Meet the Creative Crew Behind Kevin James’s YouTube Channel
Kevin James’s YouTube channel is an example of how simple concepts can be produced with a small team and still be cinematic. Here’s how the Kinnane Brothers do it.
In the current production climate, Kevin James‘s YouTube channel is an example of how simple concepts can be executed with a small team and produce truly cinematic results. That execution is courtesy of the Kinnane Brothers, an “independent film company founded by 8 brothers.”
With James’s channel in their hands, the Kinnane Brothers have seized a unique opportunity to work closely with Hollywood-level talent. Nonetheless, they’re not afraid to admit that they still scroll through YouTube for green screen tutorials and DIY tips, just like the rest of us.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out Kevin James’s YouTube comedy resurgence, do yourself a favor and watch a few clips — don’t worry, this interview will still be here after you’ve binged every “Sound Guy” episode.
I recently got to chat with Brendan and Charles Kinnane, two of the eight minds behind the short films on Kevin James’s channel. They gave me some insight into their creative process, how they started working with Kevin James, and why YouTube really is the best source for filmmaking tutorials.
PremiumBeat: Could you each introduce yourselves and give us a little background as to what you do within Kinnane Brothers?
Brendan Kinnane: I’m the music supervisor for the Kinnane Brothers.
Charles Kinnane: I’m the director of the films of the company — and what would you say?
BK: Fearless leader?
CK: Yeah, fearless leader, but these guys really are the creative talent in the whole thing.
PB: Could you explain the name Kinnane Brothers? Are you all actually brothers?
CK: Seven of us are blood related and one is a brother-in-law, Jeff. Jeff and I actually got hired to do a short film, but we were without a crew. We got this idea to hire our younger brothers. I know there’s an old-saying, “Could you imagine if you could duplicate yourself to get work done?” This was kind of like duplicating ourselves, but with people who were more creative and talented. It all came together four years ago. They were doing stuff for fun, and we brought them on to do a production. We had a built-in crew, right away.
PB: How did ya’ll get in touch and start working with Kevin James on his YouTube channel?
CK: Kevin had seen a short film series that we did together. Through a mutual friend, he reached out and wanted to meet us. He had this idea to do short films on YouTube. He wanted to do something different. He was like, “I’m not really the behind-the-scenes guy, where you have someone follow you with a camera. I want to do short cinematic comedy films.” All the guys jumped at that opportunity and said we would love to do that.
PB: How does the pitch process and writing work? Do ya’ll pitch ideas? Does Kevin James come to you with something and you workshop it?
CK: We’ll pitch him a lot of ideas and he’ll respond to some and then we’ll go down that road. “Sound Guy” was something that we didn’t even think he’d want to do. We shot a comp to show [Kevin] what it would look like. He saw the clip that we comped for him and thought it was the funniest thing ever. He said, “Let’s do it, let’s do a ton of them.”
BK: Ideas come from anywhere. [Kevin] is there from start to finish. He has all of these great ideas. He’s the key factor.
PB: “The Sound Guy” series seems to be the most popular on Kevin’s Channel. How do each one of those concepts come about? How is shooting these pieces different from the more narrative-focused ones?
BK: Our brothers do a great job with being able to match the lighting and put [Kevin] in there. People relate to it. They say, “Awe I’ve seen this movie,” rather than having to experience it for the first time.
PB: How did you recreate the bathroom scene from Joker?
BK: You mean … him in the toilet, right? That was just in the studio we were in. It had graffiti all over it.
CK: That was a real stall. He was in a real bathroom stall. It was upstairs in the studio and the guys were like, “We could kinda match. If we got the lighting right.”
BK: The bathroom was just as grungy as the real thing.
PB: My favorite skits on the channel are the very simple ones, “The Red Light,” “Misread Waves,” and “CouchX.” The comedy sometimes comes from how cinematic and overly dramatic the video is for such a mundane moment. How do you approach these concepts?
CK: I think we’re all drawn to simple narratives, even Kevin. The great thing about short films on YouTube is that you can take a simple idea and play with it. Someone threw out the idea: What if he’s frustrated at a red light?
We literally went outside — that night — and shot it. It’s something everyone could relate to. How could we over dramatize that and draw out the tension. It’s really comedy that everyone could relate to. We also try to do as much without dialogue, as possible. We do it all visual, with action.
BK: It almost makes it easier, no dialogue. You’re not repeating the same lines over and over again for every shot.
CK: One of the things for us, as filmmakers, [Kevin] is an incredible actor. What he can do with his face and expressions is so profound. What an opportunity we have to showcase his range in these short films.
PB: From a filmmaking standpoint, all of these shorts are shot, edited, and designed like a short film. Where did the idea come from that each short should be cinematic?
CK: When he first tasked us with building his channel, it was scary. We knew the “YouTube challenges” work, or pranks do well on YouTube. Kevin was like, “I don’t wanna do anything like that. That’s what everyone else is doing. I just want to do what we want to do. If people respond to it, great. If they don’t, we did what we wanted to do.”
We all agreed with him. We’d much rather do short films than blog-style videos. It gave us the freedom. It may be a massive failure, but Kevin gave us the opportunity to do what we want. Let’s have fun and laugh our heads off. Makes some stuff that we wanna make and makes us laugh.
PB: Was it always the idea to keep the skits short, simple, few locations, and minimal actors involved? Why did you choose to go that route?
CK: That came out of quarantine, honestly. The channel launched right before things started to lock down. We couldn’t use any other actors really. Maybe as things open up, we can have bigger set pieces.
BK: It forced us to come up with ideas that were only in one area. It can be a challenge. You don’t have the freedom to go to the city and shoot.
CK: Brendan is actually the jogger in the “Out of Touch” video, where they’re shaking hands.
PB: So, are a lot of the extra actors just you and the rest of the team?
CK: Yes, exactly. The goal is to get all of the brothers in one of the videos.
PB: What are the pros and cons in working in this quarantine environment?
CK: The cons are you are limited. You really couldn’t go anywhere. Just film stuff in locations that we had close by — in parks or places where you wouldn’t get shut down. One of the things that benefited us, is that we were all together, all the time. It worked in our favor that we are all family in the production crew. Our quarantine was basically all the brothers and Kevin James. It was a bit different than the rest of the world in quarantine, but we were lucky.
PB: Your videos are an example of how simple concepts can still be done well, with a small team and good storytelling techniques. What does a typical crew look like for each skit, and have you had to adapt anything to the current pandemic situation?
CK: We’ve had huge filmmakers tell us this, and you kinda roll your eyes: ”Go shoot it on an iPhone.” And we say, “Easy for you to say.” But, it is really true. You can really do a lot with a little.
The “A Star is Born” skit was shot in a cafeteria with a couple of DJ lights, a DJ smoke screen from Guitar Center, and a swivel chair, to do the special effects shot. We sat Kevin in a chair and he slowly turned himself. John, the youngest, the After Effects guru, then matched it to Lady Gaga’s movements. That’s just stuff he learned on YouTube, not things he went to school for. It’s crazy — you can shoot stuff on an iPhone that’s cinematic and use DJ lights.
The younger guys in the group are so set on getting things right and making it perfect, rather than settling for what’s good enough. You have to use the limited tools you have to make it look great. We’ve all seen movies that have had a $100 million budget, but look terrible. It takes an attention to detail, and using very limited resources, to make the shot look great.
— Kinnane Brothers (@KinnaneBrothers) May 5, 2020
PB: Sound design is often overlooked, especially with newer filmmakers. A lot of the skits use audio as the key part of the piece or narrative. Could you talk about its importance and how you use audio in storytelling?
CK: It’s been said that sound and music make up fifty percent of a film experience. For us, it’s even more. For a small company, sound design is even more than fifty percent. We spend so much time looking for music. Brendan spends most of his day looking for music when we aren’t shooting. It’s great to have someone fully dedicated to that. We do our best with our visuals, but it just adds a whole level to the experience when the music’s popping and the sound design has attention to detail. The more low-budget you are, the more you have to put into the sound design.
PB: I’ve taken a peek at your Instagram feed — you’re working with real Hollywood talent, but still use a lot of DIY filmmaking techniques. I loved the contrast of an ALEXA paired with a homemade PVC dolly. Could you share some of your favorites?
CK: It is kinda messed up that we have an ALEXA, but it’s on a PVC dolly. Oh, tell him about the rain machine.
BK: Oh yeah, we made a rain machine. That was something else we learned online. It was like a YouTube video. You use some PVC and some sprinklers. It was like four or five sprinklers and eight feet long. Total cost was maybe $50.
CK: Yeah, you just find a way. We are using what we have. It’s not as good as a real dolly, you know, but with a little bit of Warp Stabilizer in Premiere, it works. As a young filmmaker, you can find yourself making so many excuses: I don’t have this, I don’t have that. What YouTube has shown us is that you can find a way to do it. If you don’t have a rain machine, build one out of four sprinklers. There’s no excuse not to make stuff.
PB: You guys seem very comfortable using green screen in your projects. What advice would you give to filmmakers who may be a little hesitant to incorporate green screen into their work?
BK: It kinda all started when we were saying — “wouldn’t it be great if we could shoot in this location?” And my brother, John, was, like, “Well, what if we green screen it?”
None of us knew how to do it properly. It was a lot of watching YouTube and having moments of “Ohhh, that’s how you do it.” The biggest thing is matching the lighting. Once you have the lighting, everything looks right at home.
With “Ryan Gosling Won’t Give Me A Soundcheck,” we got super lucky. That one was actually filmed outside, just sunlight and the perfect spot, whereas most of the “Sound Guy” skits are done inside.
PB: What’s next for you and the channel?
CK: We hope that the channel keeps growing and keeps bringing in an audience that appreciates the filmmaking. We have a number of scripts that we’ve written and are hoping to get produced. And, after quarantine lifts, we’ll get started on a small indie film.
We love the process and all the creativity that’s out there. YouTube has given us an opportunity to do things on a small level that get shared with a lot of people. The community is great and it’s fun to be a part of it and make movies.
Cover image via Kinnane Brothers.