We welcome back K-Michel Parandi to the site with his latest sci-fi pilot, XYZ, From Fire and Dust, a stylish proof-of-concept that tackles some wild futurist concepts—artificial intelligence, shared consciousness, illegal life—while filtering it through a seedy underworld that hearkens back to classic crime genre styles.
In the future there is a highly regulated process for “printing” human-like organisms, whom then remain under their owner’s control in perpetuity. These “angels” are incredibly valuable, but the constricted supply gives rise, as always, to a black market. We follow the Noo, a trio of 3 identical angels whom share a hive consciousness, as they attempt to extricate themselves out from under the control of the corrupt police officer whom has illegally created them, and secure official status for their existence.
It’s been relatively slow going in our Sci-Fi channel of late, so we’re pleased to showcase XYZ, which debuts today as a compilation of 9 mini episodes that fairly seamlessly blend into of cohesive short. I’ve previously proposed that 2012-2015 should be considered a “golden age” for sci-fi proof-of-concept shorts—accomplished, small-budget VFX work was still novel to online audiences, and a vanguard of creators, empowered by the Hollywood success of Neill Blomkamp, Fede Alvarez, and Wes Ball, flooded the internet with visually striking, if often derivative, shorts that attracted bidding wars from established studios. Things have slowed down a bit since then however. Flashy VFX are no longer enough to ensure attention from fickle audiences, and the resulting development hell that many of the filmmakers from that wave encountered has tempered demand.
That’s been Parandi’s story, as his 2013 short From The Future With Love, was among the best of the bunch from that period. Hailed as one of i09’s top ten shorts of 2013, and described by our own Ivan Kander as a “showreel for an old school Paul Verhoeven sci-fi epic”, it was one of the rare films of the era to cover all the bases—yes, it looked cool, but it also showcased real filmmaking verve, and was genuinely intriguing with its themes and world-building compared to its peers, which were often simple action sequences divorced from plot. Parandi was juggling multiple offers at the time to develop the property, eventually setting up with HBO, and we figured it was simply a matter of time before the result came to our screens.
Parandi lost control of the project however, was replaced as director, and eventually progress died. Determined to retain control of this new property, XYZ was developed independently over the course of a year, without major outside financing, and this online release will be key in seeing if the proposed series can get traction. Even in the now-depressed market for original sci-fi, we like his chances. While XYZ, From Fire and Dust, suffers from some clunky dialogue and feels overstuffed for its 15min runtime (it was originally conceived to be standard TV drama length), it is chockfull of really fun dystopian ideas that feel fresh for the medium. Parandi has been developing many of these ideas for years, and the depth of his speculative thought shows.
Furthermore, Parandi is no one-trick pony. Independent of its tasteful VFX, XYZ is stylishly directed in all the conventional ways, as it showcases a strong command of frame through camera movement and composition. Like with From The Future With Love, Parandi is able to blend the tactile and digital very well, transforming locations, and incorporating strong art direction in order to create a gritty, lived-in universe that can accommodate a lot of disparate settings without breaking the suspension of disbelief. Lastly he funnels it through a strong crime-noir sensibility that provides ballast to the far-out tech, and is a welcome contrast to the bright pop sheen of a lot of contemporary sci-fi. While XYZ, From Fire and Dust is far from a perfect short, it’s a very intriguing effort, and Parandi is a talent that definitely deserves another bite at Hollywood’s apple.