Walter Mencken 8 a.m., July 30
Interview with In A World... writer-director-star Lake Bell
"Women are complicated. I don't have to tell you that."
So what if New York Magazine got the full-body tattoo shots? We got the feminist musings.
In a World... tells the story of Carol, the daughter of a movie trailer narrator who is trying to follow her father into the business. The action takes place in the vacuum created by the death of Don La Fontaine, the gravel-voiced god who coined the "In a world" formulation that began so many dramatic trailers.
Matthew Lickona: Do you think that movie trailers have changed since La Fontaine's death? I think there's less emphasis on the narrative voice.
Lake Bell: I think it has, but I think there are trends. The epic, voice-of-God thing was trend that Don started, and when he passed, it definitely waned. There was a surge toward the everyday voice with a sarcastic wink: "Meet Jack. He's one guy who's just crazy for..." whatever. That guy became desirable.
ML: But trailers for action epics seemed to go for large montages of images and little bits of dialogue instead of narration.
LB: The epic sound feels almost dated, you know? And nowadays, our attention spans are so much shorter that they have to just show images quickly and get out. It might just be a sign of the times.
ML: Was there a moment of inspiration that led you to tell this story and make this movie?
LB: It came pretty organically. I was just having a conversation with a friend, something like six years ago. I love trailers - I'm a trailer junkie, and I always have been. I would do the voices; I would say, "In a world..." And I thought, "It's so weird that there are no women who do that." We tried to name one trailer with a woman voicing it, and we couldn't think of one.
ML: Women voice the trailers for my daughter's Barbie movies.
LB: Well, there's Melissa Disney - she did Gone in 60 Seconds.
ML: In the film, your character's father claims that the audience has certain expectations from a trailer, and to subvert them in a piece of marketing would be high foolishness. He says that people want a masculine voice. What do you make of his claim?
LB: Yeah, it could be that the male voice just kind of sounds better and cuts through major action sequences better. Or it could be that, in the Bible, God is always referred to as capital-H He. You can speak to the controversial conceit or the technical one. I'm a writer looking at the voiceover industry from the outside, and I decided to discuss it. It's not like I'm an expert, but I'm a lady, and therefore a feminist.
ML: Your own voice is pretty distinctive. Talk about it - the sound of it, how you developed it, how it's been important to your career.
LB: I absolutely speak lower than I probably normally should. Maybe that's just me trying to sound more sophisticated or cool or something. But I'm very aware of it. At drama school or conservatory, all you do during your first year is breathe, drop your sound and your voice to be more connected to your breath. You become hyper aware of your instrument - the musculature of your sound and what kinds of characterizations you can make. I feel pretty inspired to manipulate my voice in different ways. I like it; it's fun. It's like a hobby.
ML: In the film, Carol is really bothered by a woman who speaks in baby-talk uptalk. Her voice is squeaky and high and she ends every sentence with a question mark. Carol seems to think, "I have to change you, to make you a better woman." Yes?
LB: Yeah, I think it's a diminutive and sexually submissive voice that I think is potentially destructive for a female to use. Do you agree, or do you find it sexy?
ML: It's not that I find it sexy. It's that the girl might say, "Who are you to judge me? How can you tell me how to be as a woman?"
LB: You do know that this is a comedy, right?
ML: Yes, but I thought it dug deep for a comedy.
LB: I agree. I just wanted to make sure you knew. There's a vocal trend for young women, for them to speak as little 12-year-old girls to sound cute or sexy, all right?
ML: So you think that it's a choice to some extent.
LB: Yeah, it's a choice, and it's also just a cultural issue. It's like, "Oh, we watch a lot of reality television." They see it. One girl starts to talk like that, and it becomes rampant, like a virus. So there are a lot of young girls who are perfectly well-educated, but who are making themselves sound less-than, because they're talking like that. [Switches to baby-talk voice.] They're saying the exact same things that I would be saying now, but they're talking like this. [Switches back to normal voice.] I think they're doing themselves a grave disservice.
ML: Okay, so as long as we're talking about women, let's talk about the speech Geena Davis gives your character. [Spoilers ahead, people!] She's a woman at the top of her profession, and she gives you a break, and she talks to you about it. How much of what she says is you?
LB: Well, I wrote the script.
ML: Right. But to what extent is she speaking what you think to be true, as opposed to just saying something a character like that might say?
LB: Look, here's the deal. I'm not really interested in preaching to people, because I don't like to be preached to. But when you're writing, you obviously have opportunities to express yourself. That character was implemented to make a point, and to illustrate the complexities of success for women. One version of the success model for women involves a complicated relationship between the woman and other women who are finding their own success. I wanted Geena to be a model for Carol to look at, so that she would ask herself, "Do I want to be that, or am I just following my father's dream?" Geena's character is sort of a weird look into the future for Carol - she's got an ambition that is unsavory. It's double standard upon double standard, that a woman would give you a job but then assure you that you got it, not because you were the best, but because she wants to make a point. It was just a fun place for me to catapult the discussion.
ML: Tell me how the story of Carol's sister and her marital troubles fits into the whole story of the film.
LB: It was a helpful way to have Carol come to an epiphany - that she enjoys helping people, that it makes her feel good. The sister's storyline shows Carol that there are bigger things than vain dreams of becoming a star in her industry. She understands that she wants to do things that make her have that feeling, and not the horrible feeling that Geena Davis made her feel.
ML: Geena is really interesting to me. On the one hand, she's saying, "I'm using you." But she's also saying, "I'm doing this because I want to help women." She wants to have a positive effect on young girls everywhere.
LB: Which is a noble conceit.
ML: And Carol could look at that and say, "To the extent that I become a top dog in the industry, I can be a role model for young women everywhere and I can do good." But that ends up being...
LB: As you, I'm sure, know, women are complicated. I don't have to tell you that.
ML: Yes, I've seen that.
LB: So Geena Davis' character - here's a deeply complicated woman, and we're getting an insight into her reality when she's talking to Carol. Carols' thinking, "Yeah, she's right. This is important. I'm doing great things for humanity. I like this feeling." And then something changes in the speech, and becomes unsavory. Carol realizes that she's trying to change something, but with this ambitious overtone that feels so unsavory.
For me, I think there have been moments in my existence where a woman has trouble, in success, looking at another woman and saying, "Yes, look at me, I'm helping you to be successful. Because you're a woman. I'm part of the woman team, and I want to show that we have a woman's club. Because I've heard about that boys' club, and everyone says we can't do that. Well, we're doing it. Look at us!" But there's an undercurrent among women that has this sense of, "Hey, listen, kid - I did it all by myself, and you better figure it out, too." So there is this push and pull that I am constantly feeling with other powerful women, or with powerful women that I look up to. I think it's interesting - a conversation of that complexity within the feminist message, you understand?
ML: Yeah, so -
LB: Look, I'm a woman, and I'm telling you, this is how this shit goes down.
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