Interview: Lake Bell Discusses the Joys & Challenges of Making Films
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2017
"I feel very proud to put something out there that is kind-spirited." Lake Bell has a new movie hitting theaters this week and it's worth a watch whenever you have the time. Many people know Lake Bell as an actress, from shows like "Boston Legal" and "How to Make It in America" and movies like Million Dollar Arm, What Happens in Vegas, and Man Up. But Lake is also a talented filmmaker, writing and directing original feature films. Her feature directorial debut, In a World…, a charming comedy about voice-over actors, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. She has followed that up with a romantic comedy titled I Do… Until I Don't about marriage that is opening in theaters soon. Lake stars in I Do… Until I Don't as one of the lead characters, and she also produced, wrote & directed it, which is an impressive feat.
I have been looking forward to talking with Lake Bell for a long time. I love her filmmaking and I wanted to speak with her first and foremost about her work as a director (and writer), as someone who makes her own films. She has an excellent sense of storytelling and she certainly does infuse a kindness and warmness to her films. I'm still partial to In a World…, because it's such a charming yet unique film, especially in the way it challenges the cliche of what women should sound like. Her latest film, I Do… Until I Don't (I hope she always puts ellipses in the titles of her films), also has a sweet side that comes out halfway through. I'm glad I finally had the chance to talk with her and I will definitely continue to follow her filmmaking work closely.
My interview with Lake Bell was conducted over the phone. It was still a great joy to talk with Lake, and I wish we could've sat down for an actual chat in person somewhere. Perhaps sometime again in the future we'll meet up for another interview. Ever since I saw In a World at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2013, I've been hoping to one day talk with Lake. I am a big fan of the films she directs, and I'm already excited to see more from her, hoping we won't have to wait long for the next one. Without further delay, let's begin…
So I already know the answer to this, but I want to ask anyway: is it really as hard as they say to get a movie financed and made and have you figured out anything that makes a difference?
Lake Bell: You know, it is. I thought, potentially with my sophomore endeavor, that perhaps it would have been a little bit easier to find financing. Especially with the way that In a World… was received. That said, I wanted to do something different. There's definitely still some trepidation to take a financial chance on an independent film if it's not exactly like the previous success. So if I had a project that was basically a carbon copy of In a World…, which for me would not have been fulfilling because I've already made In a World…, then perhaps I would have had an easier go of it. But that said, I think you always end up finding the right people. At least that's been my experience. And when you don't find the right financing, then it often does fall apart because it is so volatile. Which I've also had that experience as well with other projects.
There's no real trick to it… It is a strange and mysterious endeavor. And I think it's partially to do with… making independent movies is really a gamble. And you do it for the love of it, which is cliché, but also deeply true. You just have to be profoundly passionate and steadfast on making your movie in order to get it made. It has to be non-negotiable. And then you will find a way. Initially I thought "ooh, I'm definitely going to make this movie in more days than I had made In a World…" And that'll feel so much better because I'll have more days and with seven main characters, I definitely think I'm going to need it. But then in the end I ended up making I Do… Until I Don't for the exact same number of days, which is 20 days. For a full length feature that's significantly lean.
At the end of the day I always felt that limitations really do breed a very specific brand of creativity that independent films thrive on. And this movie, I Do… Until I Don't, is a little more commercial in so much that it's dealing with a varied number of cool subjects and I think that it's not your quintessential indie movie. It definitely has a breadth of growing up a little bit, and me investigating something that I have been therapeutically wrestling over for a very long time. So that is ostensibly what making movies, or telling stories is about for me, is that it's largely therapeutic.
That's exactly what I was going to ask - are you experiencing these kind of things in life or even seeing it with other people and you just wanted to tell that story about this. Is that where the idea for this new film came from?
Lake: I started writing this movie very shortly after I finished In a World… and I came at it from a deeply cynical place feeling that marriage was quite an archaic concept that at this point in civilization, frankly, haven't we learned our lesson that we just live too damn long and it's a tall order to demand two people stay together for the rest of their days if we're going to live ’till like 90 years old. That's just not reasonable. And there's a lot of divorce in my family, and I was very vocal about expressing the cynicism. That said, I really do feel that every unromantic person is deeply hoping to be proven wrong. And I was one of those people just waiting for that moment for someone to kind of whisk me off my feet and throw me over their shoulder and say, we're getting married, kid. That was something I never wanted to share with anyone.
So as I was writing this movie I met my now-husband, Scott Campbell, and that very thing happened. There's only so much that you can do as a filmmaker, right? You can only infuse into the consciousness of the people who are watching it some message or some feel, right? That's the only power that I could have. If you don't see it, then you don't feel it. But what I always hope is to infuse kind-hearted spirit and hope, right? Some message that feels hopeful. As opposed to a lot of edgy stuff out there that makes me feel nervous or scared or – thoughtful and provoking, but at the end of the day I'm going to keep my eyes open at night because I've now become more anxious. And maybe that's my neuroses, too. I don't know. But certainly in this day and age I do feel that there's so much to worry about, I feel very proud to put something out there that is kind-spirited, and with the intention to be so.
Of course. And I very much always appreciate that because these kind of films with that optimism are so far and few between these days.
Lake: Yeah. And I feel like why not just have a respite. I do think in this climate it's good to be optimistic and to be real old fashioned. It means a lot to me. It really does. I guess I get a little frustrated sometimes with comedies… It's like there's no room for people being good to each other. And it's like, I want to be funny and make people laugh and feel and have a good time, but also perhaps we need to be a little warmer to each other. And I know that sounds a bit, maybe dorky or something. I don't have super powers, but I certainly have the ability to make a small cinema of people feel something kind.
That is a super power.
Lake: That could be a little super power.
Where or how did the documentary filmmaker aspect come into play? Was that always there from the start when you began writing it?
Lake: It was. In creating any piece of film, filmic expression, I'm always trying to challenge myself as a writer, but also as a creator of visual images. And I really loved the idea of getting to play with something visual with a different personality than I'm used to embarking upon. So I guess initially it was just a fun way… because I always love the idea of this documentarian representing the outside forces that become these unsavory distractions in marriage. She's some sort of Puck-like character, rebel-rousing and trickling her conceits on people. In the way that there are definitely, in this day and age, there are so many distractions. And maybe if we all married in a vortex and it was just you and me against the world, you'd be blinkered, and you would probably be more successful if you could know that it was just you and that other person. But because we live in a time of access to so much and distractions, I wanted there to be a character that encapsulates that the outside forces aren't rooting for any to succeed.
In fact there's the messy business that can sometimes be the cause of your marital demise. Dolly Wells plays the documentarian that's, she's the Puck. She's the messy business that gets in the way of these three marriages. And her investigation of her own heartbreak and her needing to prove her thesis because it will help her wake up in the morning because she is so broken. But that these three couples actually become more inspired to bind together. And that's sort of my fantastical element I wanted to include.
I almost thought you had a bone to pick with documentary filmmakers. Like hey, you guys try a little bit too much to craft what you want in your films and not just show the truth.
Lake: [Laughs] Well yeah, I think… documentaries are often editorializing and sensationalized. I'm the first one to watch a documentary and be like oh my God, I'm changing the way I eat, or oh my God, I'm changing my entire life based on this one person's vision. Or how I feed my children or how I do whatever it is. And I've always been interested in the power of that medium. But I use it in a way to be… It's the ultimate distraction embodied. So that I could allow my characters to fall into this web that is very sticky and nasty.
What do you love most about being a filmmaker? What is your favorite part of the process?
Lake: My favorite part about makin' movies is definitely the camaraderie that it inspires. Not just on the set, but even in the tapestry of this industry. At every juncture there is a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. At the writing stage, it's probably lonely and so you end up sharing your work with other people and other writers and you get to talk about process and talk about notes. And then when you get producers, they start to come on and you all start to talk about how to make the movie. And then the team starts to get bigger and more robust and you assemble this team, this group, this creative coalition that will help bring a single vision to the film. And throughout every single increment and every chapter of making the movie, there is this tremendous connection between people, creative people. I really enjoy running that ship.
And I feel inspired by hiring people and surrounding myself with people that make me do my job better and I hope to make them show up in a way that they haven't before. That mutual respect… I always say it's the best advice I can give… People are like, "what's the one thing you've got to always remember when you're making movies?" Like, what's the one thing to take away? You've got to wear sneakers. You've got to wear comfortable shoes. And I do, but it's also a symbol of when you're making a movie, you've got to fucking move around. You know what I mean? It's like an athletic, physical sport. And I feel like I want everybody in comfortable shoes because we're all going to be hustling and that hustle is infectious, and also addictive.
That's nice to hear because in Hollywood it's too often "too many cooks in the kitchen"…
Lake: Well that's a studio, that probably applies to [working in] a studio.
Yeah, for sure. What can we do, as audience members, to support great indie films and great filmmakers? Is it simply just buying a ticket and seeing the movie? Or is there more that we can do to support indie filmmakers?
Lake: Oh that's an awesome question. You know, first of all — thank you, and I do appreciate the support because obviously it is profound and incredibly useful and productive… Press and getting the word out in this way means that X amount of eyeballs will now be aware of my little movie and will potentially go and… Yes, buy tickets and support independent films on their opening weekend. Because basically how it works is, and as you well know, the opening weekend is somehow — that becomes the golden ticket. If your movie can open reasonably well, then you will get another chance. Or, it will go to another handful of theaters meaning more people can enjoy a movie that perhaps wouldn't have normally come to their town. But the only way that those smaller movies can get to more towns and other cinemas that they might not normally be in, is if the opening weekend shows some sort of support and encouragement.
So it's really a funny thing, the business aspect of this, because I spent so much time and love and energy on just making the product and making the story that this is the part where I'm like, "oh yeah, now I need, now what we need…" All I'd like is people to enjoy it and go and see it. But there's a lot of hustle, just a different kind of hustle. But yeah, it's basically — support opening weekend and then if you like it, you bring a few friends and then you talk about it, and you share it with friends and your family. This is thankfully a movie that your entire family can see. So if your Grandma wants to feel cool and go see it, she can see it as well as your hipster cousin. It's a safe zone. There's nothing like an awkward sex scene where you're like oh God, why am I watching this with my parents. Which I do feel proud that it is all eyes can be on this.
I appreciate that question because it is hard to know. But I do think that word of mouth is our bread and butter. I mean, word of mouth and just good old fashioned buying a ticket and taking your friends. Now that I'm a parent of two kids, I don't even get to see movies as much as I used to. But it's important. It's important for me to continue to do that, too, as a filmmaker. To support my comrades that I am so proud to share this industry with. So I take on that responsibility as well.
Of course. Well, thank you for your time. I know this is knock on wood, but I hope it doesn't take too long until we get to see your next movie after this, because I want to see it already. So best of luck.
Lake: Well, there's a couple in the works.
A big thank you to Lake Bell for her time. And thank you to ID PR for arranging the interview.
Lake Bell's newest film, I Do… Until I Don't, arrives in theaters everywhere starting September 1st (watch the trailer). You can also still see her first film, In a World, on iTunes or Amazon. Support great filmmakers.