Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In a World (2013)

Written at the time of the film's release.

The Cult of Non-celebrity
Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics...and Marketing

Lake Bell's comedy In a World (she wrote, directed, stars in, and wins The Welles Award for over-achievement this year) is a funny, funny look at the L.A. studio scene, or at least the LA studio scene of a few years ago.* She gets the nuances right of the bubble-verse that a lot of folks get into, and the sexist nature of the industry—female voice-overs for commercials have broken the glass recording booth ceiling, but movie trailers are still reliant on the paternalistic "Voice of God" to "sell" the image the studios want.

Bell stars as Carol Solomon, a periphery actress, semi-content to act as a vocal coach to other artists (like Eva Longoria because her cockney accent makes her sound "like a retarded pirate."), carrying around a mini-recorder to capture any vocal inflections to add to her collection (a habit that has more than one irritation and complication in the film) and generally do The California Hang Out, professionally waiting for the big break to happen.
That big break translates to not telling others how to do voice-work, but doing it herself, whether voicing commercials, or, even better, movie trailers, the toughest nut in voice-over work to crack. The reason?  Women don't "do" voice-overs for trailers. How does she know? Her father (Fred Melamed) does voice-overs for movie trailers, and is only too happy to tell her that it's a man's market, and that she can't possibly break into it because 1) women don't do voice-overs and 2) she can't do voice-overs because she's not as talented as he is and he does voice-overs. 
In any industry there are out-sized egos, and the voice-over field is no different.** Most have a healthy sense of perspective and a genuine gratitude for being paid to (as one voice-over guy described it) "talk out loud for a living." But, there are those (and sadly, you don't know who you are) who see it as "art" and their every syllable is "golden." Carol's dad is one of them, and despite his extraordinary ego, he still sees himself following in the wavelengths of the King of Trailers, the late Don LaFontaine, who, "legend" has it (or at least Don had it), "created" the "in a world" tag-line, and who, in his honor, the line has been retired since his death.***  

However, there's a new chic-lit-based "quadrilogy" movie series coming out, and they just might be using that "In a world..." line for their trailers. Carol's father, in his largesse, bequeaths it to up-and-comer Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), who's lost a couple of gigs to "some chick" over a throat ailment, and the two chortle about how they can screw her over—not realizing that "some chick" is his own daughter.

At about this time, anybody with a few movies under their eye-lids is going "Oh, he'll find out it's her, feel remorse, and turn over a new leaf..." Bell's movie isn't that easy. In fact when he hears that she might get the gig, he decides that he'll audition for it himself ("Auditioning," oh, the humiliation. Don't they know who he is?), in a fit of ego and competitive envy. That's surprising. But...I gotta say, not out of the realm of reality.  

If the movie were all that, it would be a thin script, indeed. But Bell complicates this world, with others in the fringe—Carol's sister, Dani (played by Michaela Watkins) a concierge, whom Carol has to crash with when her Dad tosses her out so his 30-something girlfriend (Alexandra Holden) can move in with him, thus messing up the lives of her sister and her husband (Rob Corddry, proving he can play a normal guy, for once), a reality television editor. Then there are the studio crew, including her engineer-friend (Demetri Martin) who promotes her work, enabling him to keep burning the torch he has for her. The repartee among these players is refreshingly spontaneous-sounding, with half-finished sentences, colliding overlaps and repetitions, stray asides, floating exiting explanations, and general discomfiture, making great use of actor/comedians for improv/mumblecore cred—the difference being that it's actually funny here, and not just awkweird.
There's a line from In a World... that does raise a point, despite it coming from one of the most insufferable characters: "a great voice isn't just a blessing, it's a choice." Bell takes it somewhat seriously, she was/portrays a vocal coach, and makes it a point several times to decry the up-inflected "sexy baby voice" that seems to be "the rage" these days, after it's been perpetuated by reality-show denizens and nondescript and untrained readers, like the kind that fill up "This American Life." She has a point, but a narrow one. The commercial world reflects the real world, but not very far, and certainly without any degree of real innovation, as it's always art by committee. And once the mad men discover a trend, they do it "to death," until it passes into the cliche mode and stops making the short-term money. But, I found it a little disingenuous for Bell to be on her soap-box about how people talk, because, as the line implies, we can't all be blessed, nor can we all afford vocal coaches.  We work with what we have, whether it fits into an "acceptable" niche or not. In a World does a good job of turning its eye on the chauvinism in the marketplace, but it's blind to it in its own little bubble-verse.

Easy for her to talk. 

A compilation of movie trailer cliches as voiced by Hal Douglas, Peter Thomas, 
Dom Morrow and (three or four times) Don LaFontaine

Hal Douglas can't say 'In a World...'

A rare female voice on a trailer...Melissa Disney (featured in In a World) for Gone in 60 Seconds

* "In a world" of DSL lines, fiber-optics transmission, satellite feeds and home studios, the voice-over business is not quite as concentrated in Los Angeles as it used to be.  It's where a lot of production is done, but a lot of the voice-over artists now do things from their own home and "travel" when the technology demands it (or the egos of the producers do).

** During one session in my memory, one well-known national voice-over talent was told by the writer-producer that he'd "fluffed" a line and the response was "Fluffed?!  FUCK YOU!"  And then there are those famous out-takes by Orson Welles and William Shatner.

*** This is bull-shit.  The line has certainly been used (and probably too much in the past few years since LaFontaine's death) as a pop culture cliche—an easy go-to  laugh  among the most dull of hipsters.  And it's also bull-shit because LaFontaine was only one of the voice actors who did that style of "read" (the most prominent probably being Hal Douglas), but spent the last year of his life (sadly) promoting himself as the "In a World..." guy.  THE "In a world..." guy.  And the only way he got away with it (and the man was dying, so the industry let him) is because so many people have a tin ear and can't tell the difference between LaFontaine and the other dozen or so voice-actors who "do" trailers. One wonders, besides marketing, why he did it.  The ones who did the news stories and puff-pieces did it because...well, they didn't know any better and bought the hype for a good story.  LaFontaine had great pipes. 

 But he was no Ken Nordine.

No comments:

Post a Comment