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WonderCon 2012: Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij talk “Sound of My Voice” and “The East”


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Fox Searchlight’s “Sound of My Voice” kicked off the movies portion of WonderCon. The panel started with the same 12 minutes of footage, released last month, that end with Brit Marling‘s character Maggie telling the newest members of their cult that she is from the future.

Following that, two members of “Sound of My Voice’s” “cult” encouraged fans to visit their booth in the WonderCon exhibit hall. Then director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij and star/co-writer Brit Marling took to the stage to introduce a new trailer for the movie (that ends up being a lot more foreboding than the footage released already) and chatted about the origins of the film.

After the panel, IFC had a chance to catch up with Batmanglij and Marling (almost exactly one year after we talked to them at SXSW) to chat about bringing “Sound of My Voice” to WonderCon, their journey with the movie and their upcoming film, “The East.”

IFC: This is your first experience at a fan convention. What’s your response?

ZAL BATMANGLIJ: Well, we’re sort of straddling the line. We’re more of a festival film, and so it’s fun to be at something like this. We feel so honored.

BRIT MARLING: It’s awesome to be in a room, any time you’re in a room filled with enthusiasts and lovers of film, and in particular lovers of sci-fi because we love that genre so much, and most of the things we dream about and think of fall in that space. It’s cool. It’s cool to watch the first 12 minutes with an audience like that.

ZB: But I just want to go be a fan. I want to go see the “Prometheus” trailer. Can we do the interview there?

IFC: On paper, “Sound of My Voice” might not seem to have genre aspects, but it does have them. Can you talk a bit about the sci-fi elements of this film?

ZB: It’s a film about someone who claims to be from the future, and the question is, is she or isn’t she? And that’s basically the conceit of the film. And so there’s a lot of elements about the future that she talks about. She talks about what she imagines the future will be like. And so, with the whole genre element of time travel, and it’s something that’s interested us from the beginning. We always wanted to do sci-fi.

BM: Yeah, and I guess also sci-fi that feels in part more grounded in reality. There’s something really exciting about watching something where the sci-fi, you really want to believe that it’s real, not that you’re just being seduced by special effects and spectacle. Sci-fi where the spectacle is in the imagination, that is appealing.

ZB: And I love a lot of smaller sci-fi films like “Primer.” “Donnie Darko,” one of my favorite films. And I think that “Sound of My Voice” falls into one of those types, like “Primer,” “Donnie Darko,” what else?

BM: “Primer” was so confusing, though. The thing about “Sound of My Voice” is that it’s also just such a —

ZB: It’s a thrill ride.

BM: It’s a thrill ride, you’re like following Peter, he’s this skeptic. He and his girlfriend are making this documentary, trying to unravel this thing they’re infiltrating. They’re really like undercover spies telling these lies trying to get closer and closer, and as they get more into the center of this group, their relationship is tested, their film is tested, what they believe or don’t believe is tested. So in that sense, it has more of a classic thriller thrust.

IFC: It is interesting that you say that Peter is such a skeptic, whereas Maggie is so invested in this. Where do you think you guys lie? Are you more a skeptic or willing to believe?

ZB: I think I’m more a skeptic. And the skeptic is the person who wants to believe more than anything.

BM: But needs the best proof, and is in search.

ZB: Yeah, he doesn’t want to be let down, or she doesn’t want to be let down, and I think that’s sort of the thing is like, they’re such believers, but it’s like falling in love. Some people just, their heart’s been broken and they never want to feel that again. The fear of another heartbreak keeps them from loving. And I think the fear of the heartbreak, that things are not magical, keeps a lot of people from believing in the unknown and in powers that we can’t see or quantify.

BM: I think I’m more inclined to believe.

ZB: But she’s also Maggie.

BM: [laughs] But I’m also Maggie. And, you know, if you act for a living, you’re probably super inclined to just believe. And that was very easy for me.

ZB: But I think there’s a real lack of belief in the world these days. Like, people want to believe really desperately, but it’s getting harder and harder for people to believe.

IFC: Does the film have a definitive ending, or is it up for interpretation?

ZB and BM at the same time: There’s a definitive ending.

ZB: But you the audience brings a lot to the table. I mean, that’s why it’s a smaller film. We don’t spoon feed you everything. You have to bring things to the table.

IFC: Can you talk a little bit about the viral marketing campaign, like all the Los Angeles-based cult meetings?

ZB: I think [Fox] Searchlight and us were really into the idea that this was sort of an earthy movie, how do you have an earthy campaign for it? Like, it’s a small film, why take a small film and do something really slick with it? Why not do something that’s interactive and engaging with its audience. And I love that.

BM: And the story so lends itself to that, because it asks questions and it’s asking questions of you, and also I think just that it being about a cult, you know, it kind of asks if you want to come in and join it, and so we’ve been having fun with that.

IFC: Have you guys gotten a good response to it, because it’s been sort of under the radar?

ZB: We want everything to be under the radar, because it’s so cool for things to be discoverable. Like, what a pleasure to like stumble upon something on the Internet. If you go next week, and your readership has no idea that this exists, and you can sort of share it with them and, like, we’re not shoving it down anyone’s throat. A journalist came a couple weeks ago and was like, “Oh well, I can’t believe you guys are all doing this for marketing.” And I was like, “Trust me, the like 10 people that are coming to these meetings aren’t swaying the marketing for us.” It’s fun.

BM: I mean, we are just doing the things that we want to see done. Like, I want to go to the theater or hear about a film coming out and like get involved in the narrative. I want it to be interactive. I think we’re at a space now where a lot of people are watching movies but we’re also iChatting at the same time and responding to emails and texting, and so there’s this ability to branch out, and we felt like it’s cool if we can take the story into the real space. If there’s like a way in which you can become part of the experience rather than just it beginning and ending in the theater.

ZB: And that’s what’s cool about making your first film or when you’re an actor that isn’t that recognizable is that you can do these things. These guys haven’t even seen “Prometheus,” it’s not even based on anything, and they’re so excited.

IFC: When we spoke last, I believe you guys were still shooting “The East,” which you have since wrapped. So what did you guys learn from “Sound of My Voice” that you feel you brought to “The East”?

ZB: You learn to trust yourself more. I think that’s the thing. When you’re making “Sound of My Voice,” you’re like, “Oh, I’m making this just to make it,” and then, two years later, I still have to live with it, so you’re saying it might as well be something that you really are proud of, and so you say, “Okay, I’m going to fly my freak flag loud and proud. I’m going to make the movie that I want to make.” I think that’s important.

BM: I think the thing that we always learn again and again is, whatever the ideas are behind it, they have to be really sustaining again. They have to sustain you through the writing period, the research period, the rewriting period, the trying-to-get-financing period, the making of it —

ZB: The publicity period [laughs].

BM: — and then talking about it for a year afterwards. So that’s like a huge trajectory.

ZB: The DVD release!

BM: The DVD release [laughs]. We’ll be talking about this years from now! So it better be a good idea, you know, because you’re going to be living with it for a while. And it better keep intriguing you and keep asking you to ask yourself hard questions. And I think we really found that in “Sound of My Voice” and “The East,” which is exciting.

ZB: Yeah, projects have their own fuel cells, and we just hitch our wagons to them and go along for the ride. Seriously, that’s what it feels like.

“Sound of My Voice” hits theaters April 27.

Do you agree with Marling and Batmanglij’s assessment of what makes a movie work? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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