Actor Carlson Young has a fascinating resume. You may have glimpsed her as Jacquelin in the classic substitute teacher sketches on Key & Peele or as Brooke Maddox on MTV’s Scream series, but her new role as a triple-threat writer/director/lead actor in her film, The Blazing World, lets you see Young in a whole new light. An adaptation and expansion of an earlier short by Young–both which were inspired by writer Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 work, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World–the fantasy-horror film is a dark fairy tale about coping with loss, and as crafted by the first-time writer/director, it’s a fiercely-unique vision.
I hopped on Zoom to speak with Carlson Young about bringing her idea to life, as well as her connection to horror in general.
Why does horror appeal to you as both an actor and writer/director?
Horror and horror-fantasy–in general, I’m just obsessed with the genre. I think it’s the most exciting space to explore trauma and fear. From a storytelling perspective, it’s just so fascinating and creative and I’ve always gravitated to it ever since I was little. So, yeah, it’s definitely my favorite.
How did you first come to the book by which The Blazing World is inspired? It’s sort of famous-ish, but also obscure or under the radar a little.
I was writing a paper on Margaret Cavendish in school and also I was working on a show in Louisiana. As I was writing this paper on her, I was going back and forth between reading The Blazing World and just looking at her life as a woman and how groundbreaking what she was doing was for 1666. I just became really obsessed with her as a person and I started having recurring dreams of this black hole and I wrote an outline of the short from there.
I just knew that I felt supported by her daring world-building into creating a world of my own in the dream space and then taken out from dream to reality. It was a long process, but thank you, Margaret Cavendish from the bottom of my heart.
What are the challenges of taking a short and extending it into a feature?
Very, very challenging. It was an uphill battle after having the short; the short was very much a vignette in the character’s life and about showing my visual sensibilities as a filmmaker and this is how I see it. That was a really important thing to show people in terms of letting me direct the feature, but unpacking the short and reverse-engineering it into a feature? I knew that it was a larger story, always. I knew it was a story about reframing childhood trauma through this fantasy-horror lens, nut it was an uphill battle. It was challenging.
What was one of the more challenging aspects that you had to overcome in translating it from short to feature?
It’s ambitious in its visual style so there was a lot of talk about what the budget for this would be and then, of course, the pandemic comes around and I had to rewrite parts of the script to take us out of any public places. Obviously, we had a limited crew size and the things that I would want us to do practically, we no longer could anymore so we had to do a lot of effects and all of these things.
It wasn’t, “Oh, this is an obvious first-time feature of people talking in a room,” and it was not that, so there was a lot to sell people on. So yeah, it was an uphill battle, but we got it.
I really appreciated the fact that there’s this Scream reunion in casting John Karna as Blake, but also: how’d you come to get the likes of like Dermot Mulroney and Udo Kier for your first feature?
I’m so grateful. I wrote Lained for Udo. I’m just a number one fan. I feel like he’s like my father, on a spiritual level. I love this man. But yeah, I mean, I just don’t think I could have done it without Udo. He is who I wrote it for. Getting the script into his hands was a huge feat that took months to even get that, so getting the call that he not only read the script, but that he loved it and wanted to do it was a completely surreal experience. And then having Dermot come on board? I just was like, “This is my dream come true.” So awesome. I’m just extremely grateful and they thankfully understood where I was going with these characters and wanted to do their interpretation of it.
Udo Kier is a perfect choice for a film where the way people see things is so important, just given that he’s known for those piercing blue eyes. Yeah. In terms of designing this film–it goes everywhere. Like you said earlier, it’s very, very ambitious for a first feature. Where was this all shot? Obviously it’s not the typical single-location first film.
We shot it in a quarantine full quarantine camp, in August 2020 outside of Austin in Dripping Springs. We had our hero house or hero location, and then we we had a wedding resort right across from the hero house. We went to different parts of this incredible wedding resort that is in Austin, Texas, but looks like it’s in the south of France. It’s so bizarre. It’s so beautiful, and it’s called Camp Lucy. We converted different parts of this beautiful resort into our blazing world.
We had an incredible production designer and an amazing DP, Shane Kelly, and we were together for six weeks and this is all we did. Nobody was going home to their families. We were all extremely isolated. It was a super stressful, weird time in the world in general and we were just letting our freak flag fly. I’d been conceptualizing all of these things for years, you know, and all of my inspirations are right up there on the screen to see. I was obsessed with carving out my own DNA and infusing different details into the story that are really specific to the character and what she’s going through. And so, yeah, there’s a lot.
Did having to isolate and be apart from everything help in crafting this fantasy world where you go somewhere else?
I think so. I mean, every crew member was just like, this is what we were doing all day. There was just very little separation and me being really obsessed with extracting what every person on this film’s interpretation of what this emotion is. There was so much subjectivity and, and people just saying, “Well, what about this? This is kind of how I see it,” and I’m like, “That’s really interesting. I didn’t think of it, but that’s really good idea,” and just embracing everybody’s strengths and just being like, “I’m so grateful that you’re here because we’re in a pandemic and there’s so much uncertainty and I’m just grateful for your time.”
The score by Isom Innis is amazing. I think I have a general idea of how you came to work with them [editor’s note: Young is married to the Foster the People keyboardist], but whose idea was it to also use classical works as part of the score?
I mean, Isom and I are really obsessed with finding out and testing the way that orchestral mixes with electronic and, and I wrote this script to the pas de deux and, and I knew that the Arabian dance from the Nutcracker, as well, had to book mark our desert sequence. So, I had those two pieces of music that were just non-negotiable and then I told Isom, “Find everything else in between there.”
Essentially like, even with the intro credit music, he had these really fabulous ideas, like four or five really beautiful ideas, and I was like, “No. It’s not right, because we’re leading into Tchaikovsky here. This cannot fight with Tchaikovsky. It must be an intro.” We had this language and there were no boundaries between us and I don’t know if a director and composer often talk to each other the way that we did, but it was a really amazing collaboration. I just knew that he would slay it.
And I mean, you also get to use a Stone Roses song, which is pretty great.
Yeah. I know. It’s a pretty lit soundtrack and I was so excited for that Panda Bear at the end.
There are some very rough scenes, both at the beginning, but also toward the end for your character. What do you do to prepare yourself for that emotionally when you’re the director and the actor at the same time?
It was pretty gut-wrenching. I had a fabulous assistant, Sarah Kirby who was following me around with–I had made energy maps for each chapter of the film. And so, particularly with the neon box, a portion of the film where Margaret is essentially having to face herself, which is a particularly emotional spot in the film, I was going off of these energy maps that were keeping me honest and keeping me on track because so much of the time as an actor, you know, you’re just doing your instinct, but we were very cognizant of, “Okay, this character, Margaret, has one last air bubble of oxygen in her brain, so the trauma is completely exploding at this point. This is the time for the emotion to just seep out of her pores,” you know? And so it was these energy maps, man. I had to be on those. To be able to do any of it.
The Blazing World is out this Friday, October 15, in select theaters and via On Demand.