For actress Lake Bell, resonance is key, both in speaking and in projects. It was a story combining the two she wanted to tell which led to her writing and eventually directing the new film In a World… about a vocal coach (played by Bell) who is the daughter of a world famous movie trailer voice over actor. She longs to be one as well, but for movie trailers, it’s sadly a man’s game. We spoke to the Children’s Hospital co-star about writing, directing, and starring in her first feature film, about the way women speak, and about why movie trailers were rife for the film comedy treatment.
NERDIST: Where did the inspiration for In a World… come from?
LAKE BELL: Great question. There’s of myriad of things at play, but it was somewhat organic in that the initial inception of the idea really just came from, “Isn’t it really weird that women never voice movie trailers?” And then it specifically turned into “I’ve never heard a woman say the words ‘In a world…’ in that kind of omniscient voice.” It seemed almost like this feminist issue, and yet comedic, because it’s voice over, and, you know, is it really important? And then that question spawned the conversation of “Wait a second, I think it is important,” because voice over infects so many parts of our lives. It’s telling us how to feel, what opinions to have about certain things, what bank to trust, what car to buy, what movie to see. Voice over is actually more important, and Geena Davis’ speech in the movie is one moment where I can somewhat soap box about it.
But then that led to [discussion of] the “sexy baby vocal virus” that I think is really telling because it’s a cultural conversation. It is a trend that starts to become even more profound, because it really does diminish a young female voice in a way, making them seen submissive to men and yet also 11 years old. So for me, I’m not a graduate from Yale, Summa Cum Laude in Women’s Studies, but I am a woman and therefore inherently feminist, so I thought it would be an interesting conversation and place to start a story. And then, of course, the father-daughter competition was unique, and I think in any kind of writing you try to speak from what you know. And I wanted to massage out some daddy issues and investigate some therapeutic topics, so it just became fodder for comedy but also to kind of work some shit out.
N: You’ve been on other things talking about how you dislike the whole sexy baby voice; where do you think that comes from culturally?
LB: I think it gestated somewhere in and around reality television. And I don’t love to point fingers, ’cause I don’t think it’s fair, it started even before that probably in the Valley Girl syndrome. But then it started to sort of bubble into more mainstream consciousness because of reality television and how prevalent it is, and how it’s just a part of our lives now. There are so many girls on those shows that take on this [voice], I guess to seem sexy and coy or appealing, or young! I know someone in their ’30s is taking on this very youngish voice to seem maybe more young and sexy. And, in my opinion, I guess I just grew up thinking Lauren Bacall and Faye Dunaway, who were super young and totin’ real big girl voices, I thought that was pretty damn cool and very sexy, far sexier than sounding like a twelve year old. So hopefully, maybe there’s some hope, I guess, that even though it’s a comedy, you’re supposed to have a good time, don’t even think about it when you see the movie, but maybe there are some young women who will become slightly more self-aware after they see the movie.
N: I hope so. Did you always write this with the idea that you were going to direct it?
LB: No, I actually wrote it with the intention to star in it and we were “shopping for a director” when my agent Billy Lazarus just looked at me one day and said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to direct this. I don’t see anyone else who can do a better job and I believe you’ve always wanted to direct, so why not now?” And I felt that it would be presumptuous to try to direct a feature film without ever having dabbled my fingers in it in any other way. So, then I wrote and directed the short film Worst Enemy starring Michaela Watkins and then that played in competition in Sundance, and that was a huge moment for me because not only was I validated, but I really felt at home directing in that position in that not only did I have a calling card but then just confidence.
N: Do you think being an actor helped you with directing actors yourself?
LB: Yeah. I love actors, so even in the casting process, as an actor, I hate auditions; every actor does. So, I think even in that process I was just very sensitive to the whole process for the actor and then making sure that, because a lot of these guys were my friends, they felt safe and that they could trust me with directing them. I think that in itself is an honor because I’m not only friends with these people, but I’m a fan of their work. There’s a reason why I, a) wrote them roles and were inspired by them and they were my character spirit animals for these people that I wanted to express, but b) they really lent their talent. It’s a lot to ask a very busy, talented friend to come and spend almost a month shooting and creating a characterization and putting on their resume and promoting it. I mean, it’s a lot to ask, and I knew that, and so I respected it deeply. But, I love filmmaking because I love assembling the whole damn team. From the art direction to the camera department to the electrics, it’s a real collaborative sport, and it’s a hustle and it’s athletic and it’s my favorite sport.
N: Was there anything on the technical side you had to learn that you weren’t prepared for?
LB: My biggest surprise was post-production. I understood, because I had been in the trenches as an actor for 11 years now, shooting. You know, hard prep, soft prep, and all the preparation made sense. I’m a crazy organized person anyway, so I knew that from just doing short form stuff that preparation is so paramount when you are writing, directing, and acting in something. So I could envision that and could see it and understand it, but I had no clue about post-production. I had done short-form things that were you know, three days, four days here and there. Not seven months of editing when I thought I was going to do it for two. And then not understanding the currency that is days in your final mix or even your pre-mix. I mean, for a movie about sound, I feel like I could still go to the mix and work for another month, but that was the most informative. It’s the most nuanced work; it’s where the whole movie comes together. It’s not even another chapter, it’s another book of work.
N: The pacing in this movie is very impressive. It really flies; there’s not a wasted moment.
LB: I’m happy to hear that.
N: So, how much did you have to cut out? I don’t know what your original script looked like, but…
LB: It was lean. There’s gonna be deleted scenes on the DVD, which I’m really excited to share with people. But, in terms of shape-shifting in the edit, the plot isn’t massively complicated. It’s sort of linear and there are little tie-ins that you have to follow through on. It’s not like Memento, where you have a lot of interpretation. But that said, generating performances or massaging performances and finding little treats, overlaps, and learning what was extraneous, and what would need to be kept… was fun. But there are not a lot of extraneous or superfluous scenes in the movie. Tom McArdle, I give great credit to him, he’s my editor. We sat next to each other for seven goddamn months and, you know, it was tedious, but so incredible. I learned so much about filmmaking in that process and he’s just a ninja cutter and he’s so good. He just knows how to support the economy of story.
You can see for yourself when In a World… hits theaters August 9th.