9:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Meet the Secret Weapon Behind Kevin James' Viral Short Films: 8 Brothers in Long Island
Over the past six months, Kevin James’ YouTube channel has been churning out the hits, with more than a dozen short films garnering over 1 million views apiece. Particularly popular has been a “Sound Guy” series that finds the King of Queens star expertly edited into films like The Notebook, Rocky, Joker, Inception and I Am Legend, the latter of which racked up 5.6 million views.
James accomplished all of this during a global pandemic when production was largely paused. The secret to his YouTube success? Turns out it’s not just one thing — it’s eight brothers.
James worked with a tight-knit filmmaking collective known as the Kinnane Brothers. Charles, Dan, Pat, Brendan, Pete, John, Wil and Jeffrey Azize (who is actually a brother-in-law) hail from Little Compton, Rhode Island, and range in age from 20 to 37 years old. (There are 10 total Kinnane siblings, with two sisters and one other brother.) They spent the bulk of the extended period of isolation in a filmmaking bubble working out of James’ garage in Long Island.
Charles says the formation of the company happened organically as he and Jeff were working on documentaries in Brooklyn. They needed to source a crew for a project and wound up drafting their brothers, the bulk of whom were working in the family’s carpentry business and making YouTube content for fun. “We were trying to find people we liked working with,” he adds. “So we just built a crew at home.”
In 2017, they officially formed a full-service independent film, TV and content production company and named it, of course, the Kinnane Brothers. Since then, they’ve worked on a few small projects like NBC’s Next Olympic Hopeful and a short film titled Rigor Mortis that premiered at the Austin Film Festival. It was enough to facilitate an introduction to James through a friend. When isolation orders went into effect in March, the brothers happened to be in talks with James, who was forced to postpone a stand-up tour and other projects.
“He said, ‘Hey, if you guys want to do this safely, we could quarantine together,'" recalls Charles of the plan that saw them stay at an Airbnb property near James' home and shuttle back and forth as a “self-contained unit.” For six months, they collaborated on the short-film series with each of the brothers focused on specific duties. Charles and Dan write and direct; Pat and Brendan write (Brendan also does music supervision); John writes and handles all the visual effects; Pete serves as the editor; and Jeffrey Azize and Wil write and produce.
“We would come in with a couple of ideas, throw them around and tweak a bit,” explains John. “Then we go out, maybe comp it, and if the idea works, prep and get ready to shoot later that day. It often was a quick turnaround.”
Charles says the experience has been a creative jolt for the brothers with an unexpected payoff of seeing James in action as a performer. “We knew that he was an incredible actor and had that range, even though he’s known for comedy films, so it was fun for us to show all of his nuance and the genius that is Kevin James,” he explains, adding that, as the eldest Kinnane, he realized what a unique opportunity they had to work so closely and creatively with an established star. “Normally there are a lot of barriers to that kind of opportunity. It was a huge gift to us, and these guys weren’t intimidated by it and they just crushed it.”
They’ve emerged with plans to keep pushing along with feature film projects and perhaps more collaborations with James down the line, though they are careful to keep from saying too much. What John will say, however, is that despite six months in close quarters with all Kinnanes blood, they are still on good terms. “It definitely had its challenges,” he says with a laugh. “But we will still always be brothers.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.