Telling stories is what twins Jordan and Aaron Kandell do best. They were part of the writing team for Disney’s animated film Moana, and now their screenwriting talents have produced one of this summer’s most anticipated movie releases, Adrift.
They look and sound alike, share the same friends, have the same hobbies and even live next door to each other. Call them inseparable, but for twin brothers Aaron and Jordan Kandell, the bond is a package deal that proves two heads are better than one, particularly when it comes to their career as screenwriters.
On June 1, their new film, Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley (Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) and Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games), will be released worldwide. Based on the inspiring true story of two sailors, Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, who set out to journey across the ocean from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983, but unexpectedly sailed directly into Hurricane Raymond, a devastating storm that left Sharp badly injured and the couple’s boat in ruins.
“We found Tami’s incredible, true survival-at-sea story, bought the book, read it overnight and cried,” recalls Jordan. “It’s just one of those stories that — it doesn’t happen often — when you find it, you know that’s the story you want to tell.”
The next day, the brothers flew to San Juan Islands to meet with Oldham, and that would be the start of their five-year passion project. They served as writers and producers, and filming took place in Fiji for seven weeks, and New Zealand for three weeks.
“It’s woman versus nature with this really beautiful love story at the core,” adds Aaron. “These two young sailors, who meet and had this sweeping cinematic affair in Tahiti that leads to him proposing to her the night before they sail off on this million-dollar yacht, and it just turns into this incredible story of love and survival.”
The movie also has another Hawai‘i connection: The couple’s actual boat, which is named Hazan~a and is pictured on this issue’s cover, was sailed to Hawai‘i, where it was purchased and restored by a local family.
Born and raised in Kaimukī, the Kandells graduated from ‘Iolani School in 2001, sharing class valedictorian honors, and studied film and creative writing at University of Southern California. They started a production company called Twin Ink, and have written feature film and television projects for Disney Animation, Warner Brothers Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Legendary and Paramount Pictures.
They were part of the writing team for Disney’s animated film Moana, which, like Adrift, also follows a young woman on an epic adventure at sea while finding inspiration and strength along the way.
“I think we need more stories like that — more stories from the Pacific and more stories from local communities,” says Aaron. “If we can be the vessels to help manifest even in a small degree or inspire other storytellers to tell their own stories and look around for their own adventure, that’s what we’re hoping with the movies we choose to make.”
Next up, they’re writing a movie for Netflix called Super-Normal, starring Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley and Luke Evans, and are writing another “as yet, unannounced project” for Disney.
“We’re very much two heads on one body, but there are slight personality differences and different strengths we have in our writing and professional career,” notes Jordan. “Personality-wise, I’m more front of the house, and Aaron’s more back in the house.
“Also, Aaron is very much more the strong-willed one in the relationship. When he believes in something very strongly, he’ll fight for it to the end. I’m much more flexible and open to exploration to find what’s the right line or story choice.”
Jordan’s voice also is slightly lower. “Sexier is what it is,” he jokes. And according to his 5-year-old daughter, Leia, dad’s face is more round while “uncle Aaron’s face is more oval.”
For as long as they can remember, the Kandells did everything together. They were “water babies” that shared a love for the ocean, started kindergarten at ‘Iolani together, both turned in 30-page stories for a three-page writing assignment in second grade (one of the first signs of their passion for writing), and grew up surfing, kayaking paddling, sailing and diving. In fact, after our interview at a coffee shop in the Ilikai Hotel and photo shoot at Ala Wai Boat Harbor, the twins were planning to paddle out and surf.
“If we’re not writing or with our kids and families, we’re either in the water or in the theater watching movies together,” shares Jordan, listing their favorite surf spots as Cliffs and Black Point, along with Makapu‘u for body surfing; and their favorite movie snack as popcorn and kakimochi with peanut butter M&Ms.
They also married girls from their childhood. Jordan went to Unity School with wife Rebecca, and they lived five houses apart. “The save-the-date for our wedding was a picture of us at 3 in pre-school at the Christmas pageant,” he shares. “She went to Punahou and we reconnected in college, but our families have known each other our whole lives.”
Aaron married his high school sweetheart, Trina Orimoto, a clinical psychologist with the state Department of Health. They have a 2-year-old son, Cole.
And while most people assume Aaron and Jordan are identical twins, they don’t even know if they are or not.
“I was a surprise twin,” explains Aaron, who is 4 minutes younger than Jordan. “My parents didn’t know they were having twins until I came out.
“The story is (Mom) had to do an emergency C-section. They pulled Jordan out and I was stuck under her rib, so they were getting ready to sew her back up and then they were like, wait, there’s another pair of feet in here.”
They also have an older brother, Keith, who is a filmmaker and fashion director.
As for their future, it’s to continue to write impactful stories, including true local stories.
“The goal is the same as it always was from the minute we started, which was just to tell stories we’re passionate about,” says Jordan. “That’s the only reason we decided to do this. We wrote our cheesy Jerry Maguire mission statement when we were 23 and first starting out, and it had three things on it: sell a screenplay, get a movie made, and get a movie made that we’re really proud of.
“We did all three, but that third one was really the only main goal — just to tell stories that we think are important, that matter and touch and inspire audiences. Growing up, why we wanted to become filmmakers, it’s from all these movies that were so meaningful and helped shaped our understanding of the world and our position in it, and I think those are the kinds of movies we want to help spread.”