Film and TV

From Ink to The Frame, Jamin and Kiowa Winans Are Making Their Mark in the Movies

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"Be careful walking down the stairs," Jamin advises as he descends into the basement that houses his filmmaking studio. "Watch your head."

Jamin's warning has an ominous double meaning: His movies can bushwhack your brain. In person, he and Kiowa are warm, friendly, unassuming thirty-somethings; on film, Jamin's warped vision is enough to rattle your entire view of existence. In 11:59, a photojournalist realizes his memory is being manipulated, which hints at a sinister conspiracy. In Ink, a child-stealing creature in black robes and chains is pursued between our world and a dimension beyond. And in The Frame, two strangers find their lives connected and overseen in a way that shouldn't be possible.

Some artists paint, sculpt or play music in their basements. Jamin creates whole realities. "This is where the magic happens," Kiowa adds, not without irony, as she joins him. The Winans basement is as spare as their movies are extravagant. A minimal audio-production setup has been installed in one of the two tiny rooms that's little more than a microphone and a Foley box -- a bed of gravel used to overdub the everyday sounds of people walking around. Headphones hang from a hook. A pair of violins sit on a bar stool. "These are the violins that we used in The Frame," Kiowa says, picking one up. "This one's the stunt violin.

Ink required a stunt doll; The Frame required a stunt violin. Without giving too much away, that says a lot. The new film is artful and poignant, yet full of action and tension. It's also a story that hinges on a mystery -- one so staggering in scope that Jamin and Kiowa are zealously protective of the plot.

Spoilers are unavoidable in this age of instantaneous Internet reviews, but the filmmakers are determined to keep any salient details from leaking before The Frame's wide release; after its Denver run, they'll take it on the road for openings in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, New York, Austin and Chicago this fall. They're so guarded about The Frame that the film's official trailer barely reveals anything about it. Like illusionists, they want their audiences to go in cold.

Most of their illusions, though, are made with software. In the basement's slightly larger room, Jamin and Kiowa each have a standing desk and a computer. He handles the video editing, and she focuses on the audio. There's an electronic keyboard attached to Jamin's station; on top of everything else, he composes and performs the soundtracks of his own movies. (The ethereal score for Ink so impressed director Joe Carnahan that he used part of it in his 2011 thriller The Grey, starring Liam Neeson. Jamin, a huge Carnahan fan, considers it an honor.) The entire process is intensive and time-consuming, especially when a minor flub in on-set lighting or post-production file-juggling can result in an extra month of painstaking work.

"What we don't have in money, we have to make up for in time," Jamin says. It feels less like an excuse and more like a motto. "When you look at our humble little basement studio, we've basically just got a keyboard and a camera. Nothing's changed in all these years."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller