For this year’s iteration of the Tribeca Film Festival, we sat down over Zoom to have an intimate chat with actors Simon Baker and Julia Savage about their exciting new film, Blaze! We chat about the importance of listening to rape victims, the heavy subject matter, giant dragons, and glitter galore!
Tribeca selection Blaze puts rape culture in its crosshairs through the lens of an emotionally damaged 13-year-old child. I found myself slowly falling in love with the main character of Blaze as she grapples with the horrible images that have seared their way into her mind. She remains haunted by what she sees throughout the course of the film, and must constantly escape to a fantasy world of her own making. Gorgeous, creative visuals, layered scripting, and a stellar feature debut from newcomer Julia Savage make Blaze a captivating and stunning vision that calculatedly tugs at one’s heartstrings. Check out our full interview transcription after the jump!
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us for Josh At The Movies today! Big congrats on your film’s Tribeca debut! Was yesterday the first time you were all able to see the film together in its entirety, and what was it like watching with an audience?
JULIA SAVAGE: We saw it on Thursday night, but it was lovely to see with an audience to see how it was received. Also Simon hadn’t seen it—it was definitely nice to see how it came together.
SIMON BAKER: Yeah, I’d seen a couple of rough cuts, before it was finished and polished. We were both sent a link to watch before we came, but neither of us wanted to see it on a computer the first time. It’s so impactful. We knew the story…
JULIA: But we also hadn’t really seen how everything was put in place.
SIMON: To see it have that impact, the visuals and the sound design and all of that on a cinema screen was awesome.
JULIA: Yeah, chills! I think obviously the film content is quite heavy, so it’s going to be different for everyone but overall, it’s been quite positive. I think it’s touching a lot of people that have seen it so far. I think we had someone come up to us last night, and she was a black woman. She said that it was really impacting on her to see this white privileged woman have the same thing happen to her, and she said that she felt really empowered by that. There have just been a lot of people who have been really heard.
Julia, how difficult did you find it to be making the transition from television and shorts to feature length filmmaking? What was your favorite part about playing Blaze?
JULIA: I was younger…I was and still am under the age of being a minor in the film industry. Working early days, really hard and really quickly. Obviously, it was on a time crunch, but having such a supportive cast and crew, it was honestly really fun. We had a great time, and I think one of my favorite parts of playing Blaze was all of her little mannerisms. Really everything in her whole imaginary world—I got to go in before we started filming, and just add little details to the rooms. Little pictures, paint dragons, and just name all the origami figures. Just being able to be so immersed in her [director Del Kathryn Barton’s] world and imagination was really amazing.
Julia, Blaze is at an age where she’s just beginning to discover her sexuality. However, in the film, she is forcibly asked questions about bondage, and even traumatic crime scene photos. How much do you think this will affect Blaze going forward into adulthood?
JULIA: Well, I think that in the last frame of the film for anyone who stays or who saw it, we see Zephyr lying in her bedroom in metamorphism. I think that’s a very symbolic shot, like, this is her childhood. She’s let that go. Killing Zephyr, she had to let all of that go and move on and become a woman. I think every part of this film is just her growing up a little more. It’s all very specific. That scene where she has the conversation with the boy in the hospital… The show after is Zephyr lying on her bed.
I think that every time she becomes more of a woman—does more adult and transitional things—she loses her childhood, self. She kind of fully becomes Blaze. That was a little part of confidence or womanhood that she needed to get through, and to advance in her life. As her therapist said, this is something that will go through her whole life, but she’s a strong girl, she’s got a great dad. She’s gonna be fine.
Headphones seem to be a source of comfort for Blaze. What was the process behind her choices of music? I’m assuming it was carefully curated.
JULIA: Del was really the mastermind behind a lot of the music. We listened to a lot of it during pre production filming, and even after. Her headphones were a safe space when she puts them on—just blocks out the world, I guess. Del and I spent time in pre-production decorating the headphones with her stickers and everything. I think her playlists were so funny when you freeze it on that frame. She loves her dad, but it’s that little bit of rebellion. I think it’s such a big part of the film. Every song has been, as you notice, so intricately chosen, and it’s so specific to every single second. I think sound is a really impactful part of cinema. And I think that for this film it was so specific.
Simon, we adored the relationship between Blaze and her father in the film. What was your relationship like with Julia on set, and did you sort of take her under your wing during filming?
SIMON: Oh, yeah! In the audition process, when we read together, it was kind of like, there’s a connection immediately, when we first looked at each other. I’ve been working for many years, sometimes you have to manifest that connection, a lot of the times. It was just easy straightaway. You could sort of sense that. We were doing heavy scenes, we did a few different scenes—I just knew. I’d read with a couple of a few girls. When Julia and I did our first scene together, I just knew straight away. We were able to make that feel very authentic. Also, I could see straight away that Julia had this facility to access something that’s not something that you can make. She has an ability, a gift to be able to access that. I knew that that was there. I knew straightaway that was there in her back then, watching Julia on the set, because filming is such a technical process.
The elements of making a film are so technical, that it can be grinding; sometimes that spirit and soul can be diminished in the process. The awesome thing about this young woman is it grew and grew and grew, and she just kept accessing, and it kept going stronger and more and more powerful. For me, playing a parent, being older—to see that grow in her is beautiful. It was beautiful and it’s bright to watch. So yes, it’s like a father/daughter thing. I do feel very protective of Julia, and I feel very proud of her too. I’m getting a bit teary.
Simon, do you think being a single father dealing with a sexual issue puts a divide between Luke and Blaze, with Luke unable to fully help Blaze or understand her point of view?
SIMON: For the Luke character, that’s his central conundrum. In a lot of ways, the big theme of the film is about feeling feelings but not knowing how to deal with them or cope with them. That’s a cathartic nature; my character is just one little aspect of it. But that’s his struggle too, is he’s feeling these things when he doesn’t know how to fix it, he can’t fix it. If you step back in the bigger picture with this film is, I think this is why a lot of people it does resonate, and it has been impactful with the audiences that we’ve experienced that with. It does help express things that you can’t necessarily articulate.
Feelings, through this magic swirl of imagery, and sound and music and cinema, help express this unknowable, undefinable feeling inside. That’s powerful. I’m really proud of being part of this movie, because it does sort of give a voice, an outlet, a sense of relief to those kinds of feelings.
Can we talk about the details on the “dragon” for a minute? We were completely blown away by the attention to detail. Additionally, the animation used was jaw-dropping at times. How much of the fantasy sequences were practical vs. being entirely digital?
JULIA: I’ll tell you now, the majority of them were practical, and the entire cast and crew were covered in glitter for like, weeks. I would wash my hair, and it would just come out in the shower. The dragon was entirely practical, aside from the eye animation, and the scene where she does slay the dragon. That was a white kind of cast, the wings and majority CGI, but you know, other sequences, I was on ropes. There was a scene where I did get on the back of the dragon and rode it, kind of a NeverEnding Story moment!
But yeah, a lot of it was practical. There was a lot of makeup from a very talented makeup designer Rose Saffioti. There was a lot that went into it. We really wanted to get as much physically done as we could so that we could just add more fun with CGI. Obviously, my eyes are used in a lot of the sequences on the cicadas and a lot of shots. So we used that and that was animation. The heart that we used at the wedding and the cicada that was embracing was all practical.
SIMON: The big hands!
JULIA: Well that was a really funny day. They were brought out and Simon was like “how!” But it works! Just put on gloves and couldn’t move for an hour.
SIMON: That’s what’s really interesting: when you see the film now having seen all of those things practical, even the animation and the CG stuff that helps with the puppetry, it feels seamless. So it’s still Del’s handmade quality to all of those elements. She’s so detailed!
JULIA: There were so many beads and buttons and everything just sewn on because for Del it was obviously such a personal film. Everyone wanted it to have this childish quality of everything being handmade.
SIMON: An innocence to it to really juxtapose with what’s going on.
JULIA: That’s why a lot of the stuff wasn’t changed too much. Crawling through guts was also an experience.
SIMON: That’s my favorite part of the whole movie!
JULIA: I literally had a bun on my head, and at one point it got stuck on one of the guts so it was crazy… there was a concept of the Dragon test that I did in the studio. It was amazing to be part of something that was so practical, and being able to get involved and not have to do that without it and imagine what it would be like—I literally got to do it. It was a lot of work. A lot.
SIMON: Super impressive, because it is really a very low budget film.
JULIA: The puppet Zephyr… it was amazing because we had these beautiful puppeteers who were just so lovely and they really made what was an inanimate object really real. The tongue licks, and moving the eyelashes… it so sweet. That was amazing to not have to I guess, feel as if I was speaking with something that wasn’t real. Zephyr really felt real.
SIMON: My daughter Stella, she’s in her 20s, and she saw the film with me. She was saying to me yesterday actually that she was so moved by the dragon. She goes, ‘I can’t believe how affected I was by that relationship with the dragon,” and I was like, “no that’s really great!” It was always such an ambitious thing in the script, and when we were shooting. Is the dragon gonna work? That’s so nice to hear to hear that feedback that she was really affected by the dragon. Beautiful.
Piggybacking off the last question, what do you think Blaze’s obsession with figurines ultimately means? Is her reaction to break the kangaroos after they kiss reflective of her fear of closeness to others?
JULIA: I think initially one of the green dogs which we call the Kevins—every figure had names—but the green dogs were the Kevins. Del found one at a shop, and she found another and then that kind of thing just started. She knows more about that than I do. I think everything is so arranged. When her father takes it all down from the ceiling, and then just throws it in the cabinet, it’s as if her armor has come down and her walls have come down—that kind of messy order. It’s so important to her.
It’s another amazing aspect of her imagination, because really, her whole bedroom is her space. That’s why she takes out her headphones: because it’s bringing parts of that world with her which she can’t bring with her. Everything was kind of deteriorating getting really quite sad, but yet I think that she did break the kangaroos, seeing that they were still kissing was really symbolic but very important for her to see. Even if something’s broken, it can still be beautiful.
She really likes things, places—very much a tactile person. That’s why obviously the dragon is so detailed and embellished and her room is just such a creative person. Being able to shoot most days was so amazing. It was completely transformed! It was really just four walls. They made the room entirely in the studio, it was just painted. The bed and everything! It was so amazing to be able to completely construct that from scratch.
Did you take anything home with you from the set? There were so many figurines…
JULIA: I didn’t take any of them, to my great disappointment, no, but I did take several things. I took a lot of Blaze’s clothes. I took a lot of the pictures from her walls. I think one of Zephyr’s feathers, an orange one on his head. It actually fell off on the last day that we were filming. So I took that home, and it was in my trailer for the rest of shooting. I had some nail polish…
SIMON: You had painted my nail. When we did the camera test. Shiny glitter, and it was like that for like a month!
JULIA: I digress, but the string and nail polish was so cool because it changes every time. I would have someone who comes up to me and they go “hey what color are you feeling today.” We go red, and we go blue. It really was an important part, and is representative of imagination. The nail polish was always on and off with different scenes, and continuity would be changing. It was such a rainbow world, but it’s not so often that you come across such a genuine genuinely beautiful and colorful film. And again. so practical like there were very few things really that were not physically there that you can play with and form relationships with.
SIMON: Her bedroom was just this kind of playground of arts and crafts.
JULIA: It was just amazing. Dragons, personalities everywhere. I still have the white dragon that she put in her mouth! I still have the one one that I put in my fingers and burned him! It’s in my room, just chilling.
Makeup and styling is also paramount in Blaze. What inspired the idea to have practically everything glimmering with rhinestones, including the dead body?
SIMON: You have to meet Del.
JULIA: Ask Del more about the physical aspects—again, her team really made those cements and molds. The makeup… there was some moments that I had to literally roll in my eyes, and I couldn’t see but it looks cool. That’s fine. I think there were a lot of them. The blood volcano… I was drenched at about 11 o’clock at night and black glitter on my eyes… everything really. Just a smoothie in my eyes and all the glitter.
SIMON: Welcome to showbiz, kid.
JULIA: There were lots of different looks obviously, and I think that especially in pre production and during rehearsals, we kind of just went crazy. We did like everything. There were some we didn’t end up using. My face was completely pink with glitter, and the gems on my face and the eyes and they all look identical to what she’s just come from. Obviously the eyes with everyone in the courtroom… It was really cool to be able to have that many looks to do, and be able to have also that much freedom. I was allowed to be involved with it as well, rather than sit in a chair and have it done. It was really lovely to be part of it.
The dragon’s death in the conclusion can symbolize a variety of things, and I’m assuming not having it simply fly away was purposeful. Why was it so important for it to be a bloody, explosive release for the audience and the character of Blaze?
JULIA: The exposure could be representative of her emotions, and anger and rage and sadness about what happened coming out in the final release of slaying Zephyr. There was a lot of blood involved obviously, but I think that it’s even as I shot of him lying in the end just in her childhood bedroom… the childhood is there, but she’s chosen to move on, and let it go, and be okay with what’s happened.
I think the big explosion of blood was so important. It’s the release. Everything is just coming out, and she made that decision. It so sad to film and to see. Slaying your dragon is not really fun, but it was something that she came to terms with having to when with there was a beautiful understanding there.
We love to close with this question, but do each of you have any upcoming projects or things you are excited for in the pipeline?
JULIA: I have a new series, but I can’t say much about it. I’m really excited. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say anything.
SIMON: I go back to Australia, and I start shooting a movie in about three weeks. Another little Australian film. Love that you guys love the movie. I read your review, Josh. Thank you for writing such a great review. Little movies like this… I mean, this movie is powerful. I’m super proud of this film, and I just want this movie to reach as many people as it can, and I’m grateful. We’re all very grateful to have that positive energy out there around the movie.
It was a pleasure chatting with Simon and Julia, and we can’t wait to see what they do next!
We reviewed the film as well here.