Film and TV

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

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Kiowa, unlike Jamin, is a Colorado native with roots in New England. "My maternal grandmother left Massachusetts and came to Colorado because she wanted to marry a cowboy," she says. "She got a drunk cowboy."

Her childhood was "convoluted" and "messed up," Kiowa says. But eventually she landed in a good place: adopted by her aunt and uncle, both of whom owned businesses near Evergreen. "My mom had a hair salon," she says, "and my dad owned a rock-drilling and -blasting company. A lot of the rock stabilization you see on I-70 was done by him."

Kiowa's adoptive parents did more than just provide a stable home. "A lot of my appetite for taking massive risks in life probably came from watching them," she says. "They were entrepreneurs, and I've always wanted to be my own boss and take those leaps of faith. I definitely credit them with that vision."

Although she didn't dream of becoming a filmmaker, she was deeply impacted by cinema as a child. Her first vivid memory of a movie was E.T. -- she saw it at a drive-in, the same way Jamin saw Back to the Future -- which instilled in her a similar love of the fantastic and unreal. She is quick to point out, however, that she's a fan of "any movie that's more immersive, that draws you into its world, whether it's science fiction or not."

At Evergreen High, she found herself drawn into Jamin's cinematic world. The two were friends and nothing more, but she remembers how his nascent filmmaking talent impressed her even then. "In high school, we had to write a paper about genetics after reading the novel Jurassic Park," she recalls. "Instead of writing the paper, Jamin and some friends of his made this absolutely ridiculous, hilarious movie. I think they put a cardboard box in front of a TV, and that was supposed to be a time machine. Then they crawled through the TV, and suddenly they were in prehistoric times. It had nothing to do with genetics. Jamin didn't actually do the assignment, but the teacher loved it. The movie got shown to all the other classes, like, three times. I remember being so pissed off that I had to go through the pain of writing this paper, and Jamin just made this movie and had fun."

In 1996, she and Jamin attended their class's Senior Tea. "Everyone in our class gave each other awards, and one of those awards was made up especially for Jamin: Most Likely to Become a Director," Kiowa recalls. "I handed him that award."

The two lost touch after high school, though. Kiowa studied finance as an undergrad at Colorado State University, then went to law school at the University of Denver. "That was not a career goal of mine," she says. "It was kind of foisted on me by my parents. I was miserable at law school. I absolutely hated it. But I will say, it's come in very handy. Doing what we do, it's great to have no qualms about reading a contract. I don't have that fear that the other person is smarter. Also, the first year of law school is so horrible and hard that if you can get through that, you're like, 'Pfft, I can make a movie.'"

Making movies was still nowhere on her radar when, in 2003, she decided to track Jamin down. As it turned out, not only were they both in Denver, but they lived in the same neighborhood. Soon they were dating, and in 2005, they were married.

It didn't take long before Kiowa became first a participant, then a partner, in Jamin's filmmaking. "I was working a day job, and I quit that job three weeks after we got married," she says. "It's the last real job I ever had. I had no plan to quit. I just realized I didn't want to spend my life doing legal work." She started using her legal, clerical and executive skills to help Jamin seek private funding for his increasingly ambitious film projects. She also began working as his production assistant. She picked up sound design for the same reason Jamin picked up score composing: someone had to.

"Me doing the sound design was never part of the plan," she says. "It was brutal necessity. Teaching myself how to do it was probably the hardest thing I'd done since law school. The learning curve was unbelievably difficult. First Jamin asked me if I could research how to do sound design, then he said, 'Can you just do it?' He asked me if I could start laying in ambiences. I was like, 'What the fuck are ambiences?'"

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller