Sundance 2013: Lake Bell on Corvettes, Vocal Fry, Festival Swag and 'In a World...' (Q&A)

In a World...

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell)

An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.

The actress' feature directorial debut -- about a rising voice-over actor -- screens Jan. 26 at the Egyptian Theatre.

PARK CITY -- In a World...Lake Bell's feature directorial debut, is, on the surface, a film about the cutthroat world of voice-over actors.

The film, which Bell stars in and wrote, centers on Carol Solomon, a vocal coach who tries to become a voice-over star. The subject matter is near and dear to the actress' heart -- she moved to Los Angeles to make it as a voice-over actor before transitioning to onscreen work. And In a World... also delves into a topic that's important to her -- the speech habits of contemporary women.

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Bell -- and her character -- take issue with the use of a "sexy baby" voice and vocal fry, a technical term that is used to describe a way of speaking that involves a popping or rattling sound. It is akin to Valley Girl speech, and Bell abhors it. In the film, Carol counsels young women on how to speak properly. That's something in which the actress, who has contributed to The Hollywood Reporter as the publication's car correspondent, is also interested.

"I think that it is a trend worth snubbing," Bell told THR. "We need to extinguish it. So, if that’s my little soapbox message, I’d like to say: ‘Come on, ladies, let’s shorn our sexy-baby sounds and start talking like ladies.’ What’s wrong with having a normal voice? I don’t understand.”

Of course, In a World... isn't just about speech pathology. It's also a story about father-daughter dynamics, as Bell's character struggles to step out of the shadow cast by her father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), the No. 1 voice-over actor in the business. The comedy, which is being repped by UTA, also stars Demetri MartinRob CorddryMichaela Watkins and Ken Marino.

THR's review of the film praised it, saying: "In a World… never becomes cloying or too cute. Nearly all the actors pop with well-defined personalities."  

Ross Jacobson and Sean O'Grady executive produced the film; Bell, Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger and Eddie Vaisman produced. It screens Jan. 26 at the Egyptian Theatre.

THR sat down with Bell in Park City a few days after the Jan. 20 premiere of her film to discuss her future directing plans, the use of a Corvette in the movie and saying no to festival swag.

The Hollywood Reporter: Since you’ve reviewed cars for THR, I have to ask about the Corvette that Fred Melamed’s character drives. How did you choose it?

Lake Bell: I was adamant that I wanted a maroon Corvette. I initially wanted it to be a 1995, but we couldn’t find that, so we got a 2011. It just felt like Sam, and it felt like his heyday would’ve been in 1995 -- when he was really making money. And it was so fun to pick out -- that was a really fun thing.

THR: Melamed’s deep voice seems to make him perfectly suited for this role.

Bell: Fred Melamed was a voice-over actor for 20 years. I didn’t know that when I cast him. I had seen A Serious Man and was incredibly into him, and clocked him and cataloged him in my brain as someone I wanted to work with. For this character, I was adamant that it had to be someone who could do the voice and be really believable, because no one in the film is putting on an accent.

THR: Some people who have seen the film have said that they’ve left the theater self-conscious that they use the “sexy-baby” voice.

Bell: And I think that’s OK. I think if you feel a little self-conscious about it, and you’re curious about if you’ve been victim to this vocal virus -- the sexy-baby vocal virus -- I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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THR: Tell me about vocal fry.

Bell: Everyone knows someone who sounds like that, because it’s an epidemic. And Bravo culture is not helping it. So, now it has become national. And what’s crazy is hearing little 13-year-old girls talking that way -- because it is sort of like a pseudo-submissive sexual thing. And then hearing mature, 45-year-old women on Bravo talking that way. So, it’s interesting, because the net is far-cast. Everyone can be guilty of it, though. Sometimes my voice is lower than my natural voice, because I’m trying to be cooler than I am or something. Or taken seriously. I very aware of it -- very vocally aware.

THR: What was it like premiering your film at Sundance -- and at the festival's Library Center Theatre? Your 2011 Sundance short film Worst Enemy also premiered there.

Bell: When I found out I was in Sundance, it was a mind-boggling conversation with [festival director] John Cooper, which had me not really finishing my sentences and being sort of strange because I was trying to hold back tears. I wanted to be a strong filmmaker and didn’t want to be a female filmmaker crying on the phone. But when he told me [that] we were in competition, I was so elated. And I wouldn’t ever want to campaign, because I was so happy to be here. I didn’t want to campaign for a certain venue, but I just said to my team, "If there was any possible way that we could just pray or slip it in that we are excited about the Library, I would just love that." Because it’s a special place. I can’t pretend that this isn’t a life-changing experience. From this point forth, I will spend the rest of my life making movies. This is my first film at Sundance. So, that was my first premiere of my first feature. And I was surrounded by my family and my friends. 

THR: What's your next project? 

Bell: I am writing another feature. I can’t really say anything about it yet, because you don’t want to talk about your baby if you don’t know the sex of it. You know what I mean. You’re like, "I don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy." I’m directing. It’s an ensemble comedy, so … I think I’ll be in it. I don’t know what part yet.

THR: Sundance has become known for gifting suites and corporate sponsorships. So, how much swag is presented to you at Sundance? 

Bell: Partially why I never wanted to go to Sundance without something to show for myself was because I didn’t like the idea of, like, getting Uggs for free, for no reason. And just being one of those people taking pictures with Uggs, with no movie there. What the hell? It makes you feel, like, icky.

THR: But now that you have a movie here, you've got a closet full of Uggs.

Bell: But now I’ve earned them. I’m still embarrassed. So I go through the awkward shuffle. You know, passing by those gifting suites and feeling like, really, you're there to do the interviews. Ironically, no, I don’t have time to go to the gifting suites.

Twitter: @DanielNMiller