A Safe Set for Pandemic-Era Feature The Blazing World

Sundance film comes to AFS's drive-in

Carlson Young, star and director of Sundance 2021 selection The Blazing World

Brinton Bryan was always going to move back to Austin. Even though he lived in Los Angeles for 18 years and had built a solid Hollywood career as an assistant director, his heart was here. He'd even called his production company "Greenbelt Films" as a wistful reminder. What he could not have known when he came back in 2019 was that he would end up producing one of the first independent pictures to be shot during the pandemic lockdown. Yet this weekend, The Blazing World, the dreamlike dark fable by Texas actor/director/writer Carlson Young (and Greenbelt's second Texas-made feature, after upcoming Depression-era drama 12 Mighty Orphans), gets its world premiere as part of this weekend's Sundance Film Festival – including a drive-in Austin debut, courtesy of Austin Film Society.

Bryan and Young have been friends for over a decade, and he knew her as a cinephile, writer, and actress. Yet he admitted that even he was blindsided by the short version of The Blazing World that she directed, and which played at Sundance in 2018. He said, "I think, for her, she developed the feature because she wanted to show the world and the industry a different side of her." They found locations around Austin, assembled the key crew, and on March 12, 2020, they signed Udo Kier to a lead role. That was the final green light, so on March 13 they started prep "and we closed prep on March 13. It was the same day the NBA got canceled, and Tom Hanks announced he had coronavirus, and Trump canceled travel to Europe. So it was an awful day."

Yet even as the pandemic started to look less like a blip and more like the long reality, Bryan was not prepared to shelve the script that had so intrigued him. He said, "I just called Carlson up one day, and I challenged her. I went, 'I think, looking at the breakdown of the project, there are six or seven scenes that we move around, and if we find creative ways to alter them without it affecting the overall integrity or production value of the project, I think we can pull this off.' Three hours later, she sent me the first draft."

The rewrite reemphasized the story as a four-hander, with Young as the tragedy-smashed Alice, caught between her dysfunctional mother (Vinessa Shaw, Ray Donovan), her violent father (Dermot Mulroney, Shameless), and a mysterious and possibly malevolent figure (Kier). However, that still meant a lot of crew behind the camera, and it was Bryan's job as producer to create a COVID-safe set. So he created what he called "a summer camp/quarantine bubble." Their main location was in Dripping Springs, "and lo and behold, Dripping Springs happens to be the second-largest wedding destination in the world, second to Las Vegas, and there are 75 of these wedding retreats, all within five minutes of where we [are] shooting the film." They turned one of those destinations, the Alexander at Creek Road, into their self-contained production bubble, with rigorous testing and safety protocols. However, as producer, Bryan now effectively became "the mayor of a small town. My problems ranged from typical producing problems to the makeup lady's microwave going out in her motor home."

The Blazing World streams at Sundance Film Festival 2021, Sun., Jan. 31, 5pm: second screening available from 6am on Mon., Feb. 1. Tickets and info at festival.sundance.org.

It also screens as part of Sundance Film Festival’s satellite screenings, presented by Austin Film Society. Sun., Jan. 31, 8:30pm at Pioneer Farms, 10621 Pioneer Farms Dr. Tickets $25 per car, $15 per additional passenger; available in advance at www.austinfilm.org/2021-sundance-film-festival.

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Sundance, Sundance Film Festival, Suandance Film Festival 2021, Brinton Bryan, The Blazing World, Austin Film Society, AFS, Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, Carlson Young, Udo Kier

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