Fifteen years ago, two mates were working as motion graphics designers in separate companies. Occasionally they competed for jobs but nothing could dent their friendship. They shared the same taste in design, cinema and music. The same interests and aspirations. They even created things together. Music videos mostly. This quickly developed into a shared desire to tell stories.
And that desire led to something unique. Twin brothers, Jonathan and Joshua Baker, took a leap of faith and together moved to New York City to become co-directors.
Twice as strong, they are known collectively as TWIN. Both singular and plural. Represented by The Sweet Shop in Australasia, they have just come home to shoot a TVC for NRMA – their first commercial since directing their debut feature film, Kin, last year, which is due for international release in August.
[cover photo: Michael C. Dumler]
TWIN are well known in the US, having lived and worked there since 2007. The boys have made commercials for Nike, Honda, Powerade, AT&T, Gillette, HP, Nissan, Hyundai, Wrigley’s, Heineken and others. Having worked together for over a decade now, their relationship still intrigues people.
“A lot of people are surprised when they meet us that we’re actually twins. I guess they thought it was just a clever name…”
“We also get argued with pretty much daily about whether we’re identical or not. We look damn similar, but we have different blood types, so there’s that.”
They do, however, finish one another’s sentences and have indiscernible voices on the phone. Interviewing them was a bit of a head trip. Here’s what they told The Stable.
“There was a bit more craft in filmmaking. A bit more mystery to it.” Becoming TWIN:
Jonathan: In the beginning, teaming up on music videos was just a side thing that made sense, because we both always loved them. Then, after a while we realised that having a directing partner did take a lot of the pressure off, and we really enjoyed collaborating together creatively…
Josh: And it just worked. After directing commercials individually for a few years in Sydney, we both wanted to expand our horizons and try the move to New York. And we thought, “Why go over there and compete on finding companies, getting our reels out there and establishing new connections when we could do that together and be twice as strong.” I guess at the time we both felt like small fish in a small pond, and always had high expectations of ourselves. And we’ve always managed to push each other further.
Jonathan: We both started our separate careers as motion designers. Design was what got us here, and is something that still influences the type of work we do now. Not necessarily in an obvious way, but having an eye for design principles is going to affect everything you do creatively. It made us passionate about typography and photography, and we still very much are. Neither of us really had the view, “Oh we’re going to be directors now.” It was more about telling stories and getting into advertising seemed like a very immediate way of telling them.
Josh: A lot of people were spending days and days in after effects and cinema 4D at the time, and it just felt a little repetitive for us. There was a bit more craft in filmmaking. A bit more mystery to it.
We’re both big believers in redefining your own career.” Building who we want TWIN to be:
Jonathan: When we first got out of the post side of things, we knew what that was all about and it was a logical step to include visual effects into our directing style. And a lot of the work we were being offered was very post heavy. That was great because it tends to come with larger budgets and you can do some epic visual stuff. But after a while it felt as though we were seeing a bunch of the same kind of scripts and it felt as though we were on a treadmill…
Josh: We’re both big believers in redefining your own career. We didn’t get offered any sports work at the time, for example, so we went out and chased low budget sports work until we made our way into that arena. There was also a period where we didn’t see scripts that lent themselves to traditional beautiful cinematography, so we actively pursued spots that weren’t effects-heavy and were a bit more human and in-camera. All of that opened up our work and today we see a lot more of everything combined into one – a style that’s a little messier, a little less perfect and one that gives us the opportunity to use imagery in ways we really love…
Jonathan: I guess you could say we have a bunch of styles going on at the same time.
Josh: This game of waiting for agencies to notice you and send you scripts can be tough. We’ve found that being able to reshape and re-guide the direction of our own career through the projects we do is powerful. A lot of the little things we’ve made – short films, spec work, low budget scripts with great creative opportunities – are often the ones we’re most proud of and what gets referenced by others the most. An anthem we directed for the 76ers NBA team. A Nike job we shot in Russia that we put a lot of time and effort into but didn’t make a cent on. A spec piece we wrote and directed about streetball culture. Big budgets aren’t everything.
We definitely don’t butt heads in the way that some co-directors do.” The power of two:
Josh: Maybe that has something to do with the twin dynamic, although we know a lot of twins who wouldn’t want to be working together. We have a shorthand and a history of similar influences and life experiences. It makes the creative process so much easier. And I know that if I got sick and spent a week in hospital the project wouldn’t go completely under…
Jonathan: We also try incredibly hard on set not to contradict each other. That’s right up the top of the list of What Not To Do. The worst thing that could happen is for one of us to say something to an actor and two seconds later the other one comes in and says the exact opposite. And then everybody laughs.
Josh: That’s like a recurring nightmare I have.
Jonathan: As co-directors, we try to get more done rather than wasting time arguing or deliberating. Make the fact that there are two of us work in our favour.
“Our decade’s worth of ads is a giant piece of film school.” The work that made us:
Jonathan: I guess we faked it a bit at the start until we scrounged together decent sized reels to bring in real work, and then quite quickly started doing small ads. The first spot that got me noticed was a VFX-heavy car ad for Hyundai where a car is born in front of our eyes, and for Josh…
Josh: For me it was an international ad for Heineken where a guy goes back in time. It had a healthy budget and we shot in Prague.
Jonathan: Things moved pretty quickly from that point onwards.
It began as a palate cleanser from advertising.” Our first feature film, Kin:
Kin was completed a few months ago but was born years earlier as a short film called Bag Man. Originally, the brothers wrote it about a young village boy in the Congo and were planning to shoot it in Nigeria. But reality bit and the film was rewritten to tell the story of a young African-American boy in Harlem. Much closer to their home in New York at the time. Ultimately, it became a story that was both personal and instrumental to their journeys.
Jonathan: Bag Man was the end result of shooting a few experimental short form narratives over the years, basically mucking around, some of them as casual as saying at the end of a full day’s commercial shoot, “We’ve got this cool idea and we want to shoot it tonight. Who’s with us?” Each short film helped us develop in different ways as directors. Eventually we thought, “Why don’t we actually treat this seriously, spend some actual money on it and make something that can be remembered.”
The short film they made won acclaim both online and at festivals. The boys also used it as a vehicle to show their more dramatic side.
Josh: I think what we set out to do was tell a self-contained story that included as many tastes of ours as possible, but do it in a very restrained way. So there are all sorts of influences in it from arthouse cinema to crime dramas to sci-fi – all tossed into a grubby paper bag and shaken around. Then, when we were in post production, we started to realise, “There’s something unique here and people are going to ask what the longer version of this story is.” They did. And luckily we had an answer for them. Quite quickly we moved into development and then production on the feature, working with a team of really smart creative people.
Jonathan: It’s our story, our ideas and our voice as directors, so fingers crossed it resonates with people and sets up the type of filmmaking we want to be doing in the future. It was more than two years of our lives, and it feels good to be able to finally put it aside to work on telling smaller stories in advertising again.
This piece was published in the Stable on February 27 2018.