Filmmaker and actress Mary-Madison Baldo (who’ll ask you to call her Madison, not Mary) has all the makings to realize her dream of hearing her name announced at the Oscars someday. Besides her talents, the not-quite-21-year old filmmaker has the drive, focus, and positive attitude needed to succeed in her field. Of course, her looks don’t hurt either, and have landed her some modeling jobs, most notably for Northern California-based Soul Clothing & Co.
A native New-Yorker who now lives and goes to school in the San Francisco Bay Area by way of Los Angeles, Madison and her partner started their own production company last year, entitled Bardo-Bretow Pictures. She’s currently in production with two of her own; The Glittering Girl and Snake Eyes, both of which she’ll also be working on in front of the camera, as well as behind.
A recently completed solo project of Madison’s, which the above photo is from, is her submission for Team Oscar 2015, an annual competition for young filmmakers, put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If hers is one of the six winning videos selected, you’ll see her on stage as an Oscar Bearer on award night. What follows is my recent interview with the very charming lady, in which she reveals, besides her passion for filmmaking, she also dreams of being a roller derby queen and has some very good taste in music.
Audio excerpts from Madison’s January 13, 2015 interview. Full transcription below.
CHRIS CHARLES: It’s great to talk with you, Madison. Our mutual friend Reyna Young aka Miss Misery, first told me about you. How did you two first meet?
MARY-MADISON BALDO: Oh, she’s such a darling, I feel like she’s a kindred spirit. I think the first time we met, my face was encased in plaster because I was doing a face cast for a movie that I’m in called Doll Murder Spree, which is directed by Reyna. I didn’t see her face at first (because of the plaster) but she just sounded so happy and so joyful that I just knew as soon as the stuff came off that we were gonna be good friends. We talked about Edgar Allan Poe and Evil Dead and ….she’s such a darling, I love her. She’s just so enthusiastic, I think it’s great that she’s so optimistic and lovely and yet she produces such ….amazing gore, basically! (Laughs)
CHRIS: Yes, I’ve done a couple of interviews with her and see a few of her films and she really is remarkable. What was it like working with her on Doll Murder Spree?
MADISON: It was quite a blast. It was very casual but everybody was working super hard and the script was changing every which way but it was changing for the better and there were obstacles that were thrown, as comes with filmmaking or any kind of project, really, but you just have to overcome and she overcame them with grace, and I really believe that the movie has changed for the better, and it’s just really funny because I was encouraging her to give everyone – I won’t say anything, there’s spoilers but – I was encouraging to just; “Douse me in blood!” like whatever you would like. It was just really fun working with her. She took suggestions to heart and she consulted us and she was just very open and lovely …and very welcoming, as well. The house that we were filming in, the owners were present every day. They made us dinner sometimes, which was really lovely and the whole cast was really enthusiastic. They didn’t mind shooting scenes over and using different techniques and different vocal exercises. It was just a really fun experience.
CHRIS: The house was in San Francisco?
MADISON: It was in Antioch (about an hour northeast of San Francisco).
CHRIS: Ahh, that’s a nice city. So when is Doll Murder Spree slated for release?
MADISON: I’m actually not sure. We have the cast party at the end of the month. The details aren’t clear but if you want the details, I’m sure you could talk to Reyna.
CHRIS: Yes, will do. Now, a little about you. I see you’re originally from New York, but now living in the San Francisco Bay Area by way of Los Angeles, correct?
MADISON: Yes. I grew up in New York until I was about 10 or 11, and my dad was looking for other opportunities. He’s in animation and entertainment and he used to work for Blue Sky. He worked on the film Ice Age. He was the head of animation on that. Her also helped with the design and animation on the film Robots, which was a film that was released after that. So we moved out to LA when I attended Mira Costa High, and then for college, I decided to go to Sonoma State University, where I currently am a third-year student. So I travel from San Francisco to Sonoma to the Napa Valley. I just love traveling around Northern California.
CHRIS: I see you’re currently majoring in elementary education?
MADISON: Yes, I am double majoring in English literature and elementary education. For the longest my dream has been to be a filmmaker and a novelist, but I can do that while I teach kindergarteners, I believe.
CHRIS: Ahh okay, So that leads me to my next question: What aren’t you majoring in film?
MADISON: Going to Sonoma State, I just head-on wanted to be a writer and major in English, and then in my freshman year, there was this competition, it’s every year on campus called “Campus Movie Fest,” and around 120 college campuses internationally have this on their campus at assorted times during the year. And, since my dad was in film, I was like; “I’ve never actually made a film” or committed to something like that so I wanted to give it a shot. And I made this film. It had to be five minutes, and it can’t have anything like explicit language, no nudity, drugs, etc. etc., but the five minute film I did was called Adagio and it was about a dancer. It was a maddening process. The actress who was supposed to do it dropped out so I had to find a new one, my camera fell apart, and it was just a maddening experience but on top of that, I was just so happy with what I was doing and that year I ended up winning best actress, best story, and I was runner-up for best drama and best picture …and after that happened, I was just like; this is something that I really find amazing and I’ve been doing that ever since. And there’s also no film department on Sonoma campus technically, so you just have to make your own opportunities.
CHRIS: Have you been living in the San Francisco Bay Area long enough to tell that there are real differences between LA and San Francisco?
MADISON: Oh, definitely.
CHRIS: So, to you, what are the major differences between San Francisco and LA?
MADISON: Well, to me, also there’s a three-part comparison because there’s New York City, there’s LA, and there’s San Francisco (laughs). But the one between LA and San Francisco is that San Francisco is a real thriving city. I think LA is too small. When you’re driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and you look out you see a very small cluster of buildings and the rest is very low. Whereas when you look at San Francisco it’s houses built on top of each other; skyscraper and rounded buildings and medium buildings. It’s just a whole cluster of highs and lows. Whereas you look at LA, there just a few skyscrapers and everything else is close to the ground. So, that’s definitely a change. I think there’s just so much more culture and so much more life in San Francisco. I can go down the street and see there’s a bar and then there’s a hair shop and it’s just like random wonderful shops and every shop I’ve been into I went back because of the people. I love Haight Ashbury, that’s one of my favorite places to go. There’s a shop that used to be called The Bettie Page Store but now it’s called Tatyana and they have these beautiful 1950s and 1960s dresses. I just sit in front of the window and I just look. It’s like Breakfast at Tiffany’s with me because I just stand outside the window and look inside (laughs). But it’s always a trip, I love going there. There’s a lot of places to go to like that in San Francisco. In LA, downtown doesn’t really have a whole lot of places like that.
CHRIS: Well LA’s much more spread out. San Francisco can’t spread out too much because it’s surrounded by water. That also explains for the fast-rising real estate prices here, unfortunately. So, what are some of your favorite hang-outs in San Francisco? For instance, places to eat?
MADISON: I’m going to sound a little naive because I haven’t been around, but there’s this incredible place, near Mission, it’s like this waffle breakfast place, that really great. It’s like “Honey” something, but they have incredible waffles and I just remember after a night out, I camped out in front until they opened, and they were so nice too, I was just like “Can I just have any kind of waffles they you have?” and they brought out honey and agave, and it was amazing. And then of course, there’s like La Boulange I think it is? It’s like a really cute little French cafe. They’re spread around, they’re like a chain but they have amazing coffee. They do the fancy design coffees, but basically, my freshman year of college, I took the bus there once a month and just kind of spend the day there and just roam. I used to always go to Haight Ashbury. Also I love just sitting on the (Golden Gate) bridge and then I also very recently went to the Walt Disney Family Museum and that was a little expensive but lovely. I’m a fan of any animation the Disney turns out. I love the Castro District. It’s just so much fun. Their Hot Cookie bakery, which I love, is unusual and I love bringing people who’ve never been to San Francisco, there, because it gives them a bit of culture shock.
CHRIS: I read in your IMDb bio, that you wanted to become a director after watching Pulp Fiction when you were 15. So, I assume it goes without saying that you’re a big Tarantino fan?
MADISON: Oh my goodness, I love that crazy, crazy man. He is definitely a main influence. He would just be a very thoroughly entertaining person to talk to. He seems like he’s very strange and unusual and I, myself, am very strange and unusual. And I’m a huge movie buff. I watch movies anytime I’m not doing something, so I’ve built up quite a movie catalog in my head that I’d like to talk to him about.
Actually, he used to live in Redondo Beach, which is two towns over from where my parents live now, and there was one time, he rented a house on the beach, which is called The Strand. There’s like a walkway that travels from Palos Verdes to about Venice and it goes through that town and I was on my bike riding to one of my first jobs, and I saw him out on the porch. I was about 16 and I was so happy! I was like “Hey, Tarantino!” and he looked and I flashed him a peace sign and he did the same thing and it made my day (laughs). But, never met him in person, never had a conversation with him but I believe that Pulp Fiction is one of the best movies ever made.
CHRIS: Ah, so that brings me to my next question. I assume you have several, but do you have a particular favorite line from that film?
MADISON: Several ….Mia Wallace is one of my favorite characters and for the longest time I tried to replicate the dance that they do ….
CHRIS: Right, the Twist that she danced with Vincent at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. That was awesome.
MADISON: The Twist! I can not do it. I am the world’s worst dancer ever known to man, really! But, oh my goodness, if I can do it, and I hope I can, I used to know the whole joke by heart, the one where ….
CHRIS: Mama Tomato, Papa Tomato, and Baby Tomato ….
MADISON: Yes! Uh, let me give it a shot. Oh my gosh, I hope to god I can actually do it …
CHRIS: Okay, I’ll give you a lead-in with the line Travolta said after Mia asked him if he still wanted to hear the joke: “I can’t wait.”
MADISON:(Madison then told the “Tomato Family” joke, verbatim. Trust me, she did.)
CHRIS: By chance are you a fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show?
MADISON: Yes definitely, I used to go with my friends in high school to see it. I went to one in Santa Rosa last Halloween as Magenta which was really fun. I have this really cool maid’s uniform that I kinda jazzed-up with my hair and really eccentric makeup. In LA, I used to go to this theater in Downtown, and we weren’t allowed to bring food inside, so we couldn’t throw rice or toast. They’d discourage us from throwing things at all (laughs) and they actually kind of yell at us if we made too much of a mess.
CHRIS: Wow, that’s funny because making a mess in the theater is all part of the RHPS-midnight-showing experience. So, one of your very recent projects is filming you submission for “Team Oscar 2015.” Please give me some details on that.
MADISON: Of course. For the past two years, this is the third year they’re doing it, the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)sends out something called “Team Oscar,” which is a competition for young filmmakers from 18 to about 30, who have to be in school, to submit a 60-second video of themselves, basically explaining who they are as an artist, and also this year, there’s a new component. We’re supposed to incorporate the best advice we’ve ever received into our video. So, one of my dreams, well, of course, every filmmaker’s dream is to attend the Oscars at some point. So, my friend and film partner Alex Bretow teamed up together and I said “I’ll film your video if you’ll film mine, and we’ll edit together” and we were both really supportive of each other. we filmed mine first and I wanted to show my creative side, so I created all these different transitions. I’d raise my hand or I’d shoot a gun at the camera and it would go to a different segment of the video, and I thought that would give people a chance to see my creativity and my versatility, as well.
CHRIS: I see in a still from the video, you’re standing in front of a whiteboard full of authors and directors’ names you’ve written.
MADISON: Yes, that’s the board of all my heroes, idols, people who’ve influenced me.I realized after I’d finished editing the video and I was looking at it, that I didn’t include Van Gogh, or Picasso, or Matisse. You know, like visual artists and I regret not putting at least on or two on there.
CHRIS: I know we’ve already mentioned Tarantino, but who are some of your other favorite directors, say, if you have to name a top five?
MADISON: Um …Tarantino’s up there, I love Wes Anderson, his artistic talents and production design are revolutionary. I also love the quirkiness of his characters and how they deliver their dialogs. I also love ….Blake Edwards will always be up there with me because Breakfast at Tiffany’s was one of the first movies I really sat down with my mom and watched, and it was just a really nice bonding experience between the two of us ….and my sister was there, as well. I live Cameron Crowe, even though he hasn’t done anything very recently, but Say Anything was a huge movie when I was in high school and Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies of all times. And I think the other two would be Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. I love their aesthetics and even though my mom hates this movie, I love Clockwork Orange.
CHRIS: You have a partner and the two of you have your own production company. How did that start?
MADISON: Yes, my sophomore year of college, I participated in Campus Movie Festagain and that time I won audience award and best drama. After the show, this hilarious man comes up to me and he goes, “Hi, I’m Alex Bretow” and sticks his hand in my face, and goes, “I thought you were really really awesome and I’d love to work with you sometime.”
After that I thought, like all girls kinda do when a man approaches them, that he was flirting with me. But he gave me his number and said; “I want you to call me, we can do a project together.” And I just took it and said, “Okay, well thank you very much. Thank you for the congratulations. I hope you have a great night.” And a few weeks later, there was another competition where you were supposed to make a 30-second Doritos commercial for the Super Bowl (I cut Madison off here to ask her if she ever saw Reyna Young’s entry she did a few years ago, that featured Reyna’s sister. Madison did and we talked about that for a minute.) So, when this came around, I had his number and I call and asked, “Hey, would you like to try do this commercial together” ….and for some strange twist of fate, we ended up working extremely well together. I’d give him a look and he’d go, “Okay, I’m supposed to angle the camera like this” and he’d do exactly what I was thinking. We just translate thoughts very well together and we became partners over the summer. We started producing films together and working on stuff. I really don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s a good friend and he’s a good person to have when you’re doing projects like this.
CHRIS: Wow, you’re lucky to have found a partner like that, or rather, him finding you. So, is there any particular film genera that you want to lean towards?
MADISON: I love drama, I love horror, I love film noir, I like the timelessness that it has, even thought black and white has unfortunately gone out of style. People say I’m funny but I don’t think so. I don’t think I could do a comedy unless I was teamed-up with a comedy writer who had a lot of offhand ideas. Right now, I love suspense, noir, horror, and drama. I like tragedies, as well. I grew up with Greek tragedy nailed into my brain and mythology, so that’s definitely something I consider when I tackle a project I like to put as much symbolism and allegory in a project as possible.
CHRIS: I recently interview another young female director and I asked her if she felt she was in a “man’s world” and if she sometimes felt discriminated against as a female director. In short, she said she did, to both. How about you?
MADISON: I agree with her. There are some limitations via gender that I have experienced, but I felt just be confident and demand attention, and if they’re not looking at you and not paying attention to you, you just keep going, no matter what. I recently had an experience where I was explaining an idea to a company group and they were not looking at me, they were looking at their phones, and I just remembered, “keep going, keep going ..” I stood up straighter and I talked louder and made sure that my point came across and at one point during the end, they looked up and they really started listening. Then I knew that, even thought there is discrimination, just make sure that you have a large enough presence and charm to really influence them.
CHRIS: Your short film Snake Eyes is slated to be released in the very near future. Can you tell me about a little about that?
MADISON: Of course. It’s very Tarantino-esque, it has a sepia tone to it. It’s a revenge story. It’s centered around a character named Judd Huxley, a drunken addict, who is kidnapped and taken to the middle of nowhere by the very fierce, feisty feminine tattoo artist named Sloane. And it not like something has revealed what he has done or what has gotten him to this point, but as the film kind of unravels, you realize who’s the villain, who’s the hero and you realize halfway through, there’s going to be only one victor, really, and who that is, you don’t really know.
CHRIS: Do you think you could ever ask an actor or actress to do a scene that you, yourself, wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, even if it were very relevant to the storyline?
MADISON: Hmmm, I’m trying to think of what my limitations would be. Of course I would have to talk to them about that but if the scene is very poignant, I would do my best to convince them to do it, but if they have obligations or feelings or are uncomfortable about it, I would definitely discourage that and try to find another way to properly display the scene or the symbol or whatever I wanted to come across on screen.
CHRIS: Okay let’s shift gears here. You’ve also done some professional modeling. Santa Rosa-based Soul Clothing & Co. is one company you’ve modeled for. Do you still model for them or any others?
MADISON: I do model, only occasionally. Soul Clothing wasa really nice opportunity. They were looking for local models, and I submitted my name as well as my friend Noelle’s, and so it was really lovely because we got picked and we modeled for the lovely lady who designed these clothes. It’s mostly online, she doesn’t really have a shop open. she’s been traveling around, selling her clothes and more power to her definitely. I also have a photographer friend, Yohance Washington, who is a student as well as a brilliant photographer. He does really beautiful fashion photography as well as figure photography. So, I modeled for him quite often, at least once a month, whenever he has a new theme he wants to try. I’ve also helped his as his assistant as well his boyfriend Carlos, who’s also his assistant.
CHRIS: So let’s switch to music now. I see you’re a big David Bowie fan?
MADISON: I am! (sort of giggling like a school girl) I love Bowie! Oh my gosh, the first time I ever heard of him or saw him was in Labyrinth, the Jim Henson film and I have a very soft spot in my heart for Labyrinth, and the Muppets and Jim Henson but, oh my goodness! David Bowie was just a vision in my, eight-year-old mind, I believe (giggles again like a school girl). Then I started listening to his music and I have a few of his records that unfortunately I had to leave behind because my college haul was too big already, but I am an avid fan, definitely.
CHRIS: The first time I saw him, he was singing the duet with Bing Crosby on that TV Christmas special.
CHRIS: You’ve never seen that?
MADISON: No! What is that? I’ll have to look it up!
CHRIS: He sang “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby on Bing’s TV Christmas Special in 1977. You didn’t know that?
MADISON: No! I’ll have to look that up!
CHRIS: Well, you’re not a true David Bowie fan until you know about that.
MADISON: Nooo! Please don’t say that!
CHRIS: You have to know about that.
MADISON: I have to know about that. Oh my god.
CHRIS: Yes, it’s on Youtube. Just search for “David Bowie Bing Crosby.” It’s there.
MADISON: That sounds so fantastic, I can’t even tell you!
CHRIS:(After informing Madison that her David Bowie fan privileges had been temporarily suspended until further notice) Let’s see, you and I seem to have some musical favorites in common. I saw a recent photo of you wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Are you also a Zeppelin fan?
MADISON: I am. I do love them very very much.
CHRIS: What are your favorite Zeppelin songs?
MADISON: I’m a sucker for “Stairway to Heaven,” really. That was the first thing I heard of theirs and my obsession kind of traveled upward from there. I used to have a whole bunch of records of theirs, as well but I think I sold them, unfortunately.
CHRIS: (Deciding to test her her true Zeppelin allegiance after the Bowie debacle) Can you name the four members of the band?
MADISON: Oh …Jimmy Page ….Robert Plant ….
CHRIS: You’re being graded on this, so take your time.
MADISON: Oh no ….I don’t wanna be graded ….oh, my goodness! (She continues to name the other two members with just a little difficulty remembering John Bonham’s last name, so I gave her a passing grade but let her know she needs to do some more Bowie and Led Zeppelin study for reinstatement into their fanbases.)
CHRIS: Moving on: Do you really have aspirations of being a Roller Derby queen, or were you just kidding about that?
MADISON: (Laughs) I’m extremely clumsy but I read a book when I was in middle school about roller derby and ever since then I have bought roller skates and have become very very good and I’m also very good at fighting (laughs). So, I think if you combine those two I could be a valuable asset.
CHRIS: The inline roller skates or the traditional roller skates?
MADISON: The traditional.
CHRIS: Good for you. Do you have any favorite roller derby queens?
MADISON: I do not, actually. It seems like I have to do my research with a lot of things. But I just love the idea of very fierce, feminine women on roller skates, punching the lights out of each other …the physical and mental strength, I think is amazing.
CHRIS: Did you ever see the movie Kansas City Bomber with Raquel Welch?
MADISON: No! It sounds awesome!
CHRIS: Yes you might want to write that down. she played a roller derby queen. I highly recommend you watch that one. It gave a lot of behind the scenes looks into the world of roller derby during the 1970s when it was really in its heyday.
MADISON: It sounds amazing. I like competitive sports. They very physical sports. I loved hockey when I was a kid. (I asked her if she’d seen Slap Shot with Paul Neuman, she had, told me she went through a “Paul Neuman phase” when she was younger.) I also love archery.
CHRIS: Ah yeas, I saw a picture of you with a bow and arrow, shooting at a target.
CHRIS: So, next topic: I see that you do a lot of sketches and doodles. Do many of them reflect your ideas for future film projects?
MADISON: A lot of them do. Definitely. Whenever I have a concept for a novel or a script or anything, I just kind of write down the vision I have and I just sort of sketch kind of blindly. Especially when I’m extremely when I’m extremely passionate about something. I usually do character sketches so I get a clear vision of the character in my mind. And very recently I’ve been doing it but I haven’t been posting my pictures because, you know, I don’t want anybody to steal anything of mine. But, oh my gosh, right now is a really good time for me because I’m writing like crazy. I’m really excited and I’m glad that the new year has brought a lot of inspiration.
CHRIS: Yes I can see you do what you love to do and it inspires others to do the same. So, do you have any hobbies or interests that most people don’t know about? for example, I interviewed a Hollywood stuntwoman a few months ago and she revealed to me she’s an avid Pez collector and I thought that was really cool.
MADISON: Hmmm ….I do not collect but I do like very strange vintage places. I usually go to antique stores and anything that catches my eye, I grab. I’m a bit of a vintage hoarder in a way. But very recently a for my birthday, my grandparents got me a racoon skull, a perfectly wrapped-up, preserved one. And I think it’s just beautiful in a way. The bone structure and how everything fits inside each other, like a puzzle. So, I’m kind of a little but obsessed with the macabre objects. I haven’t actually gone to this place, but I have a goal: I want to go to “Loved To Death.” It’s a store in San Francisco that has all these weird, macabre objects. And I’m also very much obsessed with the idea of Ghosts and hauntings. I think it would be a dream to stay at different haunted hotels and write about them, kind of like a tour. (Here, I tell Madison of Jim Fassbinder’s Ghost Hunt tour through the Pacific Heights district of San Francisco and the Queen Anne hotel and highly recommended it to her.)
CHRIS: Well, it’s been great talking with you Madison. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for you and your future projects. In closing, any shout-outs to anyone?
MADISON: Shout out to my family; Dad, Mama, Miranda, and Merrick, who have always been extremely supportive of me and what I do. Also, to my film partner, Alex Bretow, and to all my friends; Noel, Eric, Yohance, Carlos, Ramsey, Cuffie, and Nate, who are all lovely, talented, hilarious, and never fail to make me feel loved. So, there you go.
CHRIS: Oh, just one last question: I understand you think Alaska from RuPaul’s Drag Race is everything. Is that true?
MADISON: (Laughs) I do! I love drag queens soo much! I love the show, I love going to see them perform, I absolutely love than. I think it’s just so brave and truly artistic, what they do. It’s very entertaining for me. And I love Alaska, I think she’s hilarious! I love her “Hiieee.” It’s just ….I love her. Oh my gosh, I get giddy talking about drag, it’s just hilarious to me.
March 18th, 2015 Addendum: Madison recently had two of her films, Snake Eyes and Rampage, accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival in May. Visit the Baldo-Bretow Pictures Facebook page to get more details.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.
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