Hi there! It’s a pleasure to have you today!
A pleasure to be here, thanks for having me!
First, can you introduce yourself to our readers and share a bit about who you aRE, where you’re from and what you do?
I’m a 21 year old film director, editor, and screenwriter from NYC whose filmography is encapsulated by music videos and shorts that artistically rebel against their budget restraints to emulate blockbuster spectacle— such as the cyberpunk transmission DISSOLVED GIRL. I was very lucky to be mentored by the late, great M Wolf Snyder (1985-2021), production sound recordist of the 2021 best picture Oscar-winner NOMADLAND starring Frances McDormand and on DISSOLVED GIRL, which is dedicated in Wolf’s memory. I’m in the financing phase on my feature debut SINNER’S LULLABY, a gothic neo-noir reimagined from the eponymous 20 minute short I shot and released 3 years ago. Attached are Kim & Kathryn Kluge (composers of Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE) and casting director Jan Glaser CSA (Rob Zombie’s 3 FROM HELL and THE MUNSTERS).
You are known for your work on music videos and independent but ambitious, action productions. Tell us how filmmaking started for you. Is there a specific time / event that made you realize that this is what you wanted to do?
I always knew I was going to be a filmmaker. In the summer after kindergarten, when I was just 6 years old, I made my own Spider-Man movie, which I still have taped someplace. Shot with neighborhood kids, on a camcorder. We utilized Halloween costumes, surrogated tripods with music stands, then I cut our 10 minute epic in Windows Movie Maker and composited hilariously rough visual FX in Microsoft Paint. But at the time, it was a brave new world!
Of course, any little boy loves Spidey– Spider-Man 2 (2004) was the first film I ever saw in the cinema— but to me, it wasn’t just an action figure, I was transfixed by the cinematic DNA of director Sam Raimi’s dramatic flair. Sam became my first directorial hero as I discovered his Evil Dead trilogy and my personal favorite; The Quick & The Dead (1995) with Sharon Stone.
There wasn’t a lot of adult supervision at my house growing up, what I benefited from this was getting to pop in whichever CDs and DVDs I wanted when I came home from school.
As violent as The Crow, Kill Bill, The Matrix, Terminator 2: Judgment Day or some of Alfred Hitchcock’s films may have been for a pre-teen to be habitually consuming, I very much became cognizant of and enamored with the cerebral facets extrapolated from dialogue, acting, and the editing… as opposed to just the proverbial bullets, blood, and blades haha!
I was born in NYC, but my family moved to a very provincial small town when I was 4. I never fit in and always felt like what had been dismissed as “out of my reach” was what I was meant to do. I dropped out of school in favor of a GED and was emancipated when I was 16, then headed back for NYC. Determined to make it on my own and begin my path as a filmmaker.
You’re latest film ‘Dissolved Girl’ released early 2021. Could you tell us more about this project?
In an era of heated political and 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.
Why ‘Dissolved Girl’? Why was it important for you to release that film?
I think the most corrosive blight of the 2010/20s have been political/cultural divisions exacerbated by our technological oversaturation of social media and smartphones. The film is a very literal reflection of this conflation where humans and machines societally clash.
I’m hellbent on making films comprised of light humanistic scenes amidst dark demonic ones and characters with that dissonance; the titular character of DISSOLVED GIRL definitely fits the paradigm of badass hacker a la; Trinity from The Matrix… but also has the ultimate rosy girls’ bedroom with a princess mirror and cuddles with stuffed animals. There’s a princess buried deep within her who she hides from the world to protect herself; past trauma being stomped on and exploited… but she must reconcile her princess to fulfill her true potential.
I think many people everyday feel pigeonholed and unacknowledged for the various facets of their identity and have one label they marginally uphold. So in these almost caricature-like neo-noir/action/sci-fi worlds I build, I think that’s the universal consistency that grounds them.
What do you like about directing?
In stylized high-concept films that are generalized for the big ass-kicking setpieces plastered all over the promotional material, the more slower emotionally mature scenes are like the B-sides on an album that personally appeal to me more than the hit singles. That’s what I’ve tried to accentuate and place a directorial priority on in my own films.
Or rather, those hit singles of the big set pieces are best complimented and kick the most ass when we see the long road out of hell the characters have paved and their foibles and flaws that remind us of our own. Nothing is more intense, immersive, or brings the audience to the edge of their seat faster than a character’s vulnerability on screen, a la; the survivor in every slasher film. So as a director, I love focusing on the actors’ vulnerability, but to delineate their strengths. When we see that character prevail against the cruel inertia and stick it to the man, it really delivers because we went on that journey and became one with them.
What have been your greatest challenges in making films – both on the creative and directing sides?
The hardest part of my career has been losing Wolf Snyder. A week before his 36th birthday, just as NOMADLAND was being nominated by the academy, and just as DISSOLVED GIRL was nearing completion. I’ve never been so heartbroken. Wolf was like an older brother.
The big film he was auditorily responsible for made history as Best Picture Winner, the first to see an Asian female director win. Wolf was being honored by Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand… then there was my little short film, one of the last things he ever worked on.
Which made me one of, if not the youngest film director to have enlisted a best picture winning crew member on their own production… but he was also my best friend. And he was gone. I felt like if DISSOLVED GIRL wasn’t good, I hadn’t lived up to his memory. An incredibly confusing, devastating position to be in that no one could give me any answers for.
I couldn’t splice any of the DG negative for weeks, until I tried to remember the benevolent words Wolf gave me while we shot it. Suddenly I began to realize that wherever he was, he’d tell me how much ass I’d kicked and encourage me to keep moving. I crawled back into the editing suite and listened very closely to his dailies as I resumed. He was there with me in a way that far transcended his voice calling “sound speeds” on the dailies.
My favorite Wolf line that echoes through my mind posthumously everyday, which I try to now imbue others with during their moments of anxiety is “you got to remember to breathe!”
We saw you recently in front of the camera, in the music video for The Chainsmokers’ hit single ‘iPad’ – what are you working on at the moment?
That was a fun shoot, my first time ever working with 35mm film stock, let alone appearing on it! I can’t believe they zeroed on my big hair flip in slow-mo haha. Great song too! My feature debut is currently in its financing phase. SINNER’S LULLABY; a gothic neo-noir. On the eve of Halloween, the front woman of the eponymous heavy metal band moonlights as a private detective with her lounge singer girlfriend.
They band together; musically on stage and in combat against the ultimate femme fatale who has overthrown and superseded the city’s criminal empire. It mixes and matches several of my personal cinematic bibles such as The Crow (1994), The Big Sleep (1946), Rear Window (1954), and Bound (1996).
In September, a SINNER’S LULLABY animated teaser was screened at Flower City Comic Con where I was a featured guest alongside great table neighbors like Holly Marie Combs (CHARMED, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) and Heather Matarazzo (PRINCESS DIARIES, SCREAM 3). It was met with a warm welcome from attendees, who commended its duality and the diverse complex ensemble characters who break character.
Do you have inspirations, mentors that help you create / manage your directing career?
Wolf Snyder was undeniably a huge one. Recently, SINNER’S LULLABY’s composers Kim & Kathryn Kluge have been a huge influence and inspiration for me. They’re incredible.
For the longest time, my pitch for the film was impugned and misjudged as a decadent B-movie, solely contrived for metal-heads or comic-book fans. Missing the point of the duality with the lounge singer character who hangs her pillbox hat between Grace Kelly vs Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, and the classic gothic romance. We’re also keeping things semi-classy in “the place Christ and The Devil shake hands”, aiming for PG-13 rating haha.
Despite it’s very embryonic state, the Kluges reached out asking me if I had a composer yet. I was shocked that such a lovely couple with an incredibly cultured, resplendent discography had taken a shine to my script that had been unread and misconstrued as the exact opposite for so long. I brought this up to Kim & Kathryn and they responded in detail about how they come from different worlds, but their music binds them. Sound familiar? When they expressed that verisimilitude reflected in my script, I’d never felt so honored in my life.
To finish, what can we wish you for your future in filmmaking?
While doing research for SINNER’S LULLABY, I went to a lounge in Hell’s Kitchen one fine evening called Swing 46. A dance instructor was teaching a group lesson during the set break and she charitably spent a good moment trying to teach me the most basic swing dance that I kept awkwardly butchering… she then espoused a sentiment that deeply struck a nerve with me, “you don’t have to get all the steps right, but you’ve got to move like you mean it!”
Wow. I think that can be extrapolated to the mentality behind my films and to life in general. The people I’ve always been closest to are the ones who somehow were able to see past my indiscretions at an early point in time because they believed in my passion behind my movement, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
DISSOLVED GIRL and especially the rough short 20 minute version of SINNER’S LULLABY I made 3 years ago DO NOT get all the steps right. Many things I would’ve done differently with more time and resources… but damn it, I moved like I meant it, and I think that’s evident when you watch them and the aspect I’m most proud of. In forgoing steps I couldn’t get right or didn’t know how yet, I learned invaluable things I couldn’t have otherwise and paved the way for the future where I can; being shown the path vs actually walking it.
And with that, I’m all the more determined and excited to start off into the sweeping vistas!