In 2018, Carlson Young (one of this writer’s favorite cast members from the first two seasons of Scream: The TV Series) debuted her short film The Blazing World at the Sundance Film Festival, and now, three years later, she’s celebrating the world premiere of the feature film version of that very same story as part of the fest’s 2021 slate of programming. Co-written by Young and Pierce Brown, The Blazing World explores the trauma of a young woman (played by Young) who is desperate to move on from a horrific tragedy from her childhood, but finds herself forced to make her way through a labyrinthian nightmare that holds the key to her emotional freedom. The Blazing Young also stars Udo Kier, Dermot Mulroney, and Vinessa Shaw.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Young about her journey of building upon the short film version of The Blazing World and turning it into a full-fledged feature. Young also chatted about filming outside of Austin during the pandemic, putting together her cast, and the empowering nature of her character’s outfit in the film.
I’m so excited to speak with you today, Carlson, and congratulations on the debut at Sundance. I know this was based on a short that you had at Sundance a few years ago, so it’s really cool that you’re back now with the feature film version. Can you talk about that process? Because I think a lot of short filmmakers out there will make a short and they don't really know where to go with it from there. But I think it’s always interesting to hear about that process from making a short and turning it into a feature.
Carlson Young: I agree. I mean, I always had the idea for the feature, for the larger picture, but I got great advice early on to make it into a short first or else probably no one would let me direct it. So, I took that to heart and made the short first as a proof of concept. Then, the short did well and we had the privilege of premiering at Sundance. When I went to Sundance in 2018, I had the feature script in my hand, and really wanted to use the momentum of the short to catapult the feature iteration forward. It was a blessing, obviously, to have that premiere, but I still had to really fight tooth and nail to get people to trust me on this vision. For any short filmmaker, though, I think that creating a short, but having a larger idea or a bigger picture in mind is smart because it's really hard to get things made as a first-time filmmaker. So, anything that you can have in your arsenal to sort of prove what your creative sensibilities are is a really good thing.
There used to be this adage in Hollywood, or maybe there still is, where when you would take on one aspect of the industry, whether it was acting, or writing, or directing, or even working in the different craft areas, that you were put into that box and you really weren't supposed to branch out. But obviously, you get to do that here. Do you feel like the industry is a little more open to that now? And how much did your experiences in front of the camera help prepare you for taking on a feature?
Carlson Young: I think that the opportunity is there to do that now, to wear multiple hats, but that doesn't make it any less challenging to get your foot in the door because there's just certain processes and dues that everyone in every facet of the industry is paying. So, for me, I felt like my coming up as an actor and being on a ton of different TV sets really helped me learn the ecosystem of a film set in a way that I felt prepared to take on for the short and then prepared to take on this feature, too. I prepare a lot. I'm a big energy maps person. And so for me, just being prepared made me able to be able to do it all on this particular project.
I know you are a Texas native. Was it nice being able to film this in your home state, outside of Austin?
Carlson Young: Yeah, we shot outside of Austin in Dripping Springs. We all quarantined together at a wedding resort and we shot this during the pandemic in August. So there were a lot of things that weren't necessarily planned, but we just had to roll with it. And necessity is the mother of invention, so in a lot of ways, the contained energy of the world really lends itself to a lot of the tension and stress, and I think that reads on the screen.
I really appreciated how you were able to marry the themes of this story with the visuals. I was wondering if you would talk about working with your cinematographer, Shane Kelly, on this because this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at.
Carlson Young: I was really excited at the prospect of working with Shane Kelly, the cinematographer, because he's really known for his beautiful naturalistic cinematography style. And so for me, I was very inspired visually by '70s Giallos and just making this psychedelic inner landscape that gets more and more crazy and Technicolor and left of center the deeper that you go into her mind. I had an energy map of the story, an energy map of each character. But story-wise, the visuals are very reflective of how much oxygen she has in her brain because of what’s happening to her in reality, so it devolves in that way. Shane and I, we had a field day thinking about how we could gauge where to take things in terms of light and sometimes tone.
One thing that I really appreciated about your character, Margaret, is that throughout most of this movie, you have this really lovely dress on with those boots. For me, I grew up watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and there's just something so empowering about seeing a woman just wearing a really pretty dress with these kick-ass boots. How much did that costuming decision help you find the power of Margaret as she's going on this journey?
Carlson Young: Thank you for bringing that up because nobody has mentioned that to me yet. I thought a great deal about what she would be wearing through this journey, and I loved tying it into the pink dresses that the little girls are wearing at the beginning of the film. I wanted to create a power look that was also very ethereal and kind of whimsical, where it's almost like there's this grown woman in this child's dress, but you see the edge of her personality in these combat boots. I just felt like it was a cool look and I thought that gave her a strong vibe.
Dermot and Vinessa are great here, and of course, Udo is just a legend who I am always happy to see appear in anything. Can you discuss bringing in these talents to round out your cast for The Blazing World?
Carlson Young: Thank you. I think they were all great, too. With Udo, I wrote the role for Udo. I've been obsessed with him, as like you said, he's a legend, forever. So I wrote the character for him, and when we got the call that his manager had read it and then Udo had read it and he loved it and he wanted to do it, I was elated and it really set the whole film in motion. It made it real. Then, Dermot and Vinessa became a part of the conversation more organically. But once I kind of pictured them in the Tom and the Alice roles, I couldn't go back. And with Vinessa, I got some really cool Kubrick stories on set because of her involvement with Eyes Wide Shut. But Dermot is exceptional in this and I can't wait for people to see him in this because I, too, am a huge Dermot Mulroney fan. I think this film has some really incredible work from him.
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[Photo Credits: Above photo of Carlson Young courtesy of Brenna Weeks/Sundance Institute, above photo from The Blazing World courtesy of Sundance Institute.]