For some reason, there haven’t been many films chronicling the world of voiceover acting. It appears to be something of a dying art for movie trailers nowadays, opting for bombastic scores or character narration. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Lake Bell’s feature directorial debut In a World… makes one nostalgic for the days where epic trailers were accompanied by epic voices.
In a World… isn’t some history lesson, but if you’ve ever been curious about the inner-workings of the voiceover world or why it’s so male driven, Bell has that covered along with a father-daughter relationship and an underdog story. That’s a lot for a movie about repeating movie synopses into microphones.
Fortunately, we got a chance to talk with Bell, and we brought our own recording device.
At what point did you become interested in directing?
I had a one track mind about acting. I felt in order to get anywhere in the industry it takes great determination and focus, and I was right, because it does. It takes every ounce of your being to have any success as an actor. I went to drama school, and got my education through that. Even modestly in high school I was directing, so I was always interested in the idea of doing it. When I was on set and in the trenches as an actor, that was an opportunity for me to investigate; it’s film school. If you don’t go to your trailer between a set up, then you’re in a living movie-making machine.
Did you enjoy drama school?
Oh yeah. Drama school, like any college, it is what you make of it. If you drag your feet through it than you might not get much out of it [Laughs]. I’m a total geek and love leaning into academics I give a shit about. You know, it was awesome and satisfying for every obsession I have, including voice. The voice work you do in drama school is so nuanced and technical. In England, your first year is dedicated to just the voice. You don’t get to put on plays or anything like that, but focus on the voice. If anything, it keeps you focused.
Being an actor yourself, how do you approach working with them?
I treat people as I want to be treated. I have tremendous respect for actors and, for the most part, I know where the brain is at. I also have tremendous love and appreciation for every department, because filmmaking is a living and breathing organism with many moving parts. One department literally can’t exist without the other, so I’m very respectful with every department, including my actors.
When you’re acting, are you able to fully immerse yourself or is it impossible to take the director’s hat off?
I’m incredibly objective about my performance. When I’m directing I’m not feeling emotional, icky, or squeamish about it. I can feel when I’m dialing in or connecting with an emotion of a scene, so I think I’m lucky there. Any actor who directs and writes will tell you it requites plenty of preparation. I had plenty of lists, books, storyboards, and shot lists for each location on where the camera would be set up and on the camera movement. Everything was determined with every department before we got to that first day. I also took care of my performance going to an acting coach, as if someone else wrote the script, so I could be objective about it. There’s a lot of preemptive elements you take on, so you can still feel you can have fun on set.
You’ve discussed before how you often are offered the “quirky best friend” or the “hot girl” roles. With In a World…, was there ever the thought of not waiting around for a character like Carol to come around?
Of course that plays into it somewhat. I also genuinely wanted to write this particular story of a female taking on the male-dominated industry of voiceover, and treating that very seriously and finding comedy within that. I was excited to provide myself with that role, because there aren’t really, really funny great leading roles for ladies out there. For me to get them at this point of my career is very difficult, so I think providing myself with a protagonist is a luxury.
Do you see yourself only directing your own material?
I think if there’s a great script I’d do it. There’s amazing brains out there and, if it’s the right collaboration, so be it. I say that as a I sit at my computer writing my own screenplay I hope to do next year, though.
That’s great. Unlike a lot of comedies, In a World… is a very nice comedy. Do you think there’s a trick to being funny without being mean-spirited?
You know, I don’t know if there’s a trick, but I honestly appreciate that observation. I maintain the optimistic idea that movies are a fun endeavor and everyone should feel supportive, creative, and happy to be there. In the same respect, I feel inspired to make movies that make you feel good, without being girly and sappy about it. I think it’s unique and more fresh these days that’s sweet with a nice message and tone, as oppose to something “mean.”
Personally, I don’t like laughing at someone else’s expense, because it just makes me feel bad. So, if I can laugh with someone a little bit, that’s a more enjoyable experience.
In a World… is now in limited release.