DID YOU READ

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij Speak About the “Sound of My Voice”

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij Speak About the “Sound of My Voice” (photo)

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I’m afraid to say I may never see “Sound of My Voice” as perfectly as I did at its premiere at SXSW. Still shamefully without a distributor, there’s no title card to suggest you’re watching a film. Instead, there’s simply a white “1” set against a black background before you’re plunged into a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles like any other where there are some most unusual things going on. Our guides into this world are Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius), who are frisked inside a garage of an average home and escorted downstairs, asked for a complicated handshake to gain entry and find themselves in a basement in the company of some regular looking people attired in hospital gowns. Soon after, a woman named Maggie (Brit Marling) emerges in a white shroud with an oxygen tank to lead the group as a prophet, explaining that she hails from the year 2054. To know much more about what follows might rob “Sound of My Voice” of a bit of its mystery, but what can’t be taken away is the fact that it’s one of the most exciting American film debuts in recent memory.

03182011_SoundofMyVoiceSXSW.jpgPerhaps the only story as exhilarating as the one going on in the film is that of the two people behind it, actress and co-writer Marling and co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij, who finished “Sound of My Voice” two days after this year’s Sundance Film Festival started and had to drive the master to Park City without ever having seen it on the big screen. It played well in the low-budget NEXT section of the festival, but SXSW appears to be where the film has really taken off, a place where a story awash in ambiguity and features a virtually speechless and bleached-blonde James Urbaniak can be appreciated full-tilt. But while “Sound of My Voice” could accurately be dubbed as a cult film, it would be wrong to think that description extends beyond its subject matter since it is a marvel of elegant, muscular filmmaking that touches on elements of science fiction while belonging firmly to tradition of great cinematic nailbiters. Marling, who took Sundance by storm by also appearing and co-writing the Fox Searchlight pick-up “Another Earth” for director Mike Cahill, and Batmanglij took time out from a busy SXSW to talk about making their first narrative feature together, filming Los Angeles in a different light, their future plans and the power of belief.

You were working on something else before. What made this the film you wanted to do first?

Brit Marling: We didn’t quite finish writing the other project we were working on and felt we had to go research it more fully, so when this idea came up and we started to write it and it came out as this entire universe – I mean, a lot of storytelling came out. There is an answer to the riddle of who Maggie is. We haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe we will in a trilogy of films. Maybe we will in a TV series. But when it came out, it really consumed us. We were obsessed with writing it and wanted to bring it into the world.

How much of that universe of the cult did you have to create before you started writing?

Zal Batmanglij: We just kept telling each other the story. Brit would tell me a part of it and then I would pick up from where she left off and continue it. and Sometimes that would end up in a dead end, so we’d backtrack and say what would we really do if we were taken into the valley into a basement and this woman comes out? And it kind of has to be someone like Brit because you’re just like whoa, who is that? And what would repel us, but also what would draw us in? What would make us question our own sense of reality?

Brit, were you regretting some of the rituals of the cult you put in the script when the actual day of shooting came since you’d actually have to do it as an actress?

BM: I think one of the best things about being an actor is that you get to live extreme circumstances. Most dramatic stories are cataclysmically climactic events happening back to back and that’s one of the most amazing things about being an actor is you get to do that stuff. You get to be a cult leader and lead a group of people in doing bizarre things. I would never have that experience in my life.

I understand you guys first met at Georgetown and took a screenwriting class – were you thinking of becoming filmmakers before that class?

ZB: That’s actually me and Mike [Cahill]’s story. We were seniors and Brit was a 17-year-old freshman, so we only overlapped for a year. We wanted to be filmmakers, but we didn’t know how to do that. How do you become a filmmaker? I still don’t know the answer to that question. How we made this film is…one day we just left. We left everything we knew with a backpack and we just started walking.

At first, I thought we would get someplace and that would be the destination of where we’re going, like here we are, we’re filmmakers now. We’ve arrived at this place and now I realize there are no destinations. It’s just walking. And you can spend the night somewhere nice – like you could make a movie – and then you have to keep walking. So it’s a very nomadic thing for us. We started that process not at college because we made shorts in college, but we still had one foot in the normal world. Brit worked at Goldman Sachs one summer. Mike and I did other jobs, but at some point, in my mid-twenties when we all moved to L.A., we just decided we’re going to do this and we’re not going to turn around and look back.

Coming from the east coast and going to Los Angeles, did a sense of discovery about the area play into how you decided to shoot the film?

ZB: I think that’s part of our job. People ask us did you research cults and it’s more like we have to be awake to life. We have to be hyperconscious and we were living in Silver Lake in different houses near each other when we were writing “Sound of My Voice” and we’d walk to each other’s houses to write and you’d pass by Forage [a restaurant where one of the scenes from the film is shot], which was just opening up. We went in there and we said, “Hey, look, we don’t have any money. Can we shoot here at night?” And the guys said, “Sure.” I was like, “Well, we first need to finish the script, raise the money, do all those things, but I’ll come back to you.” And so a year later, I came back to him.

BM: The same with La Brea Tar Pits. When we were coming up with the climax of the film, we went to the La Brea Tar Pits and were wandering around that space and all these prehistoric characters and this massive timeline stretching out on the wall, going from the beginning of time to NASA space shuttles lifting off. Real parts of L.A. inspired this story, so it’s like there’s an organic mystery of going into this subterranean universe of L.A.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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