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Zimbio Exclusive Interview: Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, 'Sound of My Voice'


Director Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling attend the "Sound Of My Voice" premiere at Museum of Modern Art on April 22, 2012 in New York City. (April 21, 2012 - Source: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images North America) more pics from this album>>

Sound of My Voice is the first feature by Zal Batmanglij, a young up and coming writer/director who was named to Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch" list last December. His film is a striking debut, a cerbral noir which delves into universal questions of self-doubt and assuredness. Voice is about two journalists to infiltrate a cult in order to expose its supposed time-traveling leader as a fraud. That leader is a beautiful young woman named Maggie, played by Brit Marling, who claims to have been born in 2030 and is gathering followers to protect them from an impending civil war. Marling's is a name you will soon know well if you don't already.

Marling at the Sound of My Voice premiere. Batmanglij co-wrote Sound of My Voice with Marling. The two were students together at Georgetown and formed a writing partnership that has now come to fruition. Sound of My Voice opened to great reviews at last year's Sundance Film Festival and will receive a limited run starting today across the U.S.

We were lucky enough to speak with both Brit and Zal about cults, cult-classics, and Hannibal Lecter, as they await the opening of their film.

Zimbio: Congratulations on the film! I'm really interested in cults, so with this one, and Martha Marcy May Marlene last year, I'm in cult heaven you know?
Brit Marling: (Laughs) That's so cool. We're so happy to hear you enjoyed the film!

Zimbio: So just to jump into it. I know you guys co-wrote the script and I wondered, why a film about a cult? What was the genesis of the script?
BM: Well, I think the real genesis of the script was Zal came to one of our writing sessions one day and shared this dream where he had his hands bound with plastic cuffs and was blindfolded in a hospital gown and was led down basement stairs. When he described that image it was so arresting it was just like, "Oh gosh, what was in that basement?" We started riffing off that and telling each other this story back and forth...
Zal Batmanglij: ...And it was this soup we were making so we were just putting these things that interested us in the soup. So we were long interested in time travel and then long interested in group-think and I dont think we necessarily approached it from a negative persepective. I think people think of cults or group-think in a really negative way, but we were always just fascinated by being part of a collective and collective-thought.

Zimbio: Most of the infamous cult leaders are religious zealots. Did you guys envision Maggie as a religious figure at all?
ZB: No I dont think so. I think if someone claimed to be a time traveler they would get a real cult following. We just thought it would be pretty natural.

Zimbio: Brit, what were some of your inspirations for how Maggie should look and sound like? I kept thinking of Hannibal Lecter, to be honest.
BM: That's so funny you should say Hannibal Lecter because we've read that script so many times. I always thought that script was such a masterwork, and the film too, but as a script particularly. Maybe some of that did sneak in there in an unconscious way. But a lot of Maggie came from the idea of thinking about what it would be like in a practical sense if you were really a time-traveler. What kind of person is that? What is that experience like? What has that done to your body and details like: if you travel from New York to L.A. on a plane, you arrive with your immune system depressed, you may have a cold, and aren't feeling so well. Well, what happens if you travel a couple decades back in time? Time travel jetlag has to have a pretty serious affect. So we tried to think of practical things to deal with both the external and internal world of this character. Then when I went and did the acting homework after we finished the script, I just kept digging deeper within that world and Maggie was certainly a fascinating person to excavate. I think part of what gets to the center of her is that line, "I'm from the future. I'm not a saint." So there's this idea that, whether or not she's from the future, she's a complicated, flawed, very human person and that's sort of what makes her compelling.

Zimbio: Have you seen any footage of David Koresh, because I was also reminded of him. Mainly, in his conviction and confidence in the way he speaks.
BM: Yeah, as we were writing and preparing, we watched a lot of documentaries on cults and read books about them. A lot of cult leaders tend to be failed actors or former preachers so that's kind of telling. But certainly, I think the idea was to create somebody who always manages to keep a sense of mystery by always throwing her audience a different face. Sometimes she's (Maggie) motherly, tender and deeply empathetic and then in the next moment she's vicious and tough and fierce and terrible. Then the next minute, she's seductive and innocent and she always keeps you guessing a bit, which I think is something you maybe need to keep the attention of a group.

Zimbio: Zal, I've read some of the film was shot guerilla-style, like the airplane scene, and I wondered if you could talk about shooting on a low budget and how else you may have cut corners.
Batmanglij at the Sound of My Voice premiere.
ZB: Yeah the movie is ultra low-budget so it gives you even greater freedom in your guerrilla tactics. What other ways did we cut corners? Well, a lot of the locations in the movie are places we would go to, or had friends who owned or managed them. Like the restaurant that Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) are in in the middle of the night is a restaurant called Forage in Silver Lake. We just asked them one day, "Can we shoot a movie here?" And they said "Yeah." We said we didn't have any money and they told us, "We won't charge you anything other than, we need someone there to oversee you guys and lock up." We asked if that person could also be an actual waiter in the movie, so that was another "two birds with one stone"-type of thing. And the spa, we knew a person who managed a Korean spa in downtown L.A. That's a real spa, lots of stuff like that.

Zimbio: I also read the film is part of a much larger vision that you had when you wrote it and I wondered if you have a sequel in mind or planned? What's next?
ZB: When we wrote it it just kind of came out whole. The whole world, so it's really just book one of that world so we're very happy to have a stand-alone movie, but we've got it all mapped out should people be interested in this movie or the desire to finance another one arises in someone else.
Zimbio: So you're just waiting to see how the movie's received and just go from there as far as the next steps?
ZB: Sure, who wants to make a sequel for a movie no one wants to see?
Zimbio: (Laughs) Good point. I can see this as a mini-series on HBO, would you consider going to television?
ZB: Sure, we're not snobs at all. That's why you feel that feeling because we're borrowing from all different types of formats. We just wanted to tell the best story possible. We wanted to use tools from televsion, from cinema of course and feature film, from theater, from music videos, whatever tools work to best tell the story

Zimbio: Could you each name some of your favorite cult films?
BM: I love, and one of the movies that inspired all of us when we saw it back in college, was Krzystof Kozlowski's Red, which is probably not a cult classic. Donnie Darko is probably considered a cult classic.
ZB: My favorite cult classic is Harold and Maude.
BM: Yeah, thats a great movie.
Zimbio: That's one of the most classic cult-classics.
BM: (Laughs).
ZB: What are some of your favorites?
Zimbio: Mine? Well, I'm big into the Coen Brothers, so their first - Blood Simple, is probably my favorite.
BM: That's such a good movie! When I watched that for the first time I was like "How did they do this as a first film?" It's an astounding achievement, that movie.
Zimbio: It is, and it's just perfectly written. You can see their whole future ahead of them within that movie.
BM: And Frances McDormand's performance is awesome.
Zimbio: Yup, she's amazing.

Zimbio: So I wanted to ask about your next collaboration The East. Could you guys talk a little about that. What the plot is?
BM: Sure, it's the story of a girl who's a conservative corporate spy who goes undercover to infiltrate this group of anarchists living in the woods who are pulling off these successful culture jams against corporations. That's sort of what it's about. We finished shooting in December and are in the thick of editing now so hopefully a film will emerge from the editing room.

Zimbio: Sweet! Thank you so much guys.
BM: Thanks for your time, man.
ZB: Thank you.


For more photos of Brit Marling:
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
  • Brit Marling in "Sound Of My Voice" New York Premiere
View Zal Batmanglij Pictures »
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