In an era of heated poltical/cultural tension between man & machine, a young misunderstood human computer hacker and undercover robot cop must overcome their differences whilst procuring a caper to expose the cyber crime queen of the future. Dissolved Girl is directed by Kai Kaldro. We spoke to him about the making of his film for LA Indies.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
I’ve always gravitated towards the subgenre of sci-fi action, what’s referred to as “cyberpunk” - which, in essence, is a niche that almagates visual/tonal elements of old film noir detective mysteries, Japanese animation, and an underground heavy metal edge. 3 of my favorite things right there! But I wanted something that was gritty, mysterious, and abrasive on the surface, yet harbors a warm human touch that’d be universally accessible. As much as I enjoy and support the most boisterous of action pictures that come out these days, I feel as though any sensitive human element always being jettisoned is what prevents so many of them from being classics and resonating further.
The one recurring idea that’s always inspired my work is that of characters and worlds with what would be considered “self-contradicting” attributes, that forego our preconceptions, because the reality of every person and every place is that we’re never only one thing all the time; and it’s this exact dissonance that further manifests in the character of Lenore Warner AKA Dissolved Girl (played by Alexandra Faye Sadeghian; I Kill Demons, Shakespeare Sh*tstorm, The Devil’s Network) a misunderstood, genius level human computer hacker and combat-ready tech renegade, who behind the weapons, circuit boards, and wires is unbelievably the ultimate girl’s girl, complete with an ornate bedroom endowed with a small army of stuffed animals and princess mirror. Dissolved Girl, in full costume (as she playfully suggests “half motorcycle chick, half Snow White”) is a symbol of reclaiming lost innocence and claiming a princess throne in a desolate time. It was Lenore’s girlhood and innocence that were stolen from her when she came of age in a world marred by a political/cultural war between man & machine (hence her alias and the title of the film) plagued by what are ultimately allegories of the same politics, algorithms, black & white thinking that have gotten really heated in the world we live in the past 5 or 6 years, and the confusion of growing into an adult during the tumultuous divisive climate of mid-to-late 2010s and now 2020s.
Alexandra Faye Sadeghian and Kai Kaldro
It’s become something of a prerequisite for science fiction stories to try and predict the future or be ahead of their time, often set in a distant year that we’ll all eventually reach, and then on the day, utter a lot sardonic disillusionment about because there are no flying cars and robots; Dissolved Girl is not intended to be ahead of its time, it’s intended to define it’s time, which is why it’s set in our current year of 2021 - but of course a different 2021 with a different, and yet similar history proceeding it.
Lenore is a lone wolf because she didn’t choose a side or even succumb to a niche in this divide; such as the maladjusted technologically inclined human youths who are violently bigoted towards robots, yet consider themselves victims. And it’s this maladjustment and alienation that is taken advantage of with the utmost politicization by respected billionaire internet entrepreneur by day, cyber-crime queen by night; Talia Tramell, whose criminal empire is encapsulated by the angry tech-savvy human youths.
And that’s where the character of Val McGinnis (played by Ivelaw Peters, L'Odge d'Oor) a robot cop undercover as one of Tramell’s lackeys is drawn towards Lenore and conducts his own mission in subverting Tramell and the equally corrupt NYPD (both of whom are gunning for Dissolved Girl), and insists on Lenore joining forces to bring down the cyber-crime syndicate. Like Lenore, Val blurs the lines. In the world of Dissolved Girl; now is the time for those who think for themselves to stand up, and I hope it inspires those in the audience to do the same.
Alexandra Faye Sadeghian as Lenore Warner AKA Dissolved Girl
What is the most challenging aspect of working in this particular genre?
I think it wasn't so much the genre, as it is my own personal manifesto or vision I was so hellbent on for what this subgenre should be that made production so challenging. I’m a visual/mood oriented filmmaker, for me (especially being an editor and VFX artist as well) the technical facets so often marginalized by low budget filmmakers or film professors as being “tricks” or “icing on the cake” are very much the basics and main entree in my book. Dissolved Girl’s art direction, production design, visual effects, color palette, and especially the original score/soundtrack HAD to look and sound a certain way that I think is a bit antiquated and isn’t too popular or readily available these days, even on big budget Hollywood pictures.
We needed Dissolved Girl’s NYC to be a stark exhibit of greek/gothic architecture and Japanese/Chinese symbols encrusted with graffiti, much in the vein of the late but great Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987) or Batman Forever (1995) *Mr. Schumacher is one of my greatest inspirations, I was heartbroken by his passing last year* or of course, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), which we achieved by isolating a graffiti mural or gothic building (sometimes as far as a borough apart) shot by shot in montage to suggest the surroundings being comparable in one continuous location; all a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s not! I remember handing our incredibly talented cinematographer Lidia Marukyan (Holding, Frannie, Hamlet/Horatio) my story/mood boards where the color for each scene was completely different, yet very harsh; from icy monochrome teal, to rosy red/pink, to a whole spectrum of neon. We didn’t have big tungsten lights or C-stands, but with all but some LEDs and gels, Lidia and our AC/gaffer Rachel Parrella managed to beautifully diversify and define Dissolved Girl’s world with the utmost expertise, really can’t wait to work with these ladies again!
I think many were surprised by how adamant I was about there being an industrial rock/metal soundtrack (feat. Rae Radick, introducing Cosmic Balance Machine) or a score comprised solely with a wailing electric guitar (by Charles Rakes), and allocating so much of our modest budget towards that, but Dissolved Girl is a picture propelled by rock n roll energy, so no matter what anyone told me, I would not relent that. As a youngster coming up in the 2000s, my affinity for the action flicks I re-watched endlessly was solidified by their rock/heavy metal soundtracks (many of which I owned on CD too), which always compounded their cool boisterous, rebellious nature. It’s just something I grew up with and always loved. After those tunes went out of fashion, I kept listening, always dreaming of making a robot-wielding-gun flick that bestowed that very energy... well the day is here, and hey y’know what? I got something I like even better!
The insanely talented Rae Radick’s original song from Dissolved Girl “Blur The Lines'' definitely has that industrial edge, but as a pop/country artist, she evoked many wonderful nuances into it; like a sensitive human touch that appropriately reflects the duality of the character Lenore becoming a force to be reckoned with by accepting her own sensitive, feminine side. I love it, could not be more proud of Rae & the folks at Ghidrah Music. This shall forever be the Dissolved Girl theme song! Listen to ‘Blur The Lines’ here on Spotify:
Ivelaw Peters as Val McGinnis
When did you realize that you wanted to work in media and make films and what was the first film project that you created as a director?
I think I always knew ever since I was a toddler that I wanted to make movies. I remember the first movie I ever saw in the cinema was Spider-Man 2 (2004) when I was just three years old, and a few years later when I was six, with the help of some neighborhood kids, I made my own little Spider-Man movie that pushed 10 minutes. We shot it on my mom’s super 2000s camcorder, used Halloween costumes, cut it on Windows Movie Maker and composited the rough visual effects in Microsoft Paint. Definitely something pre-teens made, but to my young self, it was the first step into a larger world.
But it wasn’t til end of 2019 that I birthed what I consider the firstborn of my filmography; Sinner’s Lullaby - a 26 minute long black & white neo-noir mystery that follows a young private detective and her lounge singer girlfriend when confronted with a menacing face from the past on the eve of a criminal empire’s downfall.
Alexandra Faye Sadeghian, Ivelaw Peters, Kai Kaldro,
Lidia Marukyan, Rachel Parrella, and M Wolf Snyder
On set of Dissolved Girl, November 2020
How did you choose the cast and the crew of the film and what was the most challenging aspect of production?
Alexandra Faye I’d met through some colleagues and I remember she was both very personable, yet professional in asking to see some of my work, so I sent her my rough cut of Sinner’s Lullaby at the time. She actually had several completed shorts and even features out in the jungle, that she’d either worked in front or behind the camera on, so I gave them a shot and we quickly came to the consensus that, we both aspired to make otherworldly genre-driven pictures with a lot of bullets, blood, and blades, despite our modest budgets - for a lack of a better description haha. A really talented up and coming actress with an amazing career ahead of her, who I can’t wait to work with again, she really fleshed out the character of Lenore and injected such nuance into these dramatically contradicting attributes and evoked such believability in them.
Her co-star Ivelaw Peters I met on set of the independent religious satire anthology feature “L'Odge d'Oor”, in which he portrays as a Christian naturist, and because Alexandra evokes such feriosity on screen, and Ivelaw is so laid back and has that fun aura of not getting fazed easily and just rolling his eyes at complete obscenities, I kept wondering about what it’d be like getting him and Alexandra in the same room together and having them fight, but hug it out too. I love their chemistry.
The hardest part of production was undeniably finishing the cutting the picture after the tragic passing of our production sound mixer, and my buddy/mentor M Wolf Snyder (Nomadland, The Rider), just a week before his 36th birthday in March 2021. I’d never been so heartbroken. Dissolved Girl is dedicated in loving memory of Wolf. He and I had been close since we first met on set. As soon as I turned 18 in spring of 2019, I moved back to Brooklyn, where I was born, determined to begin my path as a filmmaker. In a way, much like Lenore in our picture; moving from a small town to the big city on her own, determined to make it on her own, but in need of positive nurturing force or direction. I was struggling to find the lay of the land as a production assistant, but Wolf treated me with the utmost respect and warmth. While so many I was meeting or working with at the time would often just dismiss me as being a stupid kid (sadly, sometimes even in those exact words to my face), he didn’t care about my age or resume, he still he handed me his business card and treated me as a colleague. Wolf was such a lovely guy, he didn’t subscribe to industry sycophantism, hierarchies, or on-set politics.
He’d sometimes tell me that he considered himself a bit of a “lone wolf”, but I think it was more that Wolf was actually friends with everyone indiscriminately, and it really set a positive example for me that being honest and kind means something in the long run. He was honored by Chloe Zhou and Frances McDormand upon receiving the academy award for Nomadland last month.
While shooting Dissolved Girl last November, the cast & crew couldn't get enough of Wolf and would later express to me their admiration for the man and how eager they were to work with him again. He gave me strong words of encouragement both professionally, as a colleague when I'd get anxious on set and doubtful of my directorial abilities, and personally as a friend, when my social anxiety and self-doubt were getting the better of me. My favorite Wolf quote is “gotta remember to breathe, man!”.
Seems as though it’s always the best ones who leave us first. It was an honor knowing him and I’ll miss him always. Holding for sound til the end for my mentor & friend.
M Wolf Snyder
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a director and which genres do you prefer to work on?
I consider myself an action filmmaker. As I’ve emphasized, I’m very keen on cyberpunk, but equally neo-noir; my previous short Sinner’s Lullaby is very much a love letter to classic black & white mysteries from the 40s and 50s, and strives to emulate that old-school class and grace, complete with pearls, pillbox/fedora hats, trench coats, venetians, and a lounge serenade.
Much like how self-polarized the characters and the worlds in Dissolved Girl (as well as Sinner’s Lullaby are), I have very two-sided aspirations and affinities when it comes to the films I love most and the ones I aspire to make. It got to a point a few years ago when I’d go from watching and loving Lauren Bacall serenade Humphrey Bogart by singing Ella Fitzgerald’s “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine” one minute, to equally loving a leather-clad Wesley Snipes or Kate Beckinsale slashing up vampires over an early 2000s alt-metal soundtrack the next, and I thought to myself “for how different these are, I don’t see either anymore, and I want to”.
Honestly, I’d love to work in “a subgenre within a subgenre” that encapsulates a cynical, spiritually oppressive world being terraformed by it’s renegades into a playground where the night never ends, which somehow bares both that antiquated class of a Hitchcock or Huston mystery, and yet the gothic rock & roll edge of say The Crow (1994) or The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society?
I think cinema ultimately came to be because it’s always been such a tough world where we might go for years at a time with certain voids in our lives that feel inescapable; we don’t have the careers we want, we don’t have a love interest, or we just feel hopeless - but we go into a dark room for 2 hours and sit with 200 some strangers to experience some kind surrogate where the characters we project ourselves onto not only find what we’re looking for, but in a completely different fantastical world that’s linked to our’s through our fundamental human needs or emotions, it’s a spiritually nourishing experience and that’s the impact cinema can and always has had on us.
Other art-forms or mediums have a similar therapeutic effect like literature, music, painting, or even makeup, y’know - I know makeup artists who’ll come from a hard day's work at their day job that isn’t makeup related at all and do themselves up to unwind. So cinema is ultimately bridging these other artforms and getting writers, score composers, animators/storyboard artists, or makeup artists, and many others together to orchestrate the ultimate rescue for us.
What is your next film project as a director?
Good question, I’m heading straight into feature versions of Sinner’s Lullaby and Dissolved Girl. I’m currently overseeing some pre-production work with our wonderful producer Alice Shy, pertaining to Sinner’s Lullaby - if all goes accordingly, we’ll be shooting come spring of 2022 and it’ll be my first feature film. I’m so excited!
I wrote the first draft of the feature Sinner’s Lullaby script during the initial covid-19 lockdown March-May of 2020, we always had this succinct roadmap of how to do it on a modest budget and on location here in Brooklyn. It’s gonna have lots of action, a lot of suspense, lots of practical special effects, lots of mystery, but at its core; a beautiful mystery of love.
From there, we hope to get our foot in the door for the feature length Dissolved Girl, which has a script in progress right now. The more we hear back from festivals about this short version, the more I suddenly feel that urgency to go hammer down more pages or storyboards and send more material over for my those involved to work with, but it’s a good dichotomy that keeps me moving and growing, and growing with a character who I think many will come to know and love quite well.
Dissolved Girl will return!