Film and TV

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

Page 3 of 6

Despite Jamin Winans's disarming humility, a lot has changed for him over the years. Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he moved to Colorado with his family in the early '80s, when he was five, first to Denver and then to Evergreen. He describes his parents as "rebels, although you'd never know it by looking at them. My mom's a CPA. But they were adventurous, and I think they wanted to create a new path for themselves."

His parents bucked convention in another way, one that seems antithetical to the upbringing of a future filmmaker: They refused to have a television. "We didn't have a TV until I was ten," he recalls. "My parents were just not fans of having a TV in the house. I remember when I was little, my dad rented a TV and a VCR one night just to watch The Blues Brothers. It was crazy. It was a big thing. For me, seeing TV or a movie had a huge impact. It was magical."

Another revelation came when Jamin experienced his first big-screen eye-opener. "I saw Back to the Future at the drive-in at Cinderella City when I was six," he says. "Watching a story on a screen was something I never took for granted at the time."

And Jamin's reverence for video as a storytelling medium only grew. Unlike most kids, he didn't take movies for granted: They became sacred. At thirteen, he took a job at a veterinary clinic that amounted to "basically cleaning out cages," he recalls. He had one goal: to earn enough money to buy a VHS camcorder. He'd already begun making rudimentary movies with his Aunt Bonnie's camera -- "Her name is Bonnie Hamilton, and I told her when I was twelve that when I became a director, I'd put her initials, B.H., at the end of the credits of every film I made. And I have," Jamin says -- but he wanted a camera of his own. "I basically cleaned crap to buy my first camera," he adds. "I can talk about it now, but back then I felt so humiliated."

That humiliation didn't last long. At Evergreen High School, he avoided flunking out by devising an independent-study program that focused solely on filmmaking. "I made my first feature film as an independent-study project when I was seventeen, and that gave me just enough credit to graduate high school," he says. "The movie will remain unnamed. It was total garbage. I can't even tell you how many failures it took before I made anything even remotely watchable.

"I also worked at a movie theater during high school, the Evergreen Cinema 4," he continues. "To this day, it's the greatest job I've ever had. I sold tickets, tore tickets, cleaned theaters. If I could retire and work in a movie theater again, I would."

Jamin was confident enough in his emerging talent to enroll in the film program at Columbia College Hollywood. It wasn't as glamorous as it sounds. "It was basically just a trade school," he remembers. "It wasn't a film school in the classic sense. It was more of a hands-on thing. But it was great. It was a very small school, and I got a lot out of it." But after a year, he dropped out.

"I'd already been making film for so long at that point that I felt like I knew what I was doing. They say the only thing more useless than a philosophy degree is a film degree," he says with a laugh. "The only thing anyone wants to know is, 'What have you actually done?' Anyway, at that point I'd already said to myself, 'I don't want to be a studio filmmaker. I want to be an independent filmmaker, where I have control.'"

With that in mind, Jamin moved back to Colorado and took various film-related internships and odd jobs, including making commercials for local businesses like Furniture Row and global companies like Kia, which he still does to help pay the bills between big projects. For some of those gigs he served as production assistant, which only sharpened his resolve to be his own boss.

"I was a really bad PA," he says. "My head was always in the clouds. I've never been good with authority. If I wasn't the one leading the charge, I just wasn't interested." In 2003, he led that charge by releasing a short crime-caper film called "Blanston," the first movie in his filmography that he considers "actually good." At that point, he knew he had to focus more intently on his own original work.

What he didn't know was that an old friend from high school was about to reenter his life -- and change it in more ways than one.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller