Lake Bell on Her Obsession with Accents, Voices, and Don LaFontaine

(Roadside Attractions)

Lake Bell makes her feature directorial debut with In A World..., a lighthearted comedy about a Los Angeles vocal coach named Carol who aspires to do voice-over work for movie trailers. No easy task as Carol (also played by Bell) must navigate male-dominated Hollywood. As she quickly discovers, however, breaking out means competing and overcoming the put-downs of her somewhat sexist and egotistical father, who just so happens to be a legend in the voice-over industry himself.
The film was largely inspired by voice-over king, Don LaFontaine, a former sound engineer who recorded a whopping 5,000 movie trailers, many of which opened with the now famous, booming line "In a world..." In Bell's film, charm, humor, and a bit of romance come together to offer a snapshot into the industry LaFontaine helped to foster. Interestingly, Bell also explores ideas of female self-empowerment, especially as she grapples with the larger question: Why are there no females in this big bad world of film trailer voice-overs?

Zimbio: So, why do you think there's a lack of female voices in the industry?

There was one woman who did trailers, Melissa Disney. She did the Gone in 60 Seconds trailer like a hundred years ago and that was it. But it's interesting to think about why the omniscient voice in general is male.

Maybe the male voice is resonant and cuts through action sequences better than a female voice does. Maybe the more controversial answer is to think of the Bible and how it references God as a 'He," which we controversially think of now as the voice of authority.

But, I’m not an expert at it. I’m just a cultural conversationalist. I think investigating it, calling it out, and exposing it is fun and funny. It would be fun to see, as a result of this movie, there being more female voice-overs in movie trailers.

LaFontaine's voice definitely was booming and had this clear quality that's hard find and very hard to mimic.

But you remember it. In the movie I wanted to give that archaic voice a more comeback feel. In the film, one of the protagonists, Sam Sotto, [Carol's father], he’s the guy who represents that old generation. He's a dying breed because the “booming omniscient voice” is being steamrolled by the Gustav Warners, this very hip, everyday “Meet, Jack. He's the kind of guy..." type of voice.

I hear you were super into voices and accents growing up. What was it like having that fascination as a kid?

I was obsessed with dialects and languages because I thought I was given such a gift by having two nouns as a name You can translate them into any language. When I was like four, I'd meet a person and say, “My name’s Lake and my last name’s Bell. How do you say that in Spanish?” Or “How do say that in Italian?” Or “How do say that in Greek?”

Zimbio: So you were that girl?

Yeah! Then I’d pretend to be Spanish, or pretend to be Italian, or pretend to be Greek. Because I loooove Italians, the thing I mastered was “Mi piace la pizza con ai funghi," which is “I like pizza with mushrooms.”

What’s your favorite accent?

Russian. I have become obsessed with Russian and all Eastern European accents. I like the power in them.

You've directed a few episodes of your hilarious comedy series Children's Hospital, and a short film called Worst Enemy. How was directing a full-length feature different or challenging?

Endurance. I was unofficially prepping for a year. Then for months and months I officially prepped. Even when you have a day off, there’s not one waking second, not even a sleeping second that isn't dedicated to the movie. It’s your baby. You're 100 percent responsible for its life and breath. Post-production ended up being so much longer. I was obsessive about it. In short form, you do post-production in three days, but this was seven months of my life. It was tedious.

Are you a big Don LaFontaine fan?

Yes! This whole film is basically a homage to him.

What is it about him that you most admire?

I find his story the most interesting. He was a copy writer his whole life and was put in the booth sort of like Carol. Also, voice over wasn't a thing of note until Don LaFontaine came around. He was gifted. His voice was unique, his technique was unique. Sure, his trailers were great, but the voice that he owned his entire life sort of blossomed and found itself a home.

In a World hits theaters on Friday, August 9.

And now... a few words from Don LaFontaine:

I'm the editorial director of Zimbio. Instagram: @anela_bella Twitter: @laniconway