After 10 years of acting, Carlson Young had a story she just wanted to tell herself. The star of MTV’s Scream TV series and Groundhog Day sex comedy Premature, Young wrote, directed and starred in the short The Blazing World which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
In The Blazing World, Young plays Margaret, a high school girl plagued by nightmares of a swirling black hole and a mysterious old man. The visions get stronger and more consuming as Young envisions them on screen.
Shot for two days (with an extra half day pickup), two months of post and two months of the score by her husband, musician Isom Innis, The Blazing World announces Carlson Young’s directorial ambitions. She sat down with Monsters and Critics at the Java Cow coffee shop on Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival.
Monsters & Critics: Had you learned about cinematography and lighting from all the sets you’ve been on?
Carlson Young: Yes, yes. Honestly, what started my dive into horror was Scream. I felt like when you’re on a show that pays so much homage to classic horror tropes and movies, I just dove so deep into it, got really obsessed with it. I knew that that was a vibe I wanted to inject on my own directing and on my own writing and material.
M&C: What were some films you discovered on that deep dive?
CY: Man, what didn’t I discover? I swear. Possession, the Zulawski film. I got really into Dario Argento. The Holy Mountain. The thing I love about horror is the tension and the thematic fear that it preys on. I want to do that in my own work in not a bloody way. I want to do it in a viscerally disturbing way.
M&C: Did the directors and cinematographers on Scream help you along the way? Did you ask them questions?
CY: Absolutely. I think Scream for me was just one 28 episode learning experience. I got to work with some really amazing directors, some really cool up and coming horror directors and I was just like a sponge.
It felt like such a learning experience for me to work with fantastic directors. I had been on lots of sets before but that for me felt like the most formative experience in terms of what it was going to look like for me as a director.
M&C: Was writing and directing your own films always the plan, horror or not?
CY: Yeah, it was always my own plan. My thought process was always I want to get to a place in my acting career where someone might take my writing or directing seriously.
I started to find that that might work the opposite way, or at the very least I just got tired of waiting to get the role that I wanted. So I’m like, “You know what? I’m just going to write it myself.” I’ve had this story in my head for a long time.
M&C: This is still a girl in high school living at home. Is that a period you have a lot to say about even though you’re in you’re 20s?
CY: It’s funny, I wrote it as a feature script. I co-wrote the feature script with an author friend of mine named Pierce Brown. He’s a young adult/sci-fi fiction writer known for the series Red Rising. We wrote the feature.
When I wrote the short, I knew I wanted to do it in a little bit more of a concise way and in a different point in the character’s life. So in the feature script, the character is a little older but the short, she is in high school. I’m pretty much done on high school.
M&C: You were able to play it mostly through your 20s which is a good problem to have.
CY: Totally. I am done, unless it just is a script that just blows my mind, I can’t do it anymore.
M&C: Is there an autobiographical seed in The Blazing World?
CY: Absolutely, yes. I started having this recurring dream about a year and a half ago. It was the scene where Margaret is sitting at the lunch table around her friends. They’re all talking in slow motion.
I had the dream enough to where eventually we would cut to the reverse of it and see what I was staring at, the black hole. I started really dissecting that idea and that dream.
I was reading The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish at the time. I was at USC writing a long paper on it. I was just really inspired by this woman, Margaret Cavendish, who is considered the first sci-fi/fantasy writer of all time, let alone a woman. I was just inspired by a lot of swirling things at that time.
M&C: Is Isom Innis’s score like his other music?
CY: He plays with a band called Foster the People which is a little more like pop/alternative indie. He contributes a lot to that band and their music is excellent, but we wanted a little bit more synthetic and we were referencing ‘70s and ‘80s giallo horror soundtracks that we loved. It was fun to explore that. It’s not necessarily what we does every day.
M&C: What is the pink stuff?
CY: Actually a part of my dream was the old man jumping out of the window but we couldn’t do that stunt with that actor. So then we started thinking okay, maybe he’s going to be foaming at the mouth and then she’s going to foam at the mouth.
We also didn’t have the time for that either. We had the pink dripping in the IV in that dream sequence. I had a friend on set who was like, “Let’s put that pink in his mouth instead of the foaming of the mouth.” I thought that would.
M&C: What did it taste like?
CY: It was just Pepto Bismol. I think I might’ve swallowed a little bit but I’m kind of a fan of Pepto Bismol so it was fine. [Laughs]
M&C: If there were things you couldn’t shoot, if you get to do the feature will you put everything back in?
CY: Everything. The feature is much more of a visual odyssey. I like to describe it as it’s about this character overcoming this traumatic event that happens in the cold open. When I was writing it, I kept thinking this is really reminding me of the cold open of Antichrist, the Lars Von Trier movie.
There’s a tragedy that happens in the first five minutes of that and so for this, when I was writing it, I was like, “Oof, I’m getting some Antichrist vibes.” This event informs the rest of the script, the rest of the character’s life and essentially when she goes into the other world, it’s about overcoming her and her family’s demons that have basically grown out of this tragedy.
M&C: The short is somewhat open to interpretation. Do you have an interpretation you’d like to share?
CY: I don’t want to give anything away. I think that’s one of the greatest parts about it is you can kind of take away what you want. For me, I love the bit at the end, “It’s okay, I have a map” because A, she doesn’t have a map if you watch the short closely. She’s basically sinking into the depths of her own mind at the end of the short. Of course, you don’t know if it’s real or not. I think it’s real but obviously that’s up for interpretation.
M&C: Is the feature a more definitive narrative?
CY: Yes, absolutely.
M&C: Have you already imagined the other world for the feature?
CY: Mm-hmm, it’s done. The script is finished. It’s crazy. It’s dark, it’s very dark.
M&C: What can you tell us about that world if we get to see the feature?
CY: It’s ruled by the old man who you do see in the short. His name is Lianed. He represents denial. Denial backwards, go figure. He represents the denial of the tragedy that happens in the cold open.
Basically she has to go on this journey that he sets her on. It’s basically just one big lie, but she figures it out by the end.
Each section of the world that she goes into represents something completely different, so we have some crazy sets. There’s a desert. There’s a dark twisted version of her own house. It’s very visual.
M&C: Is the short essentially act one of the film?
CY: It’s like the prequel, because like I said it’s a different time in the character’s life. Basically what the short represents to me is A, who I am as a director, what I like visually, what I want things to feel like tonally. But it is a different time in the character’s life.
M&C: Is there anything else you’re planning to write and make?
CY: I’m writing a lot right now. We’ll just see what happens.
M&C: What other subjects?
CY: I’m really into the complicated nature of marriage and I am of course a horror gal. We’ll see.