Sometimes the most powerful way for a family to survive a crisis is to fuse together moments of fantasy and dreams with the authentic reality of what’s truly happened to them. That’s certainly the case for the the young titular protagonist and her father, who are contemplating how she can overcome her past trauma and the ensuing dilemma that’s distressing them both. in the new crime drama, ‘Blaze.’
The cathartic, cleverly crafted coming-of-age movie chronicles survivors’ struggles to grieve, particularly in the female lived experience. Award-winning Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton made her feature film directorial debut with the project, which chronicles the eponymous girl’s journey into womanhood. The helmer also co-wrote ‘Blaze’s script with Huna Amweero.
‘Blaze’ follows Luke (Simon Baker), the attentive single father of the 12-year-old titular character (Julia Savage), who’s unable to cope with life after she experiences trauma. Colorful, creative sequences showcase the young protagonist’s psyche as she channels and explores her depression, anger and grief, and looks for an appropriate way to express herself. Luke is all too aware of society’s shortcomings as he sets out to protect and support his daughter.
The Australian drama had its World Premiere in the International Narrative Competition at last month’s Tribeca Festival. Baker and Savage were joined by actress Yael Stone and producer Samantha Jennings during the New York City-based festival to talk about starring in and producing ‘Blaze’ during an exclusive interview.
Among other things, the actor, actresses and producer generously discussed how they embraced collaborating with Barton as the co-scribe-director on the movie, as she infused the script with a unique artistic vision and emotional attention to detail in the feature’s character and plot developments. The performers and producer also shared that they were happy they were able to reunite in person to celebrate the film at its premiere at the Tribeca Festival.
ShockYa (SY): Julia, you play the eponymous character, Simon, you play Luke, her single father, and Yaelr, you portray Hannah, in the new drama, ‘Blaze.’ What was it about your respective characters, as well as the overall screenplay, that convinced you all to take on your roles? How did you become attached to star in the movie
Julia Savage (JS): I got the offer to audition, and I did. Apparently, Del liked my tapes. (Savage laughs.) So I went in for one of the final auditions with three other girls, and that was when I met Simon. We read some scenes together and had a lot of fun. There was a relationship there…so it wasn’t hard to play father and daughter.
Then in the final final audition, I danced for about 10 minutes straight…which was so cool, because I think the dragon (that Blaze envisions in her fantasies) was there at the time. It was unfinished, but almost there.
I really enjoyed going over the script in general at the time. Simon and I talked about how it’s not often when you get a script that includes artistic pictures and a viewpoint of what the film would look like every few pages.
I was instantly hooked because it was such a colorful, beautiful, important story to tell. I was interested in the story because it was one of the most beautiful scripts that I have ever read.
Simon Baker (SB): I also thought the script was very unique. I think when it comes to choosing what films to do, particularly in choosing a film that’s being made by a first-time filmmaker, the most important thing for me is what the intention is behind the film. I thought the intention for this film was great and powerful, and wanted to know that there are movies like this one out there.
It was then about the process of sitting down with Del for a meeting. About three hours and 15 cups of tea later, I walked out of there thinking, this is going to be a great adventure.
The fun is the process of making a film. I don’t hang too much on the result because it’s so hard to make a good film. There are so many ways that it can fall off the rails, as it’s a difficult medium.
Del was there with good intentions, so I knew it was going to be a great adventure. So I thought, I want to take that adventure. I’m enormously proud of the film and think it’s incredible, powerful and potent.
Yael Stone (YS): Well, I was very intimidated initially. Obviously, the prospect of engaging in a film that’s driven by psychosexual violence is pretty intimidating.
I then met Del, who invited me to come to her studio. There was no turning down the film after that. (Stone laughs.) It was such a magical world, and I understood everything in the script after I saw her studio.
SY: Speaking of Del, what was the experience like of working with her to build your characters’ arcs throughout ‘Blaze?’
JS: Obviously, the material in the film is quite dark and heavy, so having a relationship with the director, producers and rest of the cast was very important. I was so privileged to have that with everyone, and we’re all good mates.
During pre-production, when I was preparing to shoot the film, Del was amazing and put aside time to go over the script together. We sat down with all of these pages that she made for each moment in the film. We worked on different words, and the first thing that came to mind when we thought of that word.
Being so involved in the filming and its collaborative process, including asking Del if she thought certain things would work, as well as the make-up and wardrobe, was amazing. Having the trust I had with her, as well as everyone else on set, was great. I could tell there was real excitement in the air for the filmmaking process.
SB: Del’s a really beautiful, sensitive soul. She’s also very inclusive and open. I think whenever you make a film, the director always sets the tone of the working experience. Due to Del’s soul, the whole environment became really open and generous.
That’s a perfect set of circumstances, particularly for a film like this, where Julia’s a minor and there’s a heavy subject matter, so there was a lot of care there. It felt like a nurturing environment, and there was artistic freedom, which often involves a lot of risk. But we all felt safe on this set. That’s good because I’ve been on a lot of sets where that type of environment isn’t nurtured.
YS: It was brilliant. I had so much fun working with not only Del, but also Julia, and getting to share her energy of where she is in her life. In a way, it was the complete opposite of the horrors that are in the story. The violence was really uncomfortable and difficult, but the bond with Julia made the experience so gratifying.
SY: Sam, you served as one of the producers on the film. How did you become involved in producing the feature?
Samantha Jennings (SJ): I met Del before she even brought the idea to me. I found her and her work really captivating, and I really loved the idea for the film. I thought the script had unique voices and perspectives, and liked the fact that she wanted to approach filmmaking in different ways. So I was taken by her whole aesthetic from the beginning.
She let me know that this idea was very personal for her. I liked the combination of her creatively imaginative vision with her story, which really has something to say.
SY: For the actors, what was the process like of working together as co-stars to build your characters’ emotions, backstories and relationships? Did you have any rehearsal time together during the production?
JS: I think we did rehearsals for about two weeks before we started shooting. Every day was more fun and a different adventure.
I think that’s when I saw the dragon almost completed for the first time, and it was so beautiful. But I think there were still some artists doing some stitches and sewing some gems and sequins on.
It was so cool being able to see a physical dragon to scale as it is in the film. It’s huge and so amazing. It was also cool to see the puppeteers making it work.
Also, getting to meet everyone and work with Simon during that time was lovely. There was so much collaboration between us.
Also, being able to walk onto the set was amazing. There was so much color and so many sequins.
YS: I feel like there was a lot of storytelling between Del and us actors. Sometimes, we would explicitly saying what something is not, which is important for a film like this. So there was a lot of sharing, so that we could do those things and then feel safe afterwards. There was so much healing in the process.
SB: Yes, I agree.
I’m trying to remember – we didn’t have too much rehearsal time together. But like Julia mentioned earlier, for me, the first time we auditioned together, there was a real ease. We knew that there was rapport there.
Julia is very open, and we were able to connect very easily. That connection grew very quickly, and that’s because she’s quite brilliant. As a human being, she’s very open, which is very rare, especially as a young actor. Of course, you want that to be nurtured.
The process of making a film can be quite mechanical, but on this film, that feeling quickly fell away. I think that’s a testament to Sam and Del, as well as our cinematographer (Jeremy Rouse). The whole tone of the set was very nurturing. So this young child actor became this incredible, iconic female actress. She kept growing, and it was cool to be around that and watch it as it was happening.
I went and hung out with her at her house…It was interesting to see who she is as a person during that time. Even now, watching her see the film and do press is really great. Her future is pretty solid.
SY: Speaking of working with the ‘Balze’s cinematographer, Jeremy Rouse, what was the process like of creating the visual components of the project?
SJ: Del wanted the film to be a sensory immersive experience; from the beginning of the production, that was so important to her. So the way that (Rouse) was able to embrace that, and make the film as sensory as possible, was really amazing.
SY: What was the experience like of shooting the drama in the different locations?
JS: It was really cool. We did a lot of the more magical aspects of filming in the studio, though. But seeing all of the props coming and going was just amazing. Everything was there, including most of the puppets and props. There was barely any CGI, except for adding in the life to all of the figures. So being able to film in such great sets, including a church, was insane. It’s rare, in my short-lived experience, that happens.
YS: Yes, it was very theatrical. I love Del’s faith in the images’ ability to heal, more than just the words do. It took someone who completely believes in that vision to say, “Yes, let’s invest in visual healing.”
SB: It’s actually really great to shoot a movie in Sydney, which is where we made this film. I could walk to work from my home, which was amazing. As Australians, it’s not something we get to do that often, and it’s lovely to also be able to see the city on the screen.
SY: Sam, as a producer, how involved were you in ‘Blaze’s the day-to-day producing duties throughout the productions, including securing the locations?
SJ: I was very involved; that’s just the way my producing partner and I work. When we take a project on, it’s a very personal commitment, and we’re very much there through the script process, production and post-production.
We do that partially because we often work with first-time directors and material that has an element of risk. By doing that, there’s a level of responsibility to help the material’s progress get to a point where we can bring it to the world. You have to ask people to have that sense of trust in you when you do that.
So we were very involved on the ground and finding the locations. This project was mainly shot on location, but there was also a bit of studio work.
The thing with Del was, how can we translate what she can see in her mind into reality on the screen? It’s her language, so there’s no pre-given version of that.
SY: ‘Blaze’ had its World Premiere in the International Narrative Competition at (last month’s) Tribeca Festival. What has the experience been like of bringing the movie to the festival?
JS: It’s been incredible. I counted – I waited a year and seven months to see this film after shooting! It was an excruciatingly long wait!
YS: You’ve apparently become an adult during that time. You’re a grown up now, right?!? (Stone laughs.)
JS: Well, I’m still a minor in Australia! (Savage will turn 15 next month.) But it’s been amazing to be able to see the final touches and edit that were made on the film. It’s so different than how I pictured it would be during filming, before everything was put together.
So it was so cool and amazing to see Del’s final vision, and everything come together, on screen. This was our first showing to a live audience, so it was amazing to sit there and go, “We did that.” A lot of other people who were involved in making the film where also at the premiere, so it was amazing to be surrounded by them there.
SB: It’s been really lovely to all be together again and celebrate the film. I’ve made quite a few films in my life, and I feel that this one really needs to be celebrated.
What really impacted me when I read the script was the attention to details. Everything evolves when you’re making a film, but the attention to details was even stronger when I read the finished the film.
Very often in films, the intention that grabs you in the first place gets diluted in some way. But those details were so potent in the finished project, so I thought, “Holy sh*t, this is magic.” The film is so real, raw and powerful. All the images, sounds and dialogue were articulated in a very potent way. That, to me, was amazing, as it doesn’t happen very often. I’m an old cynic, but I’m really proud of this movie.