Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman (Carlson Young) returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. Through an epic journey down the darkest corridors of her imagination, she tries to exorcise the demons pushing her closer and closer to the edge.
Earlier this month, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Director/Writer Carlson Young, who also performed as the main character, Margaret, in THE BLAZING WORLD. Throughout the course of the conversation, they discussed the psychological nature of the film and how the film tackles taboo topics like suicide and trauma under the guise of fantasy. They wrapped up the conversation by diving into Young’s hands-on approach in tackling various below-the-line elements in THE BLAZING WORLD and what she has next on her plate.
As a disclaimer, the interview does contain spoilers and also gets personal about Young’s own psychological journey in making this film so, it might be uncomfortable for some.
Reading through your director statement, the extremely personal nature of the story touched me and I wanted to talk with you a little bit about that, especially with regard to how the film is sort of an exploration of childhood trauma as well as sort of like an internal reconciliation.
Carlson Young: It was really personal. I set out to create this big fantasy world where a young woman finds her power, but then it sort of became a reflection of trauma and that not having access to real freedom until we’ve confronted the things that are holding us back and trauma loops. The more that I learned about trauma and the way that it’s stored in your brain, the more interesting the whole thing became. It took me to a really internal place and it was really quite fascinating to be embodying this character’s experiences personally, and then also putting it up on its feet was really an interesting balance.
When you went to go portray Margaret in the film, did you create any boundaries for yourself in order to create that healthy distance for yourself? I don’t know how else to phrase it.
Carlson Young: I’ve been saying this. I did not have any boundaries and that was both a beautiful moment in time and an incredibly unhealthy way to approach your work too so, I’m really looking forward to the next one, weaving in that personal passion while having healthy boundaries that will keep me safe. I was finding my footing there but my mentality with this first one was just like, go big or go home. I’m hurling myself into this. Just a battle cry and that was really beautiful and there were parts of that that were really brave, but I’m excited to have those healthy boundaries next time.
I ask this because, when I have free time outside of all of this, I write things and it’s always weird how easy it is to just not think about the boundaries, and then you put your work out there and you realize like, oh crap what have I done?
Carlson Young: [laughs] You’re speaking my language. I understand deeply what you’re saying. Yes.
So, when it came down to crafting the world once Margaret recesses into that fantasy world, what was the entire process of bringing that to life in terms of location? Because, I am assuming that desert location, for example, was all onsite.
Carlson Young: Yes. The exterior desert stuff we shot in the Monahans Sandhills, which was five hours away from our hero location. And then, we did the interior hut stuff as a build on our little quarantine camp outside of Austin. So, it was a proper COVID film. We sort of had to engineer a lot of the world-building around those constraints with limited crew and all this. And so, necessity was very much the mother of our invention. I worked really closely with our production designer [Rodney Becker] and my DP Shane Kelly for months conceptualizing every chapter and just making sure that each set piece was reflective of where Margaret is in her journey, and I had energy maps that were really informing each decision.
Carlson Young: Yeah, so I made a motherboard energy map because all of these things that she’s experiencing are representative of these early traumas. All these characters are trapped in this trauma, too. So, there is the facade that is cracking slowly. But to keep myself honest, as both the actor and the director, just making sure I know where I am. Like, okay, how long has Margaret been in the bathtub at this point, and at what point when we get to the literal bottom of her brainstem, when we get to her lizard brain in the neon box, what is that energy in comparison to when she enters the blazing world? So, it was just a way to map the energy level of each character and each set.
Okay, that makes more sense. I’m picturing it like a Tolkien Shire map setup.
Carlson Young: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, it sort of looked like that. To be honest, it wasn’t as beautiful as Middle Earth.
Was there something conceptually that you guys just weren’t able to do because of either budget or COVID restraints?
Carlson Young: Yeah. We had to do so much in VFX that I wanted to do practically, but we just didn’t have the time or the budget to do it. The water exploded out of the doors. A lot of the smoke effects, I wanted to do all that practically, but we just couldn’t. There’s tons of stuff, but I learned so much, and working with effects is it’s challenging, and working with practical is really challenging too. And so, finding the balance there, of what you have time and what you can afford to do on an indie budget, was a learning curve.
When it came down to the casting process, what was that like? Because you have some iconic actors like Vinessa Shaw and Udo Kier. So, I’m curious how did that all come about?
Carlson Young: Well, the first actor that we attached was Udo and that was truly a dream come true for me because I wrote the character for him, and getting the script into his hands was a huge feat. Let alone him calling and saying not only does he read the script, he loves it, he wants to do it was just the best day of my life. That was March 2020. So, there was all of this excitement of, “We’re doing this. We’re gonna be filming in May.” And then, it was like pandemic. So, Vinessa and Dermot [Mulroney] coming on board, I was just blown away that they were willing to take on the character and the project, but then also just during such a stressful time in the world, too.
Udo just has that air about him, where he can just look at someone and you’re like, “Oh, dear God.”
Carlson Young: 100%. He has this allure. And that’s the entire thing with him at the heart of this moment, this moment of grief and trauma, there’s this intoxicating presence that is born there. And that’s Udo Kier. That is Udo! And so, it made so much sense.
I don’t know if it’s been discussed as it pertains to the movie but even though she’s going through this adventure, there’s that sinister undertone, the fact that she’s committing suicide. So, I really appreciated how unintentionally seductive he was in that whole process.
Carlson Young: Thank you for saying that and picking up on that. Because that’s the entire thing with the darkness and the thing that she’s lured into, and the reason why she wants to go there in the first place. It’s really important to me. The seduction of it. Because for me, that is how depression and suicidal ideation works for me. It is like this intoxicating, alluring rest that I’m like, “I’m just gonna stay here.” Because there’s a lot of energy. There’s a lot of really beautiful things about the darkness. But it’s like you can’t stay there long, you know?
It also just speaks to the taboo that we have regarding that subject too.
Carlson Young: We medicate it and we push it away and think it’s not something to embrace, and then with Udo’s character and something that I found in my own journey of this entire experience, but those things like depression and suicidal tendencies and embracing it with love and compassion, and watching it transform before your eyes…when it’s given love and it’s just embraced and honored for the emotion that it is. You know she says to him at the end, “No, I’m not afraid.” And then, she’s giving him this compassion and touching his face, and there’s an intimacy there between them. That was really a curious thing to find at the end of this journey was, wait a second. We’re constantly trying to get through these things, but what if they’re meant to be accepted and embraced?
That’s something I particularly responded to because I feel the same thing. It’s always a little voice in the back of my head and I tried to be very open about it. I’m aware of it. I know what will trigger it, and discussing this strange relationship and being able to identify and be self-aware that this is just a thing that lives in our brains.
Carlson Young: 100%.
Occasionally, it just needs to be given a cookie to go back into its corner.
Carlson Young: [laughs] Exactly. Here. Have a seat at the table. You are a valid part of my experience. I see you. I honor you, but you don’t get to drive the car. I’m going to drive the car.
With the other below-the-line elements here, were you involved in coordinating with the composer? What was that process like in terms of working with him to develop that auditory palette?
Carlson Young: Something that really inspires us both in film scores is this balance between electronic and sort of synthetic and orchestral. And so, we really tried to toe that line and find the balance of those two things. I very much wrote the script to these two pieces of Tchaikovsky, and then the Panda Bear song that comes in at the end. The panda bears sampling, right? So, that was just a no-brainer of a bookend for music. And then, everything in between, the whole thing feels very theatrical and very balletic, and I wanted it to feel like a ballet. Every emotion is conveyed in the score. We were looking at the score like a character in the film. It wasn’t an accent. It was a character.
You mentioned the ballet element and that ties into the costume design that we also see her wear too. Creating fantasy-esque costumes, I liked the way you guys approached it in just toeing that line of just fantasy enough, but not like Game of Thrones or anything super elaborate.
Carlson Young: Thanks for noticing. Yeah, I wanted the costumes to come off like something that like the inner child would choose, you know? Essentially she’s processing trauma from this six-year-old part of her brain. So, of course, she would put on this sort of thing that looked a little bit like her pink dress when she was a kid. It’s skewed through this childlike lens.
It reminds the viewer that this is happening inside her mind too. It keeps it grounded in that visual sense. To wrap things up, because of the personal nature of the story, but also just all of the moving elements involved, what was the most difficult scene for you to execute? Whether just from a logistical standpoint, performance standpoint, etc.
Carlson Young: I would say the most challenging scene was definitely the neon box segment, especially when Udo comes into the space because there was a lot of logistics going on there, and deciding what needed to just what we needed to do to achieve effects and practical stuff to there. There was a lot of fancy footwork there. And then, just emotionally where the character is, that was really hard. I knew that it was going to be the most challenging part for me, because she just doesn’t have any more oxygen left in her brain at that moment. And so, it’s just this puddle of grief, grief and shame and self-loathing and really sacrificing the emotional part of the character on this altar too so, that it can transform. And so, that was a challenging bit.
Especially because of our earlier discussion about boundaries too. It all comes back to around to that psychology.
Carlson Young: [laughs] Thanks for saying that. Yes. 100%.
I’ve gone through the workshops and everything. So, I see you. I hear you. I get it.
Carlson Young: Thank you! I feel seen!
By the way, I appreciate your honesty. With your next project, we’ll just check in on this. [laughs]
Carlson Young: I can’t wait to have this conversation on the next show.
We’ll be like, how are we doing on this journey?
Carlson Young: [laughs] How are we today? But, you know, it’s been really fascinating diving into my next couple of projects. I really am in a much healthier place with boundaries. I’m doing these rewrites and it’s horror, and it’s everything that I love about genre, and it’s just as exciting to me. I just know what boundaries are now. I didn’t know you know what I mean, and I just realize the way those lines were blurring. And so, just having the awareness around it now, it’s just a great way to continue to make films.
It’s also a reminder for the both of us and others who might be reading this that it’s all a work-in-progress too.
Carlson Young’s THE BLAZING WORLD is now available On Demand. To learn more about the film, check out our review from Sundance.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
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