"Danger Diva" director Robert McGinley
"Danger Diva" director Robert McGinley

Seattle film director Robert McGinley endured a frantic 20-day shoot to make his new futuristic cyperpunk feature, “Danger Diva,” shot mostly in a Sodo warehouse. He coordinated principal actors, and up to 300 extras at a time, as he shot scenes involving physical stunts, vehicle stunts, and choreographed fights.

One of those principal actors, the lead singer of popular local band Thunderpussy, became a part of the production through good old-fashioned word of mouth.

McGinley cast Molly Sides after meeting with old colleagues from On the Boards theater -- artistic director Lane Czaplinski, and managing director Sarah Wilke, who has since become the executive director of SIFF.

“I asked them, ‘If I were to make ‘Danger Diva’ in Seattle, who would you say is the musical ‘La Femme Nikita’ in town?,’” McGinley recalled. “They responded in unison: ‘THUNDERPUSSY!’”

“Danger Diva” premieres Thursday, April 13, in a special multimedia show at the Egyptian Theatre, sponsored by SIFF. The film will be followed by a live show from Thunderpussy.

McGinley called the performances “event cinema,” an experience “immersive both aurally, visually and communally.” The director also plans to show props, photographs, costume video and sculptures created for the film.

McGinley pegged his early fascination with film to his childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, watching 16 mm reels shot by his grandfather. The reels were simple -- home movies of his own father playing football.

Nevertheless, the experience was formative. He went on to study film and theater at school in Indiana, and then Los Angeles.

He arrived in Seattle after a spell in the tiny town of Tenino, Washington, “selling encyclopedias and working on a horse farm ... bucking hay and shoveling manure.”

Eventually he became involved in the arts scene at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, where he briefly taught contact improv dance. He moved to Seattle in 1978 with a group of other artists, and they started On The Boards, where McGinley served as artistic director for 12 years.

McGinley sees “Danger Diva” as the last film of a trilogy, preceded by “Shredder Orpheus” (1989) and “Jimmy Zip” (2000). Those two films were modeled on classical Greek mythologies of bold, brave artists who responded to challenging quests.

But “Danger Diva,” moves away from Greece toward Hindu mythology, notably tales surrounding Kali, the goddess of death and rebirth; and Devi, the Divine Feminine, Mother Of All Things.

What emerged was a musical cyberpunk thriller about a hard-rocking singer, coerced to become an electronically enhanced diva by her high-tech billionaire patron. Her singing voice is used to control and energize the brains of employees farmed out as living computer processors for the corporation’s high-tech clients. Referred to as Brain Cattle, the workers operate in a digital sweatshop processing binary algorithms, and functioning musically as a chorus for Sides’ diva. 

The Sodo warehouse was “Danger Diva’s” primary shooting location, but McGinley also made use of the Rendezvous Tavern in Belltown, and the Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Community College — just across Pine Street from where the film will premiere at the Egyptian.

McGinley said he was incredibly grateful for the tenacity of his crew.

Brian Faker, in addition to producing the film, also served as casting director. It was Faker who found the film’s other principal cast members, Tim Gouran (Stanley), Ray Tagavilla (Calvin), Amy Thone (Adrian) and Conner Neddersen (Scattering Flynn).

He also thanked director of photography Chris Tufty, production designer Tania Kupczak and editor Howard Flaer for their ability to “pull rabbits out of the hat.”

On an independent production, “the entire crew needs to be that way,” McGinley said. “They often surprised me with great ideas and problem solving.”

McGinley said his gratitude came to a head as he watched Molly Sides perform on the last night of “Danger Diva’s” shooting schedule.

“I won’t give away the scene but her performance was awesome,” he said.