An interview with Jamin and Kiowa Winans – the creators of “Ink”

This time I would like to present an interview from my archives. It’s a written version of an interview I made via Skype in January 2011 with the creators of the movie Ink – Jamin and Kiowa Winans. When I watched Ink I immediately thought that I would like to talk to the artists behind it some day. Although the movie was made outside big Hollywood studios, it soon became very popular, gaining millions of viewers all over the world and very good opinions from the critics. Recently, they released another great, thought provoking movie, The Frame. You should check this one, too. What film directors inspire them? Can a small budget be helpful? Is it easier to make a soundtrack when you are both a director and a composer? How was a memorable scene with Jacob triggering the series of events made? What do they know about the Polish cinema? What charity project did they support i n Bulgaria? All these and even more you can find in this interview with Jamin and Kiowa Winans (respectively – first from the upper right and first from the lower right in the picture). Please check this blast from the past 😉

Jamin Kiowa and Ink Cast at Egyptian Theatre Hollywood Small

As far as I know, Ink has many fans in Poland, but there are probably some people who don’t have any clue about it. Could you say a few words about the plot of the movie?

Jamin Winans: It’s a good question. It is about a lot of things. It basically centers around the two worlds – the dream world and our conscious world. A lot of people asked us if we were inspired by Inception, but we actually made this before Inception. It’s basically about people who come out at night and give you dreams and nightmares and about the battle they sort of fight over your dreams.

If you were to encapsulate this story in one sentence, what would you say? What is it about?

JW: I would say it’s ultimately about redemption, I think. If we had to keep it in one sentence, that is what I would have got.

In many interviews you talked about the sources of inspiration for the whole story. I would like to ask about the particular name. Why Ink?

JW: You know, it’s funny. We get asked that a lot when we are touring around with the film. When we are doing screenings, a lot of people ask us about the name. We decided that we ultimately weren’t going to tell anybody why we chose the name Ink just because we didn’t want to pin it to one meaning to anybody, because we realized that a lot of people were coming up with their own ideas of what it was. We decided that we wanted to leave that to everyone’s imagination so, sorry, but I’m not going to answer this question. We really want the audience to determine the meaning for themselves.

Right, maybe it’s sometimes better to keep some things unrevealed. The first scenes of the movie when dreams of different people are shown probably demanded a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of people engaged in the project. How difficult was it to put it all together?

Kiowa Winans: The actual shooting of the entire movie was 83 days, which for a very small independent budget and crew is a lot of shooting days. Most of independent films are shot in 20 days or less, but then again most of people are not doing sci-fi films on independent budgets. So, it was 83 shooting days and the opening fight sequence, for example, that lasts about a minute, minute and a half, took, I think, five days to shoot and a lot of time to rehearse that particulat fight. A good friend of ours, Dean Bryan Taylor, and some of his friends, coordinated and designed all those fights and worked with our actors for four – five months to train them and to rehearse all the steps of this fight so that it looked really authentic and so that nobody would get hurt. So it took a lot of effort and a lot of people, just to have a really kind of passion helping us to step in. Day to day, we had an extraordinarily small crew – about ten people on set each day, which is also extremely rare. That’s why the production was so long and the post-production was so long. It was a really serious undertaking for just a few people.

Talking about complicated scenes, what about the scene that has already become very famous, the scene with Jacob triggering a series of events? Did anything in particular inspire you to make such a scene?

JW: You know, I’ve done this type of scene a few times. The first time I did something like this was in a short film that I made several years back called The Maze. It was this idea that everything is sort of connected. Then I used this idea again in a short film Spin which is about a DJ who can sort of alter the world with his turn tables. So, yes, I just keep on using this idea over and over again, I guess, but it changes. It gets more refined with every film, but then in Ink I kind of designed this character. It basically took several revisions of the script to become what it is. It took a lot of planning to get that scene down. I think it took us three or four days to shoot it, cause there are so many components to it. There are so many different elements and shots to that scene. We did an enormous lot of planning. We had to shut down a busy intersection in downtown. We basically ran through it and recorded it beforehand just to make sure that we really knew how all the pieces went together. Then I had to have the music done in advance, so that everybody kind of knew how the music was going to work. Jeremy Make, who played Jacob, had to count to the actual beat of the music, so it took an enormous amount of preparation and it’s interesting because we shot in a course of three months, but we started shooting this scene a couple of days after the beginning of shoot and we didn’t finish shooting that scene until the very end of the shoot. So this is literally about two and a half months in between some of the shots that we did because we would shoot some other scenes, then we would come back and shoot more of this. It’s really interesting to see how many components and over how very long period of time had to come together to make one scene.


There are scenes, like the one with “Jacob’s chain”, that demanded a lot of effort and probably asking for permission from the local authorities. How was it to make such scenes outside, in the street?

KW: We shot in Denver, Colorado, USA, which is not a typical place to shoot a film. That’s where we grew up, we know a lot of people there. We used every favour we accumulated over lifetime there to get the film made. Because not very many movies are made in Colorado, and in the city of Denver in particular, the people there are very nice. There is a nice film office and they were very cooperative. We had to reroad the traffic, put up barricades and hire a few police officers to help us with crow control and all of that. They were very cooperative and very nice and it didn’t cost too much. It’s a lot easier than shooting in Hollywood, Los Angeles. There’s much less bureacracy to deal with in Denver, which is very nice, so it was actually quite easy to shut down the street. That was the only time we had to shut down the street, which was nice, and it’s one of the biggest intersections in downtown Denver, which isn’t a very big city, but it’s big enough to look like a very big city, so that part of it wasn’t too bad. As for the scenes strictly with Jacob on a sidewalk and all the things happening, we just shot it in the pieces and parts in the course of about three days. Shooting these scenes was towards the end of the shoot and I think we only had a crew of four people to shoot everything in that Jacob’s sequence minus the car accident – we had obviously a bigger crew on that day. I guess, movie magic put it all together.

I’d like to ask about something that is connected with that scene, too. Jamin, is it easier or more difficult to make a movie when you both direct and write music to your film?

JW: Over those years, I worked with other composers and then I had an opportunity to compose my own music. I’m not much of a musician, but I’m enough of a musician, I think, and I understand very much what I need for the scenes that I write, that I’m able to pull off the composition myself. For me, it’s easier to know the music in advance and to know how the music is going to work within the scene. For instance, in this movie I had written about 50 percent of the music before we started shooting, so I was able to incorporate the music in the shooting process. So, I like this process. It also keeps the creative juices flowing, I guess, so I do like to write my own music, but at the same time when you do it, you don’t have the opportunity of geting other people’s interpretations of your work, so when you’re working with other musicians who are really talented, a lot of time you can get a really great stuff you hadn’t otherwise thought of. I think there are advantages to both, but for me the past couple of films I really enjoyed going back and forth between the music and the writing, and the shooting and the editing. It’s all one big thing and I like jumping back and forth, kind of wearing different hats.

The plot of the movie is jumping between the two worlds. Have you thought about making a story, or even maybe a movie, that would take place just in the world of the Storytellers?

JW: You know, that’s a question a few people have asked. The idea that we’ve created this big world that Ink takes place in gives a lot of opportunities to keep on expanding the other places. At this point, we haven’t really planned on doing any sort of sequel or anything like that. One thing we considered, that we approached potentially at one point, was doing a graphic novel. That was something we maybe thought about doing, we hadn’t considered it really seriously, but I think that door is still open. Now we are planning on making some other films. We’re not planning on revisiting this world. But you never know, maybe some time in the future…


Maybe it’s a little bit scary, but when I watched the movie I thought that Ink could be anyone, someone we know or even ourselves. Do you think about it in such a way, that there is a danger that there is some part of Ink in everyone?

JW: Yes, it’s funny you say that because I was thinking when I was writing it that Ink sort of represents what I’d be afraid of becoming and I think a lot of people understand a lot of things Ink is going through. I think, especially when you are sort of a career person, when you are working your way up, it’s really easy to lose the sight of what is important in your life so I think it’s very easy to sort of let yourself be corrupted, and to some degree it is what Ink is, it’s a tale of rise and fall of one man.

What about the visual side of the movie? How much was it based on your own ideas, on the ideas of both of you, and how much did it owe to the costume designers, make-up artists and so on?

JW: Well, the funny thing is we were in charge of most of the stuff, because we didn’t have money to afford a very big crew, so the production design and wardrobe were done by Kiowa. Basically, a year in advance we started collecting images on a board, cut out images from magazines, and gather our work and a lot of different things that inspired us and we just put it all on a huge board and combined a lot of images and ideas. It’s what became the visual part of the film. KW: So, much of the look was inspired to some degree by the small budget. We couldn’t do really elaborate set pieces and elaborate expensive costumes, which in a lot of ways, I think, contributed to the look of the film. We were forced to make some unique decisions, particularly with the way the Incubi had looked. That was achieved by Jamin and post-production, hours and hours of rotoscoping, actually I should say months and months of rotoscoping shot, frame by frame, to make those Incubi costumes come together. The masks in front of their faces and their eyes – that was all handled in post-production. We had really great make up artists, but Jamin and I concepted all of the look in the art direction and the costuming, you know, just the general look of the film, basically how we said, by a lot of preplanning and just kind of culling inspiration from all kinds of places.

Talking about small budget, can it be in any way helpful? When you have less money, you have to use your imagination more – can it help in any way?

JW: Yes, exactly. You know, it’s funny when we think about it now. What if we could have had more money? We had wanted it. We look back and we think Ink is the film it is because we didn’t have very much money. Not to say that we will always be making movies for no money, but I think a lot of creative choices we made really came out of not having any money. I think it would have been a completely different film if we had had a lot of money. So we really kind of like the way that it is, we obviously want to be making films with more money and having higher production quality, but at the same time I think it’s one of the things that really make Ink unique and it gives the film some charm.

Talking about the possible ispirations. Have you seen the Russian movie Nightwatch?

JW: Of course, yes, it’s a great movie.

I’m asking about it because, like in Ink, there is also something like urban fantasy and powers of good and evil fighting over people. Could you say that Ink is in any way similar to this movie? What about other movies that inspired you?

JW: Nightwatch… I don’t remember when we saw it, I think it was during pre-production and I said, “Wow, that’s a lot like Ink”, especially the sort of the finale of Ink when they are in the hospital and theye are bouncing back and forth between the two worlds, there is some similar stuff in the Nightwatch films. I wouldn’t say it was influence because it hadn’t come out by the time we were making Ink, but I definitely see similarities, I’m a huge fan of these films. As far as the inspirations go, probably my favourite film maker is ironically Michael Mann who doesn’t generally do any sort of fantasy type of stuff, but I just really like his style and his attention to detail. As for the influences, I’m a really big Terry Gilliam fan, I’m a big Michael Gandry fan, I like Jean Pierre Jeunet – those are, I think, more obvious influences. I always say that with Ink I try to rip off a number of different people, so that it doesn’t seem like I just rip off one person. So I rip off from so many people that it looks like my own thing 😉

I think what connects Ink and Michael Mann films is intensive emotions, because this movie is bursting with positive and negative emotions. Something is always happening, not only outside but also inside of the characters.

JW: That’s a good point.


What are your plans for the nearest future? The movie plans?

JW: Well, Ink just continues to spread, it looks like Ink is going to be opening theatrically in England in a few months, but now we are developing the next film. It’s very hush-hush so I can’t tell you what the name of it is yet but it’s another film. It’s sort of sci-fi fantasy. That’s about what I can say, but we are working on it now. Everybody is asking when the next film is going to come out. It’s still gonna be a while because it takes a long time to make a movie, but we are working on one and I think it’s gonna be great. Hope everybody can hang tight. We try to get it as fast as we can.

Ink is one of the movies you keep thinking about a long time after watching it. What are the movies that keep you thinking about , the movies that return, that are still in your memory?

JW: For me, one of the movies that really did it for me, especially when I was younger, was Twelve Monkeys, which is a Terry Gilliam film. I guess, not a lot of people talk about this movie, but it’s one of my favourite films. I just remember I went and saw it in a theatre and I didn’t even know what to think after I got out. I just thought, “Wow”, so I went back and saw it again and every time I’ve watched it ever since still new things unfold for me. I remember thinking, “That’s a kind of film I wanna make”. That’s the film that is infinitely many-layered, it just always makes you think and I can even head for films like that but it’s probably top one.

KW: That’s a tough question. The film I think about year over year is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That was a really well done movie. That’s a rarity. I would say that a lot of films that are being made now, especially the ones that are being massively promoted through Hollywood, are by and large very forgettable. Everything is a remake or an old TV show or something that is just very unoriginal. I think one of the most rewarding things about Ink is that a lot of people say that it really sits with them and I think it is by far the biggest complement you can get on a movie: that you actually think about it and it kind of sits with you for a few days afterwards and even longer than that. It’s very rewarding that people feel that way about Ink.

By the way, you’ve mentioned remakes. Have you had any offers from anyone to make a remake of Ink, for example with their own cast and with different director or something like that?

JW: You know, it’s funny. Early on, when Ink came out , I guess we never got any official offer, but there were certainly questions about that. Agents and other people just asked us if we were interested in doing a remake. We said, “Absolutely not”. I’m not a big fan of remakes either way and the last thing I would want to see is our film remade into something that I didn’t want it to be. So, yes, the idea was put out there, but we said, “No”.

I think it’s reassuring for most of the fans of Ink that no one else is going to touch it.

JW: That’s right. Don’t worry, we won’t let that happen.

What advice would you give to people who have some scripts ready, don’t have a lot of money, but would like to give it a try and make a movie?

JW: That’s a good question. I would say the best way I learnt how to make films was making short films and making very short movies, you know. I think that number one thing I would tell to anybody who is just getting into it is – don’t spend a lot of money early on, just practice making films making sure they’re one minute, ten minutes short films and get good at doing it first. Then, you know, expand to making a feature film. The other thing I’d say is just, “You know, shooting is very very difficult and before you shoot make sure your script is ready for the shooting, make sure it is very very good”. Writers have a good saying that if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. In other words, if the script isn’t good, the movie is not going to be good, no matter what, so I think these are two biggest things: make short films and get good at doing short films first, because it’s very affordable, and secondly, make sure your script is really solid.


Are you in Bulgaria now?

JW: Yes.

Are you there in connection with Ink or with something completely different?

JW: No, we are actually working with a foundation here, in Bulgaria. We decided to take some time to do some charity work here. We have some friend who is trying to do some charity in Bulgaria that we are working with.

Could you say something more about this charity project?

JW: Yes, Bulgaria is a great country in general, but one of the problems they have here, and it’s sort of leftover from the communist times, is that a lot of disabled children that were born in Bulgaria are put in institutions and a lot of institutions are not well taken care of. They are government-run, but a lot of kids are not provided for carefully and are not aided appropriately. The organization we are working with is the organization that is essentially working on deinstitutionalising Bulgaria and getting disabled children out of these institutions to proper homes and making sure they get proper care.

That’s really interesting. Probably you travel a lot. And what associations do you have with Poland? When you think, “Poland”, what comes to your mind?

JW: One of the first associations is one of my favourite directors, whose name I always mispronounce, is Kieślowski.

And what’s your favourite movie by Kieślowski?

JW: Probably The Double Life of Veronique. It’s probably one of my favorites. I mean, I like everything I’ve seen. I’ve seen virtually everything he’s made, at least everything you can get in the United States. I’m sure he has early films that you can’t get in the United States, but over the past ten years I’ve watched his films so I always think of Poland and watching his movies. We were in Warsaw for about twenty four hours and it was a very very quick trip, but we liked it very very much. We obviously plan to return some time in the future. Poland is, from everything I have heard, read and seen, a thriving country. It’s just going to be great, so we’d love to visit it again as we continue to make films.

Thank you very much, it was a great pleasure talking to you two.

Interview by Łukasz Garbol, January 2011

As usual, a few useful links:

The Work of Filmmaker Jamin Winans



Photo 1 from Jamin and Kiowa Winans’ archives. Photos 2-5 are movie stills from “Ink”. All photo copyrights belong to their respective owners.