In an era of heated political/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 cybercrime queen of the future. Kai Kaldro, the director of the Dissolved Girl has stated that the project is a cyberpunk manifesto that seeks to win the hearts of audience members who are misjudged and predisposed in this cynical, divided, digitally marred future. Whether you're man, machine, or a princess on the inside; now is the time for those who are different to stand up and blur the lines!
Kai Kaldro is a director, editor, and screenwriter born April 2001 in Brooklyn, New York. Best known for his work on independent action films, as well as rock music videos for acts such as RANN, Peri El, Dahna, and Pam Steebler. His narrative works which he wrote, directed, and edited include the 2020 black & white neo-noir short "Sinner's Lullaby", followed by the short cyberpunk epic "Dissolved Girl" - which premiered on the big screen in Rutherford, New Jersey in April of 2021. As early as age 6, he'd expressed an affinity for filmmaking; that summer he made a Spider-Man fan-movie with neighborhood kids, using mom's camcorder, Halloween costumes, and Windows Movie Maker. Wasting no time, Kaldro dropped out of high school at age 16, determined to make it on his own and begin his path as a filmmaker. He attended the 1 year conservatory filmmaking program at New York Film Academy from 2019-2020.
Kaldro's pictures are heavy on visual style and their original rock/metal soundtracks. Thematically, they explore ideas of perceived reality, misunderstood characters subverting their archetypes, and the sensitive human side of action heroes. As a director, he affects a knack for low-budget minimalist action/special effects and creative problem-solving. We had the pleasure of speaking to Kai about his film project.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
My first filmmaking attempt was as early as age six, in 2007. It was the summer between kindergarten and first grade. With the help of neighborhood kids, I procured a 10-minute Spider-Man short, shot on a camcorder. We utilized Halloween costumes, composited the hilariously rough “visual FX” in Microsoft Paint, and cut the whole thing together in Windows Movie Maker. Definitely something that pre-teen kids made, but at the time it felt like my first step into a larger world.
Growing up, I had other fascinations apart from film like harder rock/heavy metal music and comic-books, but because cinema is an amalgamation of all different art forms: I was not diverted by, but encouraged to stand by my medium and infuse my other affinities. Music translates into soundtracks, comic-books evolve into storyboards and thus my shorts Sinner’s Lullaby (2020) and Dissolved Girl (2021) are exceedingly soundtrack-oriented, with entire sequences that emulate comic-book panels or are edited like rock music videos.
What genre of filmmaking are you looking to work on and why?
The plan is to continue making action films in the neo-noir and cyberpunk subgenres, but feature length ones. Cyberpunk is a niche of sci-fi that incorporates elements from Japanese animation and has an underground rock n roll edge to it. At least, that’s what I set out to portray in Dissolved Girl, starring Alexandra Faye Sadeghian and Ivelaw Peters. Set during an era of heated political war between man & machine, a young human computer hacker and an uncover robot cop must overcome their differences whilst procuring a caper to expose the cybercrime queen of the future.
I’m an evangelist for black & white film, but it’s ultimately contingent upon the script. Sinner’s Lullaby was a heavy handed homage to old detective films and thematically deals with extremes and the darker & lighter sides of it’s heroes, so shooting black & white more loyally translated in a literal sense, and was just beautiful. The picture had a quaint pre-digital setting, whereas Dissolved Girl is very futuristic and technology is a character in and of itself in the film, so not only is it in color a whole spectrum of electronic neon or monochrome tints.
I’m from New York City and love to set my films in an otherworldly gritty, reimagined version of this place littered with anachronisms that conflate classic film noir and the fiercest of 90s MTV. I think I often describe it to the production designers as “if Rob Zombie gave Gotham City a face-lift!”
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Just like studio productions, there’s this urgency to target certain demographics in order to profit, and while I certainly had fans of The Matrix or Blade Runner in mind when promoting Dissolved Girl, I think you ultimately have remove yourself from algorithms and send a copy over to what you consider the least likely circuits, no matter how niche or far from mass consumption you feel because that’s where even the really wild stuff that developed a cult following like Rocky Horror Picture Show started; indiscriminately out in the open and letting the people decide.
What put things in perspective and I’m really touched by is being approached folks who will tell me that while they don’t care for the direct influences behind Dissolved Girl, they really connect with the story and appreciate it on the basis of the characters and the performances, and seeing this dystopia from the perspective of a young woman, Lenore Warner played by Alexandra Faye Sadeghian, and one whose struggling to find that balance between being tough, but also embracing her softer feminine side she feels an onus to obfuscate from the rest of the world to protect herself.
Truthfully, I think you never know who’s going to watch much less like your film, and I think it’s always worth whatever risk you feel to just let the world see it.
How challenging is it to fund indie films?
I think funding any picture, big or small, is a nerve wracking challenge where you constantly second-guess it being a prudent investment. I stand in a funny middle ground! As illustrated to me by the producers on the feature-length Sinner’s Lullaby now in pre-production, my work exceeds a “low budget” down to the action-packed production demands, and yet, costs nothing as far as action movies these days go because we’re also not quite trying to level the city with CGI alien armies or anything either. At least not yet!
Not Sundance material, but not quite a popcorn flick either; wherein your movie has a lot of bullets, blades, and the fun one-liners you know you’re going to put at the end of the trailer as soon as you write them in the script— but at the same time, you want to do something “escentric” or “artsy” like shoot in black & white or have a structure or direction more indicative of a past era or another genre. With that said, this doesn’t discourage me because I think the films which most inspire me provoked that sort of scrutiny during their production, wherein they were written off as these weird liabilities that weren’t compatible with the general audience, but would later become such big hits for how unique and uncompromising their visions and the executions of their visions were.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
I want to say that my films owe the most to Lily & Lana Wachowski, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sam Raimi. Although, The Crow (1994) is a huge inspiration and one of my favorite films, if not my favorite, so Alex Proyas is an honorable mention.
The Wachowskis always carried mystique in my eyes. As a youngster, I watched the behind-the-scenes featurettes on the DVDs for The Matrix trilogy even more than the films themselves. Bound, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and V For Vendetta are also all very close to my heart and lead me to embrace my most off-kilter ideas and more obscure influences. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy really taught me how to stand by my comic-book-like, over-the-top nature in an unapologetic way and to rebel against budget restraints by really contemplating just how much is possible with one location. I admire how, in essence, it’s been a family business with his wife Gillian and his brothers Ted & Ivan (and perhaps surrogate brother Bruce Campbell!), as well as his children who’ve made cameos in his later pictures. I hope to work that closely knit in my filmography to come! The Quick & The Dead (1995) is a big favorite of mine from Mr. Raimi. Sharon Stone’s amazingly strong nuanced portrayal as the gunslinging outlaw with a moral soul has been a big reference point for that of the leading ladies in Sinner’s Lullaby and Dissolved Girl.
I think the aforementioned filmmakers also sport influence from The Master of Suspense, so when I discovered Hitch’s work when I was 11, I saw where a lot of cinematic techniques originated. My all time favorite is Rear Window! The love story between Jimmy Stewart & Grace Kelly had a huge impact on both Charlotte & Barbara in Sinner’s Lullaby and Lenore & Val in Dissolved Girl; a couple who are from different worlds overcoming their differences by investigating and fighting crime really made an impression on my hopelessly romantic young self. I think that’s the perfect romantic audience surrogate and it’s just great cinema.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I’m an editor and director of music videos and often shoot live performances! My collaborations with musicians have seen editing the music video for indie-pop star Pam Steebler’s single “Noise”, directing & editing the video for “Meant to Be” by RANN, a great rock band who I also had the honor of hopping on stage to run camera on their opening for Jefferson Starship last summer, as well as having rolled camera on pop-rock queen Peri El opening for Kesha. Most recently I had the privilege of directing & editing the music video from electronic-jazz hybrid artist DAHNA, compounding her single “Sweet Nothings”.
On the horizon is the feature-length action-packed upgrade of Sinner’s Lullaby, which will see Dissolved Girl herself, Alexandra Faye Sadeghian as Charlotte Meridian, a rock guitarist moonlighting as private detective, and the great Swedish actress Elvira Levin reprising her role from the short version as the wholesome but kickass lounge singer Barbara Ann Bergman; as the two must band together in both the combative and musical sense on October 30th “Devil’s Night”, when the criminal underworld plaguing their city is mysteriously overthrown by an even more menacing figure. Get ready for the 3 Gs: guitars, guns, and goddesses!
What was the inspiration behind your latest film project?
It’s something of a prerequisite for science fiction stories to try predicting the future, often set in a distant year that we’ll all eventually reach, and then on the day, we utter a lot of sardonic disillusionment because there are no flying cars. Dissolved Girl is not intended to be ahead of its time, it’s intended to define it’s time, which is why it was set in the current year of 2021, but a reimagined yet similar one. Lenore is a lone wolf because she’s too smart to choose a side in her world’s political and cultural war, especially not the maladjusted tech-savy human youths who are violently bigoted towards robots, yet identify as victims. It’s this alienation that is taken advantage of by billionaire internet entrepreneur by day, cyber-crime queen by night; Talia Tramell, thus forming a criminal empire by exploiting that fear, hate, and abandonment. Val McGinnis, an robot cop undercover as one of Tramell’s subordinates is drawn towards Lenore and conducts his own mission in subverting Tramell and the NYPD (both of whom are gunning for Lenore), and insists on joining forces to bring down the cyber-crime empire. In the world of Dissolved Girl; now is the time for those who think for themselves to stand up, to bend and blur the lines, and I hope it inspires those in the audience to do the same. How did you find the cast and the crew of the film?
Alexandra Faye I’d been referred to during the pandemic. I remember she was both very personable and professional. At that point, she actually had several features out that she’d either worked in front or behind the camera on, and we quickly came to the consensus that we both aspire to make otherworldly genre-driven pictures with a lot of bullets, blood, and blades! A very talented, hard working actress and filmmaker with an amazing career ahead. She really fleshed out the character of Lenore and injected such nuance into these dramatically dissonant attributes and evoked such believability in them.
Ivelaw Peters I met on set of the religious anthology satire L'Odge d'Oor. He brandished a lot of funny deadpan almost Leslie Nielsen type beats in his performance, but I think he also has that physicality of a big action hero, and because Alexandra evokes such feriosity on screen, and Ivelaw is so cavalier, won’t get fazed easily, and just rolls his eyes at complete obscenities, I kept wondering about what it’d be like getting him and Alex in the same room together. I love that Lenore will utter such invectives while Val just shrugs. Val will make a joke, Lenore tries not to laugh. The two have such great chemistry.
On the same set as Ivelaw, I also met our late great production sound mixer M Wolf Snyder (1985-2021), best known for his work on Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland and The Rider. We lost him a week before his 36th birthday and a month before Dissolved Girl was completed. 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. He was honored by Zhao and Frances McDormand upon their receiving Best Picture for Nomadland at the 93rd Academy Award Ceremony. It was an honor knowing him and I’ll love & miss him always. What is the distribution plan of the film and did the film receive any screenings or was it featured in festivals?
Dissolved Girl had a small, intimate opening in spring of April 2021 at a cinema in New Jersey before covid restrictions settled, but later on screened at GainesCon in Seminole, Florida in November. What a great time! I felt ambivalent in entering Dissolved Girl into any festival circuit because of how it’s essentially like a comic-con flick, or scaled down version of one--- and this festival that Barry & Nicol Gaines run is in essence like the comic-con for shorts. A watershed for that beautiful balance between wanting to experiment, but still wanting to classically entertain and have a good fun time! Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your work have on the world?
I strive to balance stories pertaining to some kind of gritty underworld, but that also have an emotional availability, emotional maturity, and warm human touch. On a more spiritual level, I’ve always considered myself a really emotionally available and understanding guy, but I think because I’m a bit shy and have trouble simply looking people in the eye and smiling, I don’t quite convey that sort of warmth, so I oftentimes am not the first person people come to when they’ve had a bad day—- and for whatever I’m lacking in my personal interactions, I hope to better offer universally via a motion picture.
From a directorial standpoint, I simply just think that’s good cinema, to have big popcorn fun whilst also being moved and feeling some kind of heartful resonance.