Behind The Lens: Brothers’ Awe Inspiring Film Captures A Surreal Fantasy World

So far in our “Behind The Lens” series, our focus has been photographers. Today we are so happy to bring you Ben and Seb McKinnon, brothers and the creative duo behind The Kin Fables Triology. Nurtured since birth in an environment ripe with creativity, Ben and Seb, two of five brothers, struck out to create a story in film. This trilogy was going to be a big step towards the creative freedom both brothers were craving, a series to inspire and shine light on their talent as artists while breaking them out of the drudgery of freelance work, doing whatever projects they needed to get by. You can see the dedication to their craft in each magical scene with the series taking nearly three and a half years to complete in every spare moment between client work.

The story is told without dialogue opting instead to use gripping emotion and short vignettes of moody symbolism. The plot is left ambiguous intentionally so as to allow the viewer to create their own stories. These filmmakers have set the stage with stunning visuals accompanied by a score so captivating as to envelope the audience in the ultimate cinematic experience. Inspired by medieval stories and fantasy the brothers created a timeless world of surreal magic. The film was truly a team effort with every member playing an important part in the whole masterpiece.

We were able to catch up with Ben, owner of the independent production company based in Montreal called Five Knights Productions, who will be representing the duo. 

Tell us a bit about your journey into filmmaking?

Well, as long as I can remember, I have been interested in visual storytelling. As a young boy, I was always intrigued by the way my father could capture photographs and videos of my brothers and I, and then be able to watch them later, retelling the story we had just lived. Then, when I was gifted my first DV tape videocamera at the age of twelve, I was able to fully explore that curiosity and it quickly flourished into my passion. I was constantly shooting, creating short films with figurines, stop motion drawings and more importantly, with my four brothers. Together we would make films about medieval knights, haunted houses, epic adventures and mystical realms. As the years went by and with every film we made together, I learned more and more about shooting to tell a story, the subtleties in an actor's performance, the power of editing, the importance of a impactful soundtrack, the beneficial use of colour correction and visual effects, and so on. From then on, I simply kept improving my craft, and still keep improving with every film I make. Self-taught and still learning a lot!  To me, the journey is only just beginning. There's not a day that goes by where my work, style and purpose for filmmaking doesn't transform and continue to lead me to new discoveries of the art form. I'm grateful I discovered that deep passion of mine at a young age. All thanks to my parents, I must say, who put a camera in my hands and encouraged me to tell stories. 

How did Five Knights Productions come to be and what is the significance of the name?

The name Five Knights Productions has existed between my brothers and I for a while. We've always had a huge passion for medieval knights and fantasy stories, and we're five guys! So the name just stuck with us ever since we created it to make our home made films look more professional, with a logo at the opening credits. I used the name for the company I created to work as a filmmaker, where I've been working my passion full time for the last four years, mostly directing and shooting music videos and short films. At the start, I was working mostly alone with nothing but a DSLR camera, one lens and editing software on my Macbook. Slowly but surely, budgets got bigger and more people started being involved on set, most importantly my lovely partner at the time Sonia Primerano and later, my older brother and creative genius Seb, who I've been working with ever since. Our dream is to have all of the five brothers, the five knights, work together on films one day. 

Who makes up the Five Knights team?

Over time, through working with various amounts of creatives, we've established a core crew that works with us on most of our films. We call it a filmmaking SWAT team. A small crew that is capable of doing big things. There is obviously my brother and director/producer partner Seb, who is the artist, creative mastermind and music composer. Then, camera team usually consists of Kes Tagney and Benjamin Granet, sound recording and audio team Simon Lacelle, Stephen Robusto and Marc Luciano and of course, our trusted co-producer, assistant editor, and the muscle on set, Joel Martinez. Production teams change all the time, but these guys are our most trusted players. In reality, Seb and I have taken care of the core work for our creations for the longest time. We both direct and produce. I'm also cinematographer, editor, colour corrector and he is production designer, composer, concept and storyboard artist. This coming year, we can see the team expanding a lot though, with our first feature film currently in development. 

Where did you drawn inspiration for “The Kin Fables Trilogy”?

The Kin Fables trilogy was a collaboration between my brother Seb and I, who I directed the films with. The ideas all started when we were both at a time in our lives where our own artistic work was not a representation of ourselves as artists. We had been working as freelancers, Seb as a concept artist mostly for Ubisoft and Magic the Gathering and I was directing, shooting and editing music videos. But working for clients is limiting when it comes to full creative freedom. We wanted to show what we were capable of as artists. We then took a trip, backpacking throughout all of Scotland and it was the land there, rich with Medieval history and legends of faeries and magic that inspired us to come home and begin this filmmaking journey.

How did you choose your cast?

Well, it was a different process for almost each cast member for each film. From scouting Newfoundland to work with local fishermen, to speaking with the theatre groups around Montreal, to reaching out to established New York models and searching through Faceboook and Instagram for days in hopes of finding the right faces! The cast was one of the most important parts of the films. Because the trilogy was done without dialogue, the faces were so important. We needed to find the perfect models and actors that could deliver an emotion simply with a look. We did get extremely lucky with our two young lead actors from the first film Kin. We had been searching for the right faces for days, without any luck. Then one day, a family walked into our mother's boutique. When she saw the twins Sacha and Sophia, she let us know immediately that there were these two mysteriously beautiful looking children in town. In a couple of weeks, we held a small audition in their living room. Before we even began going through the scenes, we knew they were the ones for Kin. 

Take us through a typical day of filming.

That really depends on the shoot! I've been through so many different schedules and methods of filmmaking that there isn't really a typical day. Usually, production days involve getting up extremely early in the morning to start gearing up and packing the production car for the day. Then, there is makeup done for the talent while I set up the camera and begin doing final tests with our lighting and stand-ins to run through the scenes. I always like to ad lot of time in the schedule to allow the team to improvise and let our creativity go wild. Once we're on set, with our characters in costume, in the thick of the action, I always think of new angles, camera movements and storyboard ideas that never crossed my mind before and having the time to try them always leads to some of our best shots. We'll shoot all day and usually always go a few hours over schedule, which is typical in the industry.

What was your favorite shooting location?

Definitely in Newfoundland, where we shot the second part of Kin Fables, Salvage. We stayed along the east coast of the province, and every day was filled with views of stunning landscapes. Giant cliffs by the ocean, tall sea stacks, rocky harbours, thick forests, vast alien-looking fields of sand and stone and all of it either in a constant wind, fog, heavy clouds, rain or all of it at once! 

What has been the biggest challenge while creating?

Challenges change from day to day, production to production. Whether it be dealing with gear breaking down, changes in weather, extra long working hours, there is always something that requires you to readjust. Nothing ever goes according to plan! But thats the beauty of it. Being able to use these challenges to spark new ideas is exciting and leads to some very creative work. 

From shooting to release, how long does it take to create a film?

Again, this varies so much depending on the production. For the complete Kin Fables trilogy, because it was a personal project and both Seb and I were working on client work at the same time, it took us about three and a half years from shoot to completion. 

Can you tell us about the post production phase of the films? What did that entail?

Endless hours in front of the computer! Seb and I took care of all the rough editing together and I was usually the one finalizing the cuts as Seb completed the music. Because the films are like music videos, there was a lot of readjusting to do whenever the music would change a little bit. Seb would change something in the music, I would recut the scene to make it flow, then that would lead to a new inspiration for the song, so that meant tweaking the edit again. And this went on until everything locked in like we had envisioned. I also spent numerous days and nights colour correcting our shots and creating subtle visual effects. Post production entails way too much coffee and feeling a bit like a vampire…red eyes and paling skin. Especially before the big release. Days and nights were blending together, running on barely any sleep and loads of excitement and passion so we could get the films done on time for the premiere.  

Do you have a favorite scene?

Out of the whole trilogy, the very last scene is my favorite. From where the young man gets onto his motorcycle to when he meets his love once again near the castle. Everything about the end sequence just came out perfectly for me. My cinematography work is some of my favorite and the music and emotion came out even better than I had hoped.

The soundtrack to the films keep you captivated, who produced the music? Was it made specifically for each film?

The music was created by my brother Seb, under his artist name CLANN and was composed uniquely for each film. He uses a blend of electronic tools created on his laptop and some real life instruments and vocals. Our distinctive and signature female vocal samples were sung by an artist called Sea Oleena, whose voice inspired much of the music. 

What's a must have in your gear bag?

On set, the gear bag is obviously filled with the necessary things like extra batteries, lenses, cleaning wipes, wires, etc. But apart from the all the gear that goes to set, probably a really good, energy boosting and easy to eat snack. Like a chocolate protein energy bar! We always take meal breaks on set for cast and crew, but, on our own productions, because I'm usually taking care of so much, I often never have time to stop and eat. If a cup of hot coffee belonged in a gear bag, that would be my answer. 

Tell us about the graphic novel companion guide?

The Kin Fables graphic novel, that is currently in the works, is going to allow our audience to journey even deeper into the world of Kin and follow the story of the young Boy, the Girl, the Knight and the white horse seen in the first short of the trilogy. Its basically going to be a continuation of their story, like what happens after the Boy gets taken away by the giant raven, as seen at the end of Kin. 

What are your plans for the future?

As an independent filmmaker and owner of a production company, the future is always pretty unpredictable, in a very exciting way of course! We're always getting emails about potential music video and film jobs and never know what will be the next project to be launched into production. For me personally though, I'm currently working on developing another short film idea that I want to go into production for this fall. The story, which will evoke thoughts such as what it is we search for as human beings and the importance of connecting to beauty in life, will be told through a spoken poem and artistic visuals. There will be a young woman as the lead character, shots of life's subtle details, lots of nature and landscapes by the sea like rolling sand dunes, rocky beaches and cloudy skies. I want it to be a film that will hopefully inspire many. So I'm currently developing the storyboard and searching for ways to finance the project. Oh also, I have my mind set on Lulu Lovering to play the lead character, who you guys have also interviewed in Behind the Lens recently! In terms of long term plans, and something extremely exciting, the Five Knights team is in development for a feature length Kin Fables film called “The Sad Prince”. The screenplay is being written and things are starting to move forward with pre-production stages. So there are a lot of exciting things on the go! 

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Out of all the advice that I could possibly give an aspiring filmmaker, I would say never stop creating. Think up a concept or story, get out there and shoot, edit your own footage, find music that fits or write your own, try some colour correction, whatever, just keep your artistic and creative side energized and continue to push your own limits. Thats how someone will find their voice and perfect their craft to be able to successfully express what that voice wants to say. Just keep creating. 
You can find the other short films in the trilogy on their website: “Salvage” and “Requiem”

Thank you so much Ben! If you would like to see more of this talented filmmaker's work, check out his website! All artwork was created by Five Knights member Seb McKinnon, see more on his website!

Are you a filmmaker? Would you like to be interviewed for the Behind The Len series? Leave your links in the comment's below!

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