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Block-buster: Dark comedy about gentrification shot on Ridge street

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A Brooklyn filmmaker shot an adaptation of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode on Bay Ridge’s Madeline Court, and the flick is making its debut on June 13.

The short, called “A Box Came to Brooklyn,” re-imagines the 1960 teleplay “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” exchanging the original’s alien invasion motif and Red Scare subtext for more contemporary boogie men — terrorists and gentrifiers.

The classic “Twilight Zone” episode took place on an idyllic suburban block, so the filmmaker needed a location that was equal parts Brooklyn and Brookville, he said.

“I knew off the bat it was going to be set in Brooklyn, and I knew some of these characters were going to be over-the-top Brooklyn characters — we just needed a block to fit with the ‘Twilight Zone’ vibe and Brooklyn vibe,” said director Jason Cusato, a Brooklyn native and Park Slope resident.

Madeline Court achieved that harmony, according to Cusato. The private, dead-end block’s Tudor-style, attached homes looks like the Brooklyn that time forgot, and the private street evokes an isolated community feel, he said.

Neighbors were equally eager to see their street on the big screen, one resident said.

“We think it’s a gorgeous block so we were all excited,” said Lenore Solmo, a Madeline Court resident for 27 years.

Solmo was so pumped to turn her block into a temporary movie lot that she let the production use her basement for storage and planning.

“Every day, the whole cast would come, and if we were around, we’d hear the director making his plan for the day,” she said. “It was exciting to be able to help filmmakers in Brooklyn.”

Cusato’s crew shot the film over about two weeks in late 2012 on a budget or $15,000, he said. The film will debut at the Manhattan Film Festival on June 13.

In the short, a box appears in the middle of the block, and residents — wary of mysterious packages in a post-9-11 Brooklyn — speculate on who left it and why, ultimately devolving into a finger-pointing mob that destroys itself from within. But neighbors’ fears are misplaced, and their in-fighting paves the way for a more sinister force to take hold of their homes.

Ridge actor and man-about-town Anthony DeVito helped Cusato adapt the script and also stars as Steve, the only level-headed person on the block.

Madeline Court wasn’t the only location Cusato looked at, but its homeowners were the most accommodating, he said. Indeed, the filmmaker sent letters to residents of other dead-end blocks letting them know that he may seek a filming permit from the city. But the private streets are not city property, so the Mayor’s Office can’t issue permits to shoot movies on them — and locals let Cusato know.

“We got a couple of phone calls back saying ‘Who do you think you are? We own this block.’ ” Cusato said. “So when we got positive responses from Madeline Court, we knew it was the place.”

“A Box Came to Brooklyn” premieres in the Manhattan Film Festival at Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St. between W. Third and Bleecker streets in Manhattan, www.aboxcametobrooklyn.com). June 13 at 6 pm. $12.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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