Film and TV

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

Page 5 of 6

Although Jamin had started showing his short films at festivals around the country in 2001, the company's first major premiere was 11:59, at the 2005 Montreal World Film Festival. The film was received well and went on to win awards at the Kansas International Film Festival, Flint Film Festival and Cyprus International Film Festival.

"Spin," an eight-minute film that cannily mixes DJ culture and magic realism, experienced its own surge that same year. "It dropped just before YouTube became a thing," Jamin recalls. "We put it on our website, and it wound up blowing up huge. It crashed our server because it was getting so many hits." When YouTube launched a few months later, he put "Spin" on that site -- and it went exponential. That was Jamin's first clue that the then-untested waters of digital self-distribution might be the way to go. To date, "Spin" has been viewed on YouTube more than three million times.

"I'm proud of everything from 'Spin' on," Jamin says. "Something just clicked there. That's not to say it was flawless from there on out, but things matured. I'll just say I'm less ashamed of everything since 'Spin.'"

11:59 and "Spin" were still making the rounds when Jamin and Kiowa began work on the film that would alter their careers forever: Ink. They'd lined up private investors and planned on taking full advantage of the Colorado Film Commission's incentives for filming in the state. But it wasn't enough. Mere months before the housing market dried up in 2008, the couple took out a second mortgage on their house to help fund the film. "We were about to start shooting Ink, and we realized didn't have the money we needed," Kiowa remembers. "The only other cash we possibly had was in this house. We put the house on the market, and we were actually going to live in this house in Green Mountain that we'd rented to shoot some of the scenes for Ink in. Talk about sweating bullets. It was do or die."

With their house on the line, they dove into Ink. But there was more than desperation fueling the movie's creation.

"The basic idea for Ink," Jamin explains, "is a kid being snatched out of her bed by the bogey monster. But the question I wanted to ask was, 'Who is the monster?' It's something that I'd been thinking about for years. Ink started off that way, as an image that used to come to me when I was a kid. I started having these lucid dreams when I was around four years old. There was nothing scarier to me back then than the witch from Snow White. If you look at Ink, the character of Ink himself looks a lot like that witch. I remember being in Fort Wayne in my little upstairs bedroom and dreaming that I saw the hand of the witch coming up over my bed to grab me, much like Ink does in the film. That just stuck with me."

Inspired by that haunting vision, Ink taps into a deep well of fear. But it's not strictly a horror movie; it also taps into the richness of fantasy and science fiction. "I love the idea of dreams and dual dimensions, of angels and demons," Jamin says. "I love that idea that there's something going around us that we can't see in real time." But Ink is grounded in heartbreaking reality; it's just as much a drama about the power of family, the nature of heroism and the hope for spiritual redemption as it is a showcase for Jamin's otherworldly atmosphere.

In January 2009, Ink premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where it caused a small but substantial stir. After attending all three of the film's SBIFF screenings, one woman approached Jamin. "She told me, 'You're making the audience rise to the film's level.' I'd never thought of things that way. It was such a huge compliment," he says.

Jamin and Kiowa had signed a distribution deal after the relative success of 11:59, but quickly became disillusioned by that relationship -- "We got completely screwed," is how Kiowa sums it up -- and vowed to distribute Ink themselves. Their success at SBIFF was topped by the triumph of Ink's eight-week run in Denver, as well as a healthy series of dates at theaters around the country that seemed to benefit from social-media chatter and word-of-mouth buzz. But it in no way prepared them for what came next.

"In October of 2009, we made Ink available on DVD and Blu-ray," Kiowa says. "It wasn't available as a download yet. Within about 48 hours of the DVD coming out, one of our friends texted us and said, 'Do you have any idea what's going on? Ink got pirated.'"

"Ink got pirated" was putting it lightly. Someone who had ordered one of the DVDs must have uploaded the movie the moment they got it in the mail. Within a week of release, Ink had been shared over a million times on the peer-to-peer website the Pirate Bay. Illegally. Not a penny changed hands, let alone went to Double Edge Films.

Jamin and Kiowa found themselves in a conundrum. People were clearly loving their film, which is the dream of any independent filmmaker. But they'd risked their home to make it, and the vast majority of their audience wasn't paying to see it. "We were stunned," Jamin remembers. "We spent the day processing it, then we decided to put out an e-mail to our mailing list saying, 'Hey, Ink's really taking off in this weird way. We're sort of embracing this. We didn't expect this, but it's cool that it's getting out there.' Whoever pirated the movie in the first place must have been on our mailing list. They took that letter and posted it around the pirate community. The letter wound up getting a lot of attention in that community, and it helped even more. They were like, 'Oh, these filmmakers are being cool and nice about this.'"

Being pirated so passionately even became a point of pride. "On the Pirate Bay, the list of top movies being pirated was Ink, Zombieland and The Hangover," Jamin recalls. "We were just like, 'Fuck, yeah.' People did want to watch this movie. Ink went from being ranked at, like, 12,000 on to being ranked at 14. In a week."

The mass e-mail that had publicly outlined their take on the Ink situation also helped the filmmakers solidify their personal beliefs in regard to piracy. "It wasn't like we were saying, 'Yeah, go and pirate our movie,'" Jamin explains. "We're not necessarily champions of piracy. But we are very pro-access. When it comes to our stuff, we just want people to be able to see it. I think everybody has the right to charge whatever they want, and I don't want to take away anybody's freedom to do that. But I very much believe that we're not doing this for money. We're doing it because we love to do it. Obviously, we have a duty to pay back our investors, and we do the best we can. But we don't want to do that by ripping off our fans. We want to make sure that our fans, wherever they are in the world, can see our stuff, whether or not they have the money.

"We're just barely getting by," he admits, "but I don't worry about that. People have really supported us, and if that continues, we'll be fine."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller