In our interview with her at Sundance London back in May, Lake Bell explained that she'd always had the inclination to direct, but she was “steadfast on the path to being an actor." Now, a short year after helming a short film "Worst Enemy" and some episodes of "Childrens Hospital," the “It’s Complicated” and “How To Make It in America” actress’ feature debut "In A World" goes into theatrical release this week. The ensemble film — which won excellent reviews (us included) and the Best Screenplay award at Sundance — stars Bell as Carol, a voiceover artist looking to break into the Hollywood industry, who faces competition from her veteran voice star father (Fred Melamed) and his clique-minded male colleagues.
Bell has assembled a solid supporting cast for her first film — Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, and Nick Offerman, to name a few — and she’s already expressed plans for her marriage-themed follow-up, “What’s The Point.” You can read more on the inspiration and production behind “In A World” in our previous chat, but this time during the film’s LA junket, Bell spoke to us about Kickstarter’s shifting status, her role in Disney’s upcoming sports film "Million Dollar Arm," and economically directing a comedy.
What I enjoyed about “In A World” was the film’s extremely tight structure; it’s not a shaggy, improv-loaded comedy, which I think is a tendency for American productions to move towards. Did you set down this kind of plan at the beginning of making the film?
Absolutely. I cast so many incredible improv comedians, and so I really did go into the process thinking, "Oh, they're going to inject all this cool banter and it's going to make me look really good and enrich the script."
But what ended up happening — especially when you only have 20 days to shoot something — you don't really have the luxury of time to find things and goof around. You just don't have that. So traditionally what I would do is go by the script. Stick to the script, make sure what we needed was in the can, and then allow for a couple takes at the end. There's really only a handful of improvised lines in the movie, because when you get into the editorial, you have to be economical about telling the story, and I didn't want to overstay my welcome. My editor Tom McArdle is vigilant about being very efficient, and I give him great credit for that. But both of us felt, like, “Look, you're making a comedy. You don't need it to be two-and-a-half hours long.” So in the effort to streamline, I never want to be thought of as indulgent in any way, so the improv got diminished because a) there wasn't a lot of time for it, and b) it made sense economically in the plotline.
Do you relish the opportunity to direct friends, or does it intimidate you?
I'm totally comfortable with it, and to be honest with you, directing “Childrens Hospital” as a precursor to “In A World” was a great exercise in directing my friends. 'CH' could not be a more raucous set; I was directing it this year too — the fifth season — but season four everyone was way too comfortable with each other and giving each other shit. If you're the director and you're coming in not knowing anyone, it's difficult sometimes. You got a lot of big personalities, we're all goofing off and you got two days to do an episode; we shoot two at a time in four days, really quick, all out of sequence… it’s insane. It was the perfect boot camp though in term of managing large personalities that are also my friends, but also moving very quickly and efficiently.
What’s more difficult is asking your friends to be in your movie. Once they're there, they're kind of onboard because they want to help the project, and things move much more gracefully. But because you know the complications that are going on in their lives, whether being a good husband or wife or dad, or getting their own project off the ground, it's sometimes more difficult to say, "Hey could you take x amount of weeks out of your life and come and play this part? Can you trust me with your career for a month?” But I'm very, very honored and lucky that the people who did come out and support the film just beautifully represented their characters.
You said previously that you like being involved in a film while working on other projects, as it helps keep that creative energy alive. How was being involved in a studio film like “Million Dollar Arm,” and how did inform your work at that time?
I think when you're generating your own content, it's important to surround yourself by like-minded folks, and expose yourself to different sets and types of environments.
Did you go on location to India?
I didn't get to go to India, unfortunately. They shot a month in India and a month in Atlanta, and I got the Atlanta portion.
Atlanta's not so bad.
No, not at all, but the weather was challenging -- a lot of exteriors and it was very difficult to get around that rain. But yeah, I think doing "Million Dollar Arm" was a nice hiatus from having the responsibility of running an entire set. And also to see [director] Craig Gillespie's set -- how he runs it, how he moves his camera.
So you pick up notes on directing as you’re on these other projects.
You always do. I think that's the benefit of every set you go on, whether I'm directing some short form content, or directing “Childrens Hospital” or doing some big movie like “Million Dollar Arm,” you're always paying attention.
I know you turned to Kickstarter to complete post-production on your Sundance short film, “Worst Enemy;” I wanted to ask what you thought about the platform now?
I know there's controversy surrounding it now, but when it first came out, Kickstarter was such an interesting mechanism, and I just respected the entrepreneurial nature of it. I self-financed "Worst Enemy" with about $30,000 of my own money, and because that's a lot of cash to throw down — contrary to popular belief I don't make a load of money — for post-production my producer Jet said, "Oh, there's this really cool company that's very inclusive, and your family and friends can help by offering very little money.”
Sometimes you feel like you can't be an investor in movies because you don't have the money to do it. It felt like a community. When I first got on Kickstarter, you know I contributed to projects, discovered new weird products or esoteric films that I thought were cool, and they contributed to mine. Somehow the collective contribution was kind of a beautiful conceit; it was pure, and now I guess it's been sullied a bit.
Would you use it now?
I wouldn't, no. At this point, I think it would be inappropriate for me to use it now, especially making features. Maybe if it was still during a time when I hadn’t done anything, calling out, "Does anyone believe in me as a filmmaker?" The point is, now I'm in a position where I've worked so hard and hustled to have some modicum of relevance in making movies, or at least independent movies. And so it might not make sense for me, even just from my gut.
“In A World” opens in theatres August 9th.