Sinner’s Lullaby is a 26 minute neo-noir short film, it's a huge love letter to classic film noir and black & white/technicolor mystery films; venetian blinds, smoke, fedoras, trench coats, pearls, jazz music, and all!
Miranda Rizzolo as Charlotte Meridian, private investigator
Set in an otherworldly New York City that isn't quite the past or present, the story concerns a young private detective named Charlotte Meridian and her lounge singer girlfriend of 3 years, Barbara Ann Bergman, discovering the true nature of their romance when confronted with a menacing face from the past on the eve of the mafia’s downfall, which has been secretly orchestrated by Charlotte’s ex-lover, the ruthless femme fatale named Shirley Beaumont.
Elvira Levin as Barbara Ann Bergman
Kai Kaldro, the director of the film, was working on his mid-semester project for his one year conservatory program at the New York Film Academy. He considers it the firstborn of his filmography as a minimalist, micro-budget short produced for about $200 give or take. Pre-production was about 8 weeks, principal photography was 3 days, he actually managed to shoot the whole thing in one weekend, then the film took about a month to cut. We spoke to him regarding the making his film.
Kai Kaldro (writer/director of Sinner's Lullaby and Dissolved Girl)
Tell us about the inspiration behind the making of Sinner's Lullaby.
As academic and cerebral as we often make film noir out to be, for how it explores the amoral side of the human psyche and what goes on behind closed doors, I strongly believe there’s an inherent element of campiness to the genre that can be loads of fun, and I really wanted to embrace that. In my mind, the ideal noir world and atmosphere isn't mysterious or shadowy in a morose, dour way... it should be dangerously alluring; promising action, adventure, and hopefully romance too (more on that). My two immediate influences that I often cited in pitchings of Sinner's Lullaby are Bound (1996) by The Wachowskis, The Big Sleep (1946) by Howard Hawks, and Out of The Past by Jaques Tourner (1947).
Why were these themes in your film important to you to work on? Tell us about how the story started forming and developing for you.
Beneath the pulpy gumshoe surface, I think Sinner's Lullaby is at its core a love story, about how the ones who we love the most are the ones who we actually know the least.
Private investigators in these stories are almost always depicted as being hard-drinking loners, fully immersed in their metier, and foregoing a personal life. Disillusioned working stiffs who begrudgingly take one more chance on a cynical world when they accept the case and start to fall for the femme fetale, but are all the more disillusioned by the time they close the case "this is the stuff dreams are made of!", "forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown!" I've always been anxious to see how a mystery would be reshaped, if the PI had the conflict of a life separate from their work, with someone waiting at home for them. and the new directions that they could be taken in, if humanized into more viceral audience surrogates, and most importantly, a mystery where their faith is rewarded by taking that chance. That's an adventure!
Elvira Levin as Barbara Ann Bergman, lounge singer
I think Sinner’s Lullaby is a love story in disguise, about how the ones who we love the most are the ones who deep down, we actually know the least. I intended the title to refer to how Charlotte Meridian has gone all this time guilt-ridden from having been manipulated by her ex-lover Shirley into murdering this gangster and has hidden this trauma and never truly felt comfortable with her new girlfriend Barbara, whose completely divorced from this world; she's warm, innocent, and inviting in that old fashioned sort of way, as if Grace Kelly's next of kin. Charlotte hides things from Barbara and keeps her divorced from her PI work, to protect her, and finally confesses herself. But it’s a two-sided thing, so Barbara reciprocates by, in turn, also unveiling the hidden side of herself that was always there, in the latter part of the film, when she actually ends up becoming the hero to save the day and we learn she's not one to be trifled with. She goes farther than Charlotte ever thought, (a la; the song she serenades Charlotte with in our last scene "I never even told you") There's vital information being withheld from us as the audience, as well as Barbara, by Charlotte at the beginning of the film, and she is a bit of a mystery to us, while Barbara is more of our surrogate, but Charlotte comes down to our level when she finally relents and divulges... but Barbara then unleashes what she was also holding back, in a sense... so by the end when both women have prevailed against the two villains, I think they stand even ground. The ultimate bonding experience for a couple! Just kidding, just kidding,
Miranda Rizzolo as Charlotte Meridian, private investigator
Talk to us about how the film went into production and the most challenging or interesting thing about the process of making the film.
We had three days to shoot, it was very tense, yet somehow fast and efficient. We'd oftentimes be left with no more than one or two takes per shot. Shooting mainly took place in Park Slope, Brooklyn - where the latter part of the film is set, with an EXT scene at Bowling Green in lower Manhattan where the character of Dormer (played by Adam Blaedel) makes a phone call to Charlotte. Sets were usually rearranged/redecorated to portray several different locations in the film - we quickly deduced a "three locations - per set" rule of thumb.
Adam Bladel as Dormer, Beaumont's henchman
Shooting black & white offered a lot of liberties that were pretty serendipitous. Sinner's Lullaby is set entirely over the course of one night, but we shot large portions of it in broad daylight with windows black out, which were far more passable, when devoid of color. Because of last minute complications or setbacks, the production became a labor of love where everyone involved ultimately assumed more than one role on set and we had to be nimble-brained problem solvers during a time crunch, but I think considering, the end result is all the better.
Lexis Berkin as Shirley Beaumont, the villain
The co-star Miranda Rizzolo was a recast right before the shoot, but she came from a stage background and was well-versed in memorizing lots of lines with short notice, which was huge blessing, and considering the two meeting just before shooting, I was especially impressed with the chemistry Miranda shared with and Elvira Levin (Barbara), they really understood the classically romantic dynamic. Elvira is a total professional and went above and beyond as Barbara, and behind the scenes; where she became an honorary assistant director of sorts who'd keep an eye on the clock for me while setting up, and advise which shots could be omitted, merged together, or simplified whenever time wasn't permitting.
(from left to right) Levin, Berkin, and Bladel on set, January 2020
The version of Tia Careree's "I Never Even Told You" from Batman: Mask of The Phantasm (1993) that Barbara serenades Charlotte with at the end of the film proved to be the a puzzle of the pre-production process, as we'd need the recording for shooting, but it was very rewarding when we mixed the final version. Between score composer Charles Rakes' instrumental work, my mom Kirsti Kaldro (a veteran voice teacher/choir director) transcribing the sheet music, then compounded by Elvira's incredible vocals - we proved triumphant! Coming from a musical family, scores/soundtracks have always been a key component of the films I loved most growing up, so being able to inject that affinity into one of my own film and learn about the soundtrack/scoring process was a huge honor. *we were pleasantly surprised later on to find out that the same phone that Adam Bladel's Dormer uses in front of the National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green was also used by Adam Sandler in a scene from Big Daddy (1999). A tale of two Adams!
Alexandra Faye Sadeghian as Lenore Warner and Ivelaw Peters as Val McGinnis in "Dissolved Girl", coming spring 2021
What is the message of your film and who is your targeted audience?
As I said before; the ones who we love the most are the ones who we actually know the least. My goal is to advocate for self-liberation with stories that challenge perceived reality and perceived cynicisms/stereotypes/archetypes that are reaffirmed in our everyday lives and in the lives of our characters via fantastical genre-settings and concern our characters coming into their own by challenging and subverting what their role is in their worlds, and as well as their role in the story (a la; Barbara transcends love interest, to hero to save the day). So with all that said against generalizing, I'm squeamish about choosing one target demo, because truthfully I have no idea who will seek out and enjoy Sinner's Lullaby. Admittedly, I did have in mind along the lines of the same crowd who streams say Marvel's Jessica Jones on Netflix, or showed up for female-driven action/spy films of recent years like Atomic Blonde or Widows. Truthfully, my intention with Sinner's Lullaby was to hopefully revamp film noir for a new generation and usher in a fresh crowd who maybe perhaps feel alienated by the anachronisms of the old ones. I’m a big fan of classic black & white and technicolor films, and the idea of a same-sex couple, but in a black & white period-esque setting, with very benign, playful, and old-fashioned sort of dialogue/acting akin to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall, has always interested me, but the original Motion Picture Production Code had restrictions in place to present the couples on screen in classic films as almost fairy-tale like, and I think there’s a very charming innocence to a lot of those on screen duos that I really adore, but The MPPC also prevented homosexuality from appearing on film... So I’ve always felt, historically, gay and lesbian characters were robbed of having that kind of treatment and on screen chemistry, so rectifying this via Charlotte and Barbara was our key driving force in Sinner's Lullaby.
Barbara (Levin) and Charlotte (Rizzolo)
The film has since made it into several LGBT fests like Rainbow Cinema Awards, a big honor which I'm very grateful for.
Sinner's Lullaby (2020)
Talk to us about your next film project.
I inevitably plan for a feature length version of Sinner's Lullaby, of which there is in fact a numbered script, but for now, I'm currently in post-production on Dissolved Girl, which is a short sci-fi action epic (the subgenre, cyberpunk). It stars Alexandra Faye Sadeghian and Ivelaw Peters.
Dissolved Girl concerns an alternate 2021 NYC marred by political and cultural tension between man and machine, where a misunderstood young computer hacker named Lenore Warner AKA the infamous hacker "Dissolved Girl" (Sadeghian) and and undercover robot cop named Val McGinnis (Peters) must overcome their differences, whilst procuring a caper to expose the cybercrime queen of the future.
Like Sinner's Lullaby, it is a stylized genre-piece that questions perceived reality and black & white thinking, but ups the ante even further by having it's heroes terraform the dreary dystopian version of 2021 New York City into their playground.
It's heavy on special FX, and will feature a rock/heavy metal soundtrack, compounded by an electric guitar driven score composed by the returning Charles Rakes.
It was photographed by Lidia Marukyan, gaffed by Rachel Parella, and with M Wolf Snyder as the production sound mixer. Dissolved Girl is currently in the cutting room and looking at an online premiere of Spring/Summer 2021!
Kaldro on set of Dissolved Girl, November 2020
Tell us about the most fascinating thing about the language of cinema for you.
I've always felt that the omnipotence of cinema is how it encapsulates all the different art forms simultaneously, bringing many talented folk together from different fields together, like a spy/superhero team. Photography, sound, hair and makeup, music, storyboard drawing etc.