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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…