Spotlight on Local Filmmakers: The Kinnane Brothers

By Andrea E. McHugh

The group of eight brothers (seven by blood, one by marriage) on making “Water Brother” and other films

BEFORE FILMING DOCUMENTARIES AROUND the world and creating feature films with Hollywood glitteratti, the Kinnane Brothers were just seven boys growing up in Adamsville, a historic village in Little Compton, having fun in front of and behind the camera.

“We re-enacted a lot of our favorite films and it’s really what kept us entertained in this area,” says Charles “Chuck” Kinnane, the oldest of the siblings, referring to the village’s otherwise quiet living. “We’d have all the kids from town and all our family, and it was just so much fun. We’d work on the movies all day, and then we’d show them at night, and everyone would get together and laugh. They were always comedies.”

Chuck moved to New York City to work in film and television while his younger brothers — Dan, Patrick, Brendan, Peter, John and William — continued their schooling and made home movies — all self-taught. Eventually, most pursued carpentry, while Chuck stayed in the film industry, married, and later moved back to Rhode Island. It was the so-called eighth brother — the Kinnane’s brother-in-law Jeff Azize, married to Maureen Kinnane — who said out loud what seemed to be glaringly obvious when Chuck needed help for a project.

“I got this job, and I needed crew, and Jeff was like, ‘Hey, hire the guys [his brothers].They’re all here. They all love doing it. They’ve been making their own stuff for years.’ So, at his suggestion, we hired the guys and then we started working together,” recalls Chuck. “After we worked together for a while, we were like, ‘Let’s make a run for it. Let’s try to break into the business and make a movie. Let’s follow the dream.’”

The Kinnane brothers (and Azize) collectively poured their time and energy into movie making, creating everything from short films and documentaries to an NBC Olympics special.

“It wasn’t until lockdown happened that we got stuck in a garage with Kevin James during Covid,” laughs Chuck. Quarantined with James — a wildly popular television actor, film star, and comedian — the brothers did what they do best: they got behind the camera.

The Kinnanes churned out dozens of videos for James’s YouTube channel, which boasts nearly one million followers. Their Sound Guy series, featuring James as a klutzy sound tech hilariously dubbed into iconic movie scenes from blockbusters, including Rocky, Braveheart, The Notebook, and Jaws, went viral, with just shy of 50 million views to date. Their next adventure with James was on the 2022 hit feature film, Home Team, a family-friendly football comedy for Netflix, co-produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions.

A more recent project brought the Kinnane Brothers closer to home. They’ve been working on the wide release of Water Brother, a feature documentary that follows the life of Sid Abbruzzi, a Newport native and surf icon, following his “lifelong passion for surfing, skating, and his commitment to protecting the sport’s history and culture.”

The Kinnane Brothers, with Sid Abbruzzi, center, at the screening of their film “Water Brother” last year.

Showcased by newportFILM at the end of last summer (subsequently “breaking the Internet” as the website crashed with throngs of people desperate for tickets), the documentary was personal as the brothers grew up visiting Abbruzzi’s surf shop as kids with their father, an active surfer even today.

In a full-circle moment, some of the archival footage was shot by the young Kinnanes as far back as 25 years ago, including an interview with skateboard legend Tony Hawk.

“It was the greatest gift because we had all this footage,” says Kinnane. “Sid gave me the camera back then and said, ‘Hey, shoot a bunch of stuff,’ and it ended up in the film.”

Wil Kinnane, a producer, says the scope of the brothers’ role can include project development, finding funding, being brought onto existing projects, and helping see film projects through from start to finish. There are some extraordinary benefits to working with family, he says.

“When I talk to the guys, they are very honest when it comes to feedback, and I think that really helps with our craft and what we’re trying to achieve. There’s no tiptoeing around,” he explains. “We like to do a brain dump of the creative flow of what works and what’s not working. Everyone goes their separate ways indifferent aspects of the project, but we do love to have that flow of communication of creativity where we can, at any given moment, drop an idea or perspective.”

As a full-service independent film, television and content production company, Kinnane Brothers is currently working on projects in both television and film.

For aspiring filmmakers, Chuck Kinnane points out that while film school is one way to pursue the craft, it’s not the only way to succeed. “I’ve always said film schools are great for networking…and you make a lot of great connections, and you kind of ‘form your team’ coming out of film school, but there’s no substitute for on-the-job training.”