Filmmaker David Lee Madison was born and raised in Middle Village, Queens, a predominantly Irish and Italian-American community defined by the many single family attached homes that line its streets. It is said to sit “in the heart of Queens' cemetery land,” being the final resting place of John Gotti and Geraldine Ferraro, among other locals both noteworthy and infamous. The neighborhood is located in the western central section of Queens, bounded to the north by the Long Island Expressway, to the south by Cooper Avenue and the Long Island Rail Road's Montauk Branch, to the east by Woodhaven Boulevard, and to the west by busy Fresh Pond Road.
A fairly quiet, working-to-middle class outer-borough enclave of little note, right? Well, right and wrong. For Madison, who currently lives in Pennsylvania with his family, Middle Village is special enough to warrant efforts to make a documentary on what it was like growing up there for him and others. What makes his efforts worthwhile to Madison is both the prized memories specific to a Middle Village upbringing but also the universal truths of the 20th Century Queens, New York, and American lifestyle that are found in the stories of those who have lived there, with many of the families begun in Middle Village remaining there for generation after generation.
Madison, a Queens College CUNY graduate, is already an established presence on the horror movie scene, having written and directed Mr. Hush, starring Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys, which has screened all over the country and is available on dvd and blu-ray from Kino Lorber. He has also hosted an online radio show, “The End of the Night,” featuring interviews with several horror and cult celebrities, and produced and hosted two Pennsylvania-based "Mr. Hush: Weekend of Fear" horror-movie conventions. I chatted with Mr. Madison about Middle Village, his documentary, and his career in horror.
Obviously, Middle Village must have made a big impression on you to start work on this documentary. Where did you get the idea that you actually thought there was a film in Middle Village?
Middle Village is a very special place. Growing up there in the 70’s and 80’s like I did, you always had a feeling of safety and community. Middle Village is also rich in history, and the stories people tell transcend any particular place and time. They connect to everyone.
What kind of stories are you finding in your research and interviews regarding Middle Village?
Middle Village is playing host to what everyone loves about that special place people hold dear to them. When people discuss playing stickball, or stoopball, or flipping baseball cards, these things are not intrinsic to Middle Village per se, but are fond memories for everyone.
As for Middle Village, do you find anything singular about the Middle Village experience that people outside, even Queens residents, may not know.
I can tell you one thing that is truly unique to Middle Village: its sweetness. If you grew up there, it touched you in a way that never leaves you. This truly unique aspect makes you long for a simpler time and place.
Queens has one of the least defined personalities of the five boroughs, it’s safe to say. Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island all have clearly defined personalities in pop culture, for better or worse. Do you think there is anything specific to Queens living that people from the outside aren’t aware of?
Absolutely! And that is a part of what this film will focus on. And I have to disagree with you on Queens not having a defined personality. I think the enormously popular Kevin James television show King of Queens captured some of what makes the borough unique.
Where did the idea of Mr. Hush come from? How close was the final film to how you envisioned it?
The idea for the film came in part from a Clint Eastwood western I love, The Outlaw Josey Wales, a film where the hero loses everything he loves. It also is a bit of a “what if” something horrific happened to me and my family, with a little Fright Night thrown in for good measure.
You have often referenced Fright Night as an influence. Why do you think that film made such a mark on you?
I am not sure. I just loved that film as a kid. It is smart, sexy, scary, and filled with black humor. These are all the things I love in a horror film.
You were directing both seasoned professionals (Stephen Geoffreys), stuntmen-turned actors, and newcomers to the screen in Mr. Hush. How did you help guide their performances?
I wrote several of these parts for the actors who played them specifically. Knowing them personally made it easier for me to write to their strengths. I gave every actor in the film an overall perception of what I wanted their characters to be like, and then left them alone to interpret that information.
Your film played at Manhattan’s storied indie house the Anthology Film Archives along with many other theaters across the country. What was it like seeing it on the big screen with an audience for the first time? Was there anything that surprised you about seeing it on the big screen?
It was an amazing experience. I loved watching it at the Anthology Film Archive especially, seeing I went to school directly across the street at the La Salle Academy. I was pleasantly surprised at how theatrical Mr. Hush looked. That was a testament to the great team that was assembled to make the film.
You shot in a widescreen 2:35-1 aspect ratio. Did you have a specific reason to go that route?
That was a decision solely made by my cinematographer!
What equipment did you use, or would you recommend for young filmmakers and their D.I.Y projects?
Mr. Hush was filmed on what has become one of the Hollywood standard digital film cameras, the Red One. I suggest D.I.Y. film makers use whatever camera is available to them to tell their stories. DSLR’s work great.
The End of the Night Radio Show, Mr. Hush’s Weekend of Fear: you obviously have a great love for cult cinema. Where do you think this began?
When I was little, my older brother Bob was a father figure to me. He had a passion for the old Universal horror films, in which he imparted on me. Halloween was always my favorite holiday, and back then our local public TV station channel 13 would play a 24 hour Universal monsters marathon. I was hooked!
How did you get the idea to run a yearly horror convention in Pennsylvania? Were there any surprises when it came to actually running it?
After making Mr. Hush, it occurred to me that a horror convention to promote the title would be a fun way to get its name out there. Fans had such a great time at our show; we decided to do it again. I am first and foremost a fan of the genre.
You had a CUNY education, going to Queens College. What were the strengths of a City University of New York education?
After four years at La Salle Academy, an all-boys Catholic high school, it was fantastic to go a University that had so many people from different cultures. I am a firm believer you learn the most in life from the people around you.
Do you have any upcoming fiction film projects you are working on?
I will be working on a new horror film when Middle Village is completed this summer. I am also toying with the idea of a Mr. Hush sequel.
As for Middle Village, is there a time frame for when you might shoot some footage in Queens?
We will be shooting throughout April and May.
“Like” the Middle Village Facebook page here for further updates on David Lee Madison’s continued efforts to document on film his hometown community.