Bringing Ink to life

Writer/director Jamin Winans reveals how piracy brought his ambitious fantasy to a worldwide audience

by Amber Wilkinson

Tormented soul Ink

Tormented soul Ink

Independent fantasy film Ink tells the story of a father who must fight to save the soul of his daughter, which has become trapped in a battle between the good and evil forces who inhabit our sleep. Little Emma finds herself held hostage when tormented dream-haunter Ink abducts her in order to earn the status of a nightmare-bringing Incubus. Filled with striking imagery that belies its $250,000 budget, the film found fame across social networks after it was illegally downloaded more than one million times within a week of its release. We caught up with director Jamin Winans to talk about the unusual path his film has taken to a UK DVD release and his motivations behind the film.

What inspired the story behind Ink? Was it a film you had wanted to make for some time?

It was something that I was thinking about a long time. Originally I wanted to make a short film based around people that come out at night and give you dreams and nightmares, but the more I worked on it the more I realised it needed to be a feature.

It all started because I was in love with Snow White when I was about four years old. But I was also terribly afraid of the witch in Snow White (in old woman form). I was always convinced the witch was going to kidnap me from my bed while I slept. That image stuck with me my whole life and so I started to build a story from it asking: “Who is the monster and how did he become?” Consequently, Ink still looks a lot like the witch from Snow White.

You dropped out of film school - how hard was it to keep going after that and to get a foothold in the industry?

I grew up making films on VHS and editing on two VCRs so by the time I got to film school I arrogantly thought there wasn't a whole lot they could teach me. I did learn a lot of film history and theory in film school, but I quickly made the decision that my time and money were best spent making movies rather than going to school. I was reading Robert Rodriguez's book [Rebel Without A Crew] and that's what really pushed me over the edge.

It was hard to get a foothold in the industry, but I think it's hard whether you go to film school or not. In the end, no one is asking if you have a film degree, I don't even think anyone's asked me if I have a high school diploma. All that matters is what you have done. For me it took making a lot of shorts before I was able to make anything even remotely watchable. But that was my film school. I learned a lot not only about storytelling, but how to make a movie with whatever you have.

I think the choice of film school is really a personal one. I dropped out, but I know a lot of filmmakers who have made invaluable contacts and friends through film school. It doesn't seem there's any one right way to get into filmmaking.

An evil Incubus
Ink is shot in Colorado - did shooting outside of the more 'traditional' metropolitan centres help you or hinder you, and why?

I grew up in Colorado and like most young folks trying to get into film, I thought that I needed to be in LA or New York to make movies. But after living in LA for a year I realised that I gravitated a lot more towards indie filmmaking than studio filmmaking. It's not that I didn't like Hollywood films, it's that I realised it wasn't a director's world, but rather a producer's world. It would be extremely hard to get final cut and have a real voice. In addition, I found it pretty difficult to shoot in LA. When you're just a kid with a camera it's shocking to learn about all the permits you have to pay for and unions you have to deal with.

So I returned to Denver where I got the benefits of a city, but the connections and support of a town. Ink and my first feature film 11:59 were both shot there and I don't know that I could have made them any other way. We had an enormous amount of support not only from our friends, but also from the city itself. They don't charge for permits and really worked with us to make our films a success.

Unfortunately Denver doesn't have tax incentives so it's questionable whether or not we'll be able to continue shooting bigger projects there.

Chris Kelly plays a stressed-out dad who has to re-examine his life
How difficult was the film to cast?

Casting is always difficult. It's truly the most important decisions you make. I had worked with Chris Kelly several times before and he stands as one of my favourite actors working. He's also great to work with. So I actually wrote the part of John with him in mind. The rest of the cast were either actors that I had seen in other films and liked or just recommendations from agencies.

Because it was an ensemble, we had to do a lot of auditions combining actors together to see how the chemistry all worked. In the end we felt really fortunate to get the people we did. They were all wonderful on screen and are like family now.

Were you concerned about shooting such an ambitious film on a comparatively low budget of $250,000? Did it encourage you to be innovative in your approach or was it frustrating?

We were always concerned, but yet very determined. Originally I was hoping to shoot with around $1-2 million, but I just didn't have the recognition as a director to get a budget like that. So we ultimately decided to make the movie even if it was just going to be us mortgaging our house to pay for it. Fortunately we were able to pull together a handful of brave souls who believed in us and gave us the money. But we really were willing to shoot the whole movie with a handicam and no lights if necessary.

The lack of budget did make us more innovative for sure. We were constantly making decisions we wouldn't have made if we could have just thrown money at problems. People ask if we really wished we had more money for Ink and I generally say “no”. It wouldn't be Ink if we had more money.

Your film became something of a social network sensation after it's digital release in 2009 - not least, because of the huge amounts of illegal downloads. How did you feel about that initially at the time - and has your opinion changed in retrospect?

The indie world has really taken a blood bath in the last few years and we were really well read about the many problems filmmakers were having. In particular, we came to realise that the greatest threat to indie films wasn't piracy, but rather obscurity. There are so many films being made now that it's simply difficult to be seen.

Ink's distinctive fantasy look became a hit thanks to piracy
We didn't have any money for marketing Ink and though we had some real success building a fan base screening by screening, we were still moving at a snail's pace. When Ink hit piratebay and it blew up overnight I was initially in shock because I had no idea why the hell it was blowing up. But my shock immediately turned to joy because I realised that Ink would no longer be obscure.

As a result of the piracy our sales went up and we got incredible exposure we never would have gotten otherwise. So my opinion on the matter hasn't changed. We're thrilled it happened the way it did and above all else we're thrilled to have fans.

What are your plans for the future? Are more films in the same genre in the pipeline or are you planning something different.

We've been developing another sci-fi/fantasy for the past few years and are optimistic it will shoot sometime this year. We're keeping it under wraps at the moment, but we're really excited about it. At the moment I'm really interested in working in the mind-bending and sci-fi/fantasy genres, but I genuinly love everything, so we'll see what the future brings.

Ink is out to own on DVD from April 25. Pre-order a copy from Amazon here

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