For episode 4, Jordan spoke with Sybil Rosen and Ethan Hawke about their film BLAZE.
BLAZE is inspired by the life of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas outlaw music movement that spawned the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. The film explores Blaze’s love affair with Sybil Rosen; his last, dark night on earth; and the impact of his songs and his death had on his fans, friends, and foes.
Sybil Rosen is a writer and actress whose memoir about her eight-month period living with Blaze Foley in a wall-less tree house in West Georgia—Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze—provided the source material for the film.
Ethan Hawke is an Academy Award-nominated writer, actor, and director. He has starred in a number of films over the course of his career, including DEAD POETS SOCIETY, TRAINING DAY, the BEFORE trilogy, BOYHOOD, and FIRST REFORMED. Prior to BLAZE, he co-wrote the screenplays for BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT.
— OnWriting (@OnWritingWGAE) October 4, 2018
OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The podcast is hosted by Jordan Carlos. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.
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Thanks for listening. Write on.
Jordan Carlos: I’m Jordan Carlos and you’re listening to OnWriting, a scree writing podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America East. This is a show about the stories we see on our screens and the people who make them happen. You’ll hear from writers in the film, TV, news and digital media industries about their work. From pitching to production. From process to favorite lines and everything in between. So welcome to OnWriting, I’m joined of course by our two filmmakers Sybil Rosen and, the one and only, Academy Award-nominated Ethan Hawke. Sybil and Ethan thank you for joining us today – really appreciate it.
Ethan Hawke: Thank you.
Sybil Rosen: Good morning.
Jordan Carlos: You’ve both written Blaze, the story of Blaze Foley, the country and western singer, and his tragic demise. I have to say this from the jump, the movie was beautiful, still, harmonious and very gratifying, but I want you to tell me please, who was Blaze Foley.
Ethan Hawke: You go.
Sybil Rosen: All right. Blaze Foley is part of that pantheon of legends that are part of the Texas outlaw music movement. Except Blaze is the legend that nobody’s ever heard of.
Ethan Hawke: A secret legend.
Sybil Rosen: He was shot and killed in Austin in 1989 defending a neighbor and when he died he was mostly a very obscure musician, singing in his friends living rooms and back porches. But when I met him in 1975, he was a young, odd, brilliant Hillbilly-
Jordan Carlos: Where did you meet him?
Sybil Rosen: I met him in West Georgia in this very, sort of, eclectic, very seventies establishment that was kind of an arts colony and a theater and a bistro and a B&B. All these things sort of wrapped together in this very psychedelic way. We met, actually I fell in love with him the first time I heard him sing. I had never heard a voice like that before, so laden with emotion and open and vulnerable. What girl couldn’t fall for that. So we fell in love, we landed in a tree house in the woods for about eight months and that’s when he started to write as far as I know. I think he had songs roiling around in him, but it was really at that point that he-
Jordan Carlos: So you were his muse and he was your muse as well, or?
Sybil Rosen: Well, I suppose both of those are very true. I think Blaze had many muses, but he certainly had a remarkable impact on my creative life and I suspect I’ll be writing about him for the rest of my life.
Jordan Carlos: Right, as a result of this romance, it begat the book, correct?
Sybil Rosen: Well there many things that begat the book, but we had this … we went to Austin where we thought he was going to peddle his songs, but it turned out he had pretty severe stage fright and so he felt he had to go. Austin was so important to him that he felt he needed to cultivate his performing chops elsewhere. He went back to Georgia to Atlanta, went back and forth for a couple of months and then we moved to Chicago because he was a huge John Prine fan and felt maybe he could break into that scene. We’d been together at that point about two years. I had been writing and I was very … we both wanted so much to be artists, I think that was a lot of what brought us together. We had that same longing and that same question about how do you really do that. We broke up in Chicago, at that point he wrote a song called “If I could only fly” which has become his signature song.
Jordan Carlos: Which is a beautiful song and when you hear it while watching the film it’ll grab you. It grabbed me. I have to tell you I hate new songs. People have to be long dead, which works, but that’s me. I hate new music and this and there was something about this film, where it was like, I got your number and I’m dialing. And each one of the new songs, they creep up on you. I guess that’s part of the magic of Blaze’s music, was each one totally crept up on me and grabbed me. I have to ask this, what was the watershed when you decided to write your book or your memoir?
Sybil Rosen: You have to sort of fast forward 25 years. From our breakup and I have to say that I have this strange disconnect from his memory. Maybe because it was so powerful. I was writing about him, but he had disappeared from the surface of my mind. I can’t even quite explain that to you, but it was just obviously his memory was pursuing me, but at the same time and … but everything I was writing about him was idealized and sanitized, so I was quite disconnected really from the love that we had experienced. But then in 2001 I was contacted by Kevin Triplett who was doing a documentary about Blaze Foley, Duct Tape Messiah. Apparently he had heard about me and he had been looking for me and so he found me in upstate New York and I went back to Georgia to be interviewed. But before I went down to the interview I asked Kevin to send me some music of Blaze’s. Because I hadn’t really heard him sing in 20 years. It’s not like now where you can just download a song. Everything I had of his was vinyl. I didn’t have a way of playing it. He sent me the Outhouse album, if you know that album. The very first note, I don’t know if he rushed into me, rushed out of me, but I was completely haunted, for lack of a better word, his presence was so real and profound and insistent.
Jordan Carlos: You had a sonic [inaudible 00:06:33]
Sybil Rosen: I had a sonic couple of year actually. It was a long reckoning. But I think out of that experience I understood that I had to write about him again and that this time I really had to tell the truth and not try to varnish it in some kind of way and that was the beginning of writing the memoir.
Jordan Carlos: And perhaps you had changed in the process.
Sybil Rosen: I felt like he was insisting that I stitch his memory back into me and whatever part of me I had been separated from came back to me and into me and obviously changed my life forever.
Jordan Carlos: Blaze Foley, that’s a tattoo that doesn’t wear off too easily. How did then the book find it’s way to you Ethan Hawke?
Ethan Hawke: Well, the book found its way to me, I had this friendship with a musician named Ben Dickey and Ben had turned me on to Blaze Foley. Then I start getting an idea in my head that Ben would be a wonderful Blaze Foley if we were to make a movie about Blaze’s life. His death seemed to be the making of an interesting tale that begged for, how did that happen. My wife and I went down to Austin to try to find the story and when I went there I met Louis Black who was a journalist who had covered Blaze — shows back in the day. He’d started the Austin Chronicle. He’d started South by Southwest Film Festival. He’s very attached to the Austin arts scene. I had met him because he was a real champion of Richard Linklater, Slacker and I’d known him for years and just admired his artistic sensibility a great deal. I’d just met him and I said, “So what’s, if there was a movie about Blake Foley, what’s the story?” And he said, “Well have you living in the woods in a tree?” I said “No, I don’t know what that is.” He said, “Ah well, that’s his wife’s book.” I said, “That guy had a wife?” And he said, “Well kind of, kind of, read the book.” When I read the book, I felt like I knew this person Sybil Rosen’s the name on the book and felt this person seemed like one of my friends. She’s an actor and she’s an artist and she’s a writer and a playwright and a spiritual thinker and I liked this person who wrote this book a lot. The book was so different than I thought it was going to be. As a music fan I’ve read a lot of books about musicians and they often go down the well of deifying the artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jimmy Hendrix or Janis Joplin or whoever, especially around the cult of death. Especially when you add that in. The book was incredibly human and it was really about a woman. It wasn’t about Blaze. The book is about Sybil and her relationship to Blaze, yes. But you learn a lot about you and I really liked what I learned and it was much more interesting than I thought. It was very obvious to me what the movie was supposed to be and it had to center around this relationship. There’s something very powerful about it that you could make great art from. I knew that I now needed this partner or I wasn’t gonna do it. It was this unfortunate realization that I couldn’t do it alone. So I guess I got your number through Louis and we talked on the phone and now we’re on your podcast.
Jordan Carlos: What was the process. You’re very good at adapting screenplays obviously, because you were nominated for an Oscar twice for that. But what was the process. Did you all meet in the same place, did you go down to Texas, was it all Starbucks coffee shops and things like that?
Ethan Hawke: No, you know, I think it must have been a pretty interesting for you or a weird ride for Sybil because I’ve been making movies since I was 13. And I have a genuine, general mistrust of screenplays as a written form.
Jordan Carlos: That’s offensive here.
Ethan Hawke: I don’t like final draft. I don’t like this idea that you can buy a program that tells you how to shape something. I think it’s a mistake already. You know that there’s a whole idea that the reason why so many screenplays are so similar is because of these programs and the whole way that we think about. We’re a whole generation that’s grown up watching television and watching movies. But the art form itself if so incredibly young, that the idea that there’s one way to make a screen play seems absolutely asinine. You would never say that about a novel or a play.As a student of theater we’re all hypnotized by Chekhov or Peter Brook or the Empty Space is one of the best books on theater. The fact that Chekhov and Stanislavski would through rehearsal create something that was unique to that place and that time. And they put their finger in an electrical socket that still 100 years later. Whether it’s Lee Strasberg of Marlon Brando or Gene Hackman, people are still thinking and talking about what happened in Russia, and so the idea that you can buy final draft and you can say, in theory, your Starbucks, she orders a coffee , he orders one. I have an allergy to it. There are people that do it well. I just did a Paul Schrader movie, this screenplay was ice hot. But it’s not a screenplay that can be put into a program, it was so clearly the work of a very serious writer. And the process of making that film was very different than the process of making our film. Paul is a writer first. What I wanted to be is curator of sorts. I thought we wanted to push Blaze’s music forward. I knew that there was, the way that Sybil thinks in her book, it was obvious to me that we could work together. Because every chapter starts with a quote from a song, and she’s focusing on Blaze’s poetry to illuminate a shared experience and I thought that we could do that. We could use somewhere around 10 or 12 songs to create fence posts for a screenplay. Really what I wanted to do was to rip pages out of her memoir and rip lines and rip insights and staple them onto a kind of … have you read a Bergman screenplays? They’re really like notes on a movie. It’s very interesting. Goddard’s screenplays are insane, like little note books. You know. Because you need for a certain kind of film making. We wanted, we wrote this thing, we never stopped writing, meaning there wasn’t a day where the screenplay was done or screenplay was … Sybil and I sat on set with Charlie Sexton, we had this … one of the devices of the movie is radio interview. We just followed Charlie’s lead. When Charlie missed an important line, we would go back and get it. When he changed a line and made it better, we would encourage it and say what do you mean, tell me more. I felt we had a really good … together a really good hit on the DNA of the movie. Past, present, future. Three timelines that were gonna bounce of each other. It’s gonna be the timeline of falling in love, Blaze and Sybil’s relationship. There’s gonna be the timeline around his murder and there was gonna be a timeline after he was dead. Revisiting him and thinking him. Past, present, future. And those things would bounce of each other. And I love actors. Sybil’s an actor, I’m an actor and I wanted them … I learned from Richard Linklater, the value of inviting people into your process, and not dictating to them. Ben is from Arkansas. Ben has a deeper, more profound relationship to Blaze’s music than I do, so why should I … and Sybil has a more profound relationship to his music than I do. So, why would I dictate to anybody what it should be? I wanted to listen to her, let her talk to Ben. Sybil would go over and talk to Ben while we were working all the time about certain songs or certain feelings. Then something magic can happen, which is that, like we were talking about If I Could Only Fly is a song that was first played for Sybil when they were breaking up. As Ben got intimate with Sybil and started working on his character and working on the music, and learning to play the song, and talking to Sybil, and falling in love with his scene partner in a chaste and righteous way-
Jordan Carlos: Always shocking.
Ethan Hawke: It’s a classic acting thing you aspire for in class happened all by itself, which is he was trying not to cry. Oftentimes you see movies. It looks like actors are trying to make themselves cry, you know. Instead, Ben was looking and he was just trying to stop himself from sobbing while he plays this song. You see his … You can hear in his playing. His hands start to shake. You see his face start to … He’s just trying to get through the song without bawling. I was sitting there watching this going, “Man, this experiment is working because it’s” … I remember being a kid in class and having to play a drunk scene and the teacher saying to me, “Drunk people don’t try to act drunk. Drunk people try to act sober.”
Jordan Carlos: Drunk people try to act sober, yeah totally.
Ethan Hawke: I had this great thing. I did a movie with Sidney Lumet once. I’m supposed to be robbing a store and my character’s incredibly nervous. My line is, “What time is it?” I was gonna, “What time is it?” Sidney came over to me and he said the most obvious thing. He said, “When you’re really nervous, do you want other people to know that you’re nervous?” I’m like, “No.” “So, why are you telegraphing that you’re nervous?” The reading then you could do is, “Hey, what time is it?” Which makes you seem crazy because you’ve got a gun. Everybody knows you’re petrified and you’re faking it, and the thing becomes multi-layered. So, what I’m trying to say is about, we did not sit in a Starbucks. We talked to each other. We got to know each other. The DNA of the movie is really pretty simple. It was a couple ideas of mine, stapled on to Sybil’s book. We went down to Louisiana with that, and we talked to people. Sybil would go meet with the costume designer. We’d go on location scouts and I’d go talk to Charlie while Sybil talked to Ben, or you went out with Alia. We got to know one another in hopefully a meaningful way, and that infused itself into the way we attacked the set every day. Meaning that a lot of times, for Paul Schrader, for example, a great screenwriter, Andrew Nichol is a great screenwriter. A lot of the creativity happens with them alone in the room, and then they start handing out jobs. My job is to play that scene as you conceived it. I was going for something different, which is that the creativity was gonna happen in front of the camera.
Jordan Carlos: So, you’re saying that what it was, was capturing rather than scaffolding?
Ethan Hawke: Exactly. It was hunting. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been on a lot of sets. I remember … I’ve been around, you know. I’ve seen Denzel Washington improvise. And when Denzel improvises, everybody thinks it’s improvisation. As a scene partner, I know that he’s been thinking about this character and this one improv came out, actually when we were getting into our … We played cops. So, we’re doing drive arounds. It was like-
Jordan Carlos: I remember that movie, yeah.
Ethan Hawke: Everybody on the set thought it was improv, but no that was something that cops said to us six months earlier. He just tabled this stuff. He tabled what this person said. He tabled what that person said. He was working on his inner monologue, like a good actor knows what they’re character’s thinking and not saying. Then somebody accidentally spills water, he can launch into something … He’s ready for an accident. A good athlete is ready for an accident. All things be ready if our minds be so. To me, that’s what I wanted from our screenplay was to be available for what might happen.
Jordan Carlos: Well, what you do … The premise of the film itself is a tough one to pull off because at the outset, you give away what happens, right. In a way, it’s like, they say, “Blaze Foley was killed. Our friend was killed.” Which then sets up this algebra. Now you have to solve for X, which y’all do very, very well. I was wondering did you ever think for a moment, when you give away what happens, were you at all worried? Were you like, “Oh boy”? For me as an audience member, I was like, “Man, I hope it lives up to what they have to say.” I guess the question is how do you fulfill that?
Ethan Hawke: We did what every good screenwriting teacher would tell you not to do, we did in the first two minutes of the movie. Yes, that’s absolutely true. I always feel like the lie of a biopic, that horrible expression. The lie of that is that there is a beginning, middle, and an end. That there is a straight narrative. And that life, for me, is not about what happens. It’s about how it happens. We’re all born. We’re all gonna die. The facts are-
Jordan Carlos: Another exclusive.
Ethan Hawke: The facts are pretty obvious. This gamesmanship about creating plot to me is just a dreadful bore.
Jordan Carlos: And Sybil, you know very well, because it feels like there was a lot of drifting, from what you said, from Georgia to Texas to Chicago. There was a lot of drifting. So, life was being, it was unfolding, right?
Sybil Rosen: Absolutely.
Jordan Carlos: When y’all were together. What was it like to be in a relationship with an artist artist? It feels like he’s an artist artist, right? He was an unknown unknown. You had to know about this guy, and you had to be on the inside to know about him. I think you both did a terrific job of capturing that because I’m a stand-up comedian. I’m plugging myself. There’s plenty of comedians out there that are like … There’s the famous ones, but then there’s the ones that are playing dive bars in Queens that you’re like, “You don’t want to miss this one.” Was that what it was like to watch Blaze? Like people would stop what they were doing and watch? Artists, I mean, would want to watch and catch him.
Sybil Rosen: I didn’t see Blaze perform that much, except in very intimate situations, but I believed in him so completely, in his gift. I wanted so much for him to fulfill it, whatever that might mean. It was all so new, in a sense, and there was so much at the time that I didn’t really understand. I really didn’t understand the nature of his rambling, for instance, and that he almost couldn’t sit still, and he had to go and come back, and go and come back. But at the same time, he was, every time he came back, he had more songs and they were remarkable to me. I never really lost that faith in his ability, but then there was that intersection of his addiction and his perhaps mental illness. So, trying to hold all of that for a young woman who also wants to be an artist and trying to protect that in myself, as well as being helpful to him and trying to navigate it with him, it was complex in a lot of ways.
Jordan Carlos: I like the contrast in the film of your disciplines. We see you at the outset trying to learn lines and then of course, you’re doing a monologue at another point.
Sybil Rosen: Yeah, Flannery and [inaudible 00:23:55].
Jordan Carlos: And you’re focused. You’re laser focused.
Sybil Rosen: That’s Alia, yeah. She’s so remarkable in the movie, I think.
Jordan Carlos: But it made for such just high relief in the two characters, that you want to wag a finger at Blaze and be like, “You can’t drink all night and come up with a … Oh boy, another great song.”
Ethan Hawke: There’s a funny story around Austin, that at the end of his life, Blaze would be playing at a show and there’d be about 13 people there, and 11 of them would be songwriters. That’s who was paying attention to him, was actually just other artists. That’s not uncommon. I remember hearing stories about Henry Miller. At the end of his life, somebody asked him was he happy that he had like 18 books in print, even though most of his life had been being rejected by publishers. His answer was, “They’ll be out of print soon.” He said, “I always had the respect of my friends. My friends knew what I was trying to do and knew that I was succeeding at what I was trying to do, and that was very meaningful to me.” What the commercial world finds interesting often is not up to us or is a demarcation of our value. I just thought, wow, I love that. I think it was probably very meaningful to Blaze to have the respect of Gurf [Morlix], to have the respect of Townes Van Zandt, to have the respect of you. I remember for … It’s funny you talk about you believing in him. I remember, I just had a flash. This is so self-centered to take the conversation here, but I just had this flash of, I had this high school girlfriend. After my first play that I did-
Jordan Carlos: Go on.
Ethan Hawke: When I was a senior in high school. She had her driver’s license before me, so we were in her father’s car. After the play was over, she was like, “You know, you were really good.” I said, “Thanks.” She goes, “No, no, no, no, no. Look at me. You were really good. You could really do this if you wanted.” And it was the first time the idea … I had so much respect for her. She was really the smartest person my age I’d ever met. She was so interesting and sensitive, and the depth of her thinking was so intense that the idea that she was taking me seriously made me take myself seriously. I can imagine, I mean I think in the movie that’s what we’re trying to get at is that, Sybil and I have said this to each other, that when you fall in love, you’re being witnessed. When somebody you respect witnesses you and says, “Yes, I see you. I see you completely. I see you wholly. And I love you.” That’s a big source of confidence. And when you’re young, you think it’s gonna happen all the time because you’re so fabulous, and you don’t realize how strange and peculiar we all are and how we fit together is hard, and it’s special when it happens. I think when you hear the quality of the songs … and one of the things I think you learn about a song when you listen to it covered, some songs are sold on the artist’s delivery. Blaze’s songs, watching Ben cover them, you just start, oh it wasn’t just the voice. It’s the song. The melody is beautiful. The lyrics are insightful and straightforward, and they’re lasting through time. It wasn’t just the ’70’s. They’re cutting through time and they’re onto something. I find it really exciting. I think that, point being is that I think other artists getting his work was meaningful and is meaningful to him.
Jordan Carlos: What was awesome for me and what y’all definitely delivered on was the root source of the inspiration behind the music. For instance, I always loved Otis Redding as a kid. I was like, “Who is he singing about? Who is he singing”-
Ethan Hawke: Right. Who does that mean to him?
Jordan Carlos: Who’s the woman? Who is the woman? It’s good to know. It’s good to see.
Ethan Hawke: You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman, when Aretha would sing that, I was like, “I want to be that guy. Who’s the guy that made her feel that way? I want to be him.”
Sybil Rosen: It’s interesting because Kevin, when he was doing the documentary.
Ethan Hawke: Triplett.
Sybil Rosen: Kevin Triplett. He interviewed Blaze’s family in Memphis, and they knew nothing about [Deputy Dog 00:28:39], which is how I knew Blaze and the Treehouse, but they were listening to If I Could Only Fly, and they’re like, they’re asking that same question. Who is he singing to? They decide in their living room that he’s singing to his mother, which is so touching if you think about … It’s the only reference that they had really, but it just shows how the song is so malleable. It can become-
Ethan Hawke: Well, a good poem does that, right?
Sybil Rosen: Yeah
Ethan Hawke: We all sit there and you listen to a John Lennon song or something, and he’s definitely probably singing about Yoko, but it starts to feel like it’s your song and then your love. I know Blaze would want us to talk about all his predecessors, all the blues artists that spoke to him. They clearly weren’t writing about him, but he felt, whether it was Lightning Hopkins or Mississippi John Hurt or Blind Willie McTell, or whatever. Ben is always, you know the guy who played Blaze, he smells all of Blaze’s influences and his guitar picking. Gurf would say, “You want to play that right? Well, you should go listen to this song. Go listen to You Gotta Move and then play the song, and now you’ll hear the lick.” Oh.
Jordan Carlos: The same if things called for a lighter touch or more plucking. Mississippi John Hurt was always light, right?
Ethan Hawke: Yeah.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, that’s right.
Ethan Hawke: Then-
Jordan Carlos: More plucking. You say John Hurt was always light right?
Sybil Rosen: Yeah, yeah that’s right.
Ethan Hawke: And that’s the power of it and that’s what Blaze, what [inaudible 00:30:07] was trying to teach Ben, and it wasn’t hard to do cause Ben wanted to learn and is good at it. But even some of the sad songs need that light touch when you really, you know. Really, they need the humor, the whit, the goofiness. Even if you’re singing about the most important things.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah. Well, I was gonna say, I feel like if this movie were a song, it did sing to me in a way, because I might make my profession writing for TV now but I’ve always done stand up. So stand up is a very eat what you kill kind of profession, and what Blaze is doing is-
Ethan Hawke: What does that mean, eat what you kill?
Jordan Carlos: Eat what you kill means in live performance, you’re only as… you live gig to gig.
Ethan Hawke: Yeah, yeah, got it, got it.
Jordan Carlos: There are no…it’s not passive income. It’s active baby. You gotta go out and get it so, you need to gig to gig right?
Ethan Hawke: Yeah, yeah.
Jordan Carlos: And I definitely related to that notion. And I could feel him having to conquer strangers, each group of strangers. Maybe they would like him, maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe they would relate to him, maybe they wouldn’t. And in that way, I feel like, yeah. I was like, “Wow, if this is a song, it’s singing to me in that way.” So again, congratulations on that, I really like that. I wanted to ask this, so, you shot this in Louisiana?
Ethan Hawke: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jordan Carlos: In Northern Louisiana?
Ethan Hawke: Near Baton Rouge.
Jordan Carlos: Near Baton Rouge. Okay, it felt like the town, I was like, “Awe, man, that must be like Mineral Wells, or Midlothian”-
Ethan Hawke: Oh, Mineral Wells! I love Mineral Wells.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, I was like, “This is a still, Texas town”.
Ethan Hawke: Well, it’s very, very hard to get in to shoot Texas now with the budget level we were working at. Texas is just, you know, Austin is blowing up. And what used to be an amazing- It’s still an amazing filming community, but it used to be very easy for independent film there. But my first thought was, cause you know I have made a lot of movies with Richard Linklater, and Lewis Black is one of our producers, he turned me on to Sybil’s. But with those two people, I had the keys to the city and I really wanted to shoot there, and I wanted to live at Rick’s house and build a tree house. He has like 40 acres in Bastrop and we could go out to Mineral Wells and we could do all this. But I still couldn’t afford it!
Jordan Carlos: Oh man!
Ethan Hawke: Even with free housing and stuff, I couldn’t afford it. And so we had to go across the border to Louisiana, where you get tax credits and tax breaks and permits don’t cost as much.
Jordan Carlos: Right. That’s the thing about Louisiana. When I was a kid, you could go over the border, get your alcohol at 18, you know it was fun.
Ethan Hawke: Yeah, I know a lot bad, you know, trouble can happen in Louisiana.
Jordan Carlos: Are you from Texas as well Sybil?
Sybil Rosen: No, I’m from Virginia.
Jordan Carlos: Okay. I only ask because when you, I love the scene where you introduce Blaze to your parents. Did you feel like, I mean, you play your own mother?
Sybil Rosen: Right?
Jordan Carlos: Were there moments where you just like, the hair on your arms stood up, or you got goose pimply because it was like, “Oh my God, this is just-”
Sybil Rosen: That’s your projection. (laughs)
Jordan Carlos: That is my projection, that’s correct.
Sybil Rosen: No because actually, honestly when we were filming that day, I never had that moment. I never had that moment of, “Oh my God, I’m playing my mother and I’m talking to myself”. That never happened. I was always, particularly with Alia, I was so focused on her. And how do I be this persons mother. You know, for better, for worse. And um, I really, I didn’t… in the doing, perhaps in the thinking about it, I had those moments. But in the doing it was something else entirely. You know, when Ethan and I talked about me playing Jeanette, he said to me, “Well you’re not gonna be playing a portrait of your mother, you’re going to be playing the woman that serves the film.”
Jordan Carlos: Yeah.
Sybil Rosen: And because of the sort of improvisational nature of what we were doing, that character kinf of grew that day on the set. Which was such a big surprise in a lot of ways, and I felt like she had a kind of, perhaps sturdiness that, certainly in that moment my poor mother didn’t, because that was probably the most rebellious thing I ever did to her was bringing-
Ethan Hawke: Was bringing Blaze home?
Jordan Carlos: Bringing Blaze home, oh my gosh.
Sybil Rosen: Yeah, without question. But, the character that emerged was, you know, more grounded. And looking back on it I thought, well Alia, I felt created a character that was more grounded and more sturdy than I was at 25, so I felt like our sort of filmic DNA kind of lined up that day.
Jordan Carlos: Oh, she was awesome. And, I’m sorry these are just silly questions but did you go to UT?
Sybil Rosen: No.
Jordan Carlos: There’s just a, you know, she’s in a University of Texas shirt, she’s typing and it’s like oh my God-
Sybil Rosen: I did some when I was in Texas, in Austin during that period when Blaze was going back and forth. I did a couple of short films there, so I was aware of it, and you know-
Ethan Hawke: It’s hard not to be aware of UT (laughs)
Sybil Rosen: And it forms your whole life in a way when your there because of everything they offer, and the buzz of the place.
Jordan Carlos: Of course, it’s Austin it’ll draw you. I’m from Dallas, just a very boring city. We don’t have to talk about it. I did want to ask this. Something that you captured very well and I wanna know what the technique was to do it, but you captured the self destructive streak of Blaze very well, and a lot of artists don’t like to show that. That there’s a, what’s called a God complex, right? You can create something amazing, so you filled people with joy and changed their attitude and outlook on life with a performance. So after it’s done, after your stage high, it’s just you right? So if you’re capable of creating, then you’re also capable of destroying. And that I found a lot of, within the film. If it’s the after hours, you know my rule is like nothing good every happens after 1:00.
Ethan Hawke: Mm-hmm (affirmative), totally.
Jordan Carlos: (laughs) So, did you find that to be true with Blaze, like, that he was self destructive in the end, and can you be successful and self destructive at the same time?
Ethan Hawke: Of course.
Jordan Carlos: It’s a meditation [crosstalk 00:36:25].
Sybil Rosen: If you survive.
Ethan Hawke: If you survive. Yeah some people survive and some people don’t. Some people have, you know, I tell the story in the movie with Rockwell, and Steve Zahn and Richard Linklater playing these oil executives, oil men who’ve turned into record executives.
Jordan Carlos: Which was awesome.
Ethan Hawke: And they are… but a lot of artists look at the people who have the money and the power to make their dreams come true with a lot of anger, you know? That you have the power to make everything that I want happen and I resent for that. And it’s a big problem. And I think the movie kind of sees them as Blaze would see them, which is kind of mocking and they don’t know anything about what I’m doing or what I’m going through, even though they love him! Even though they want to make it happen for him. He just resents that he doesn’t, I see this all the time. With directors you see it, people sabotage their own… you see directors square off abouts cuts in their movie, and often times it’s just completely arbitrary.
Jordan Carlos: Right.
Ethan Hawke: Just absolutely ridiculous behavior, and it’s setting yourself on fire. And it’s somehow proving that you’re not just trying to make money or something. That you’re trying to communicate to people and their just trying to make money. And you sabotage yourself, I see it happen over and over again. Actors finally after working hard, hard get what they want and then they just totally torpedo their own fleet.
Jordan Carlos: Wow.
Ethan Hawke: And I don’t understand that aspect of human nature. I try to address it in the movie with a joke. That, basicially, why does Blaze self destruct? Why oh why does the songbird die? I don’t know… is the real answer because you can say it’s about being abused as a kid, you can say it’s about polio, you can say it’s about an unjust world. But there’s lots of people with abusive parents that don’t self destruct, there’s lots of people that pull themselves through. There’s lots of people that… poverty launches them. There’s no algorithm to our spiritual life. You know? It’s our own, each one of us. And just because you are able to make something beautiful, doesn’t mean you are able to be beautiful all the time. And I think you see it all the time. But, also like Sybil said, you also see people do that and recover. Sometimes I wish that I could imagine Blaze, you know, 10 years after the shooting incident saying, “I almost died, that was the night I got sober.”
Sybil Rosen: I’ve had that fantasy a lot.
Ethan Hawke: Yeah, you know? And you think because we hear people say things like that. Why couldn’t that have happened? Well, I don’t know, and that’s the role the dice play in all our lives.
Sybil Rosen: You know in cold, cold world he says, “I’ve tried for a long time, and I think I can’t win.” And I think perhaps, it was sort of preordained, that it was all gonna unfold like this. You know? Because, you know, we like to think that now he’s winning. Even though he’s not here necessarily to appreciate it, or although… who knows.
Jordan Carlos: Oh he is. I mean, he is. He definitely is. Because I’m one person who did not know his music before the film.
Sybil Rosen: Right. Exactly.
Ethan Hawke: You represent the great majority. You know? Most people just… there’s a great, very weird Towns Van Zant line which is… you can imagine they’re best friends and that this is something that Towns would say. I’ve always imagined that Towns said, “My work will out live me, I’ve designed it that way”.
Sybil Rosen: Exactly.
Ethan Hawke: You know?
Jordan Carlos: Perhaps that is the long game sometimes.
Ethan Hawke: But you see it rap. You know, you see it 2-Pac Shakur, you see people start designing their legend. And I personally think it’s a huge mistake.
Sybil Rosen: (laughs)
Ethan Hawke: You know? I mean… I remember, this is true, this is pathetic… absolutely pathetic… but I was incredibly jealous of my friend River Phoenix when we were young. I would read a good review, you know, want to cut myself. As if he was talking a slice of pie that belonged to me, you know? I couldn’t understand there was no pie to be divided. I didn’t understand that. There’s not one pie. It’s endless, the world’s bountiful… but it would hurt. And he’d get a bad review and I’d think Ha-ha-ha. I mean, I hate myself for it, you know? That’s a horrible feeling. A horrible feeling, but I would have those feelings. And when he died, one of my first thoughts was how jealous I was. Like oh, now he’s gonna be… now, see he’s James Dean. See, and that’s the way a 23 year old thinks. Like, see? Oh, he did everything better. He even had the guts to die like a legend. And, you know, here I am 47 years old and I just think, oh my God I miss him. He coulda been in this movie, he didn’t even get to have kids. His work didn’t get to develop. Every little molecule of me that was pathetic and small… I didn’t understand that he was making me better. His success was making me better. His talent was making me better. He wasn’t making me smaller. He was making me bigger! You know? And his death doesn’t make him a legend, his work made him a legend!
Jordan Carlos: Right, of course. Yeah.
Ethan Hawke: And I want more of it. And so I think sometimes we under estimate ourselves, you know, and we think that we’ll only be valuable if we light ourselves on fire. We don’t understand that we’re valuable despite lighting ourselves on fire.
Jordan Carlos: Really quickly, I like that you champion artists liked Blaze Foley because you made Born to be Blue as well. One of my favorite artists, Chet Baker, who people just don’t know about Chet Baker.
Ethan Hawke: I know, and they should.
Jordan Carlos: Yeah, they should know more about him! And finally with movies like that it happens. So I really applaud you for taking a look at those stones that are like… people pass over. Because there’s jewels under there. So Sybil, what do you hope that people take away from this film?
Sybil Rosen: I hope they take away a deep appreciation for Blaze as an artist, and as a person. And that thing that he wanted so much, which was for his music to live, that that will be more and more true now. That would be enough.
Jordan Carlos: Mm-hmm (affirmative). A beautiful film. Blaze, by Sybil Rosen and Ethan Hawke. I’m Jordan Carlos, and that’s been On Writing. That’ll do it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writer’s Guild of America East. Mix, tech production and original music by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writer’s Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org or on social media at wgaeast. I’m Jordan Carlos and you can find me at jordancarloscomedy.com, and on Twitter at @jordancarlos. Thanks for tuning in. Write on.