your creativity, rather than a drawback.
"Having the constraints makes you think more about what you can do," he said. "You don't have endless options. We can only stay in this one area."
Kinnane said that sound design and music are two elements that can easily elevate a film, add production value, and make everything feel more professional, so that's where a lot of their attention goes. Even the most basic project can fail or fly based on the quality of your sound, so this is valuable advice.
And although they have the gear and lighting to shoot high-quality shorts, they still have to get creative with limited resources. For instance, when they needed a helicopter in "Out of Touch," they just grabbed a big light and a leafblower to create the effect practically. Some simple flashlights in the trees created the illusion of a huge group chasing the two leads through the woods.
However, just because they have limited resources doesn't mean they don't have big surprises for the audience. Kinnane said that for "Lunch With Daniel Day-Lewis," Kevin got Paul Thomas Anderson to do a voiceover cameo. Amazing!
Kinnane said they have a few feature scripts in the works, one of which has been optioned. They're also developing a feature for James to star in. In addition, John Kinnane maintains Screenplayed.