'Sound of My Voice': A Film That Started As a Dream and Ended Up at SXSW

A movie about infiltrating a cult serves as a reminder one of the joys of the festival: discovering new talent


Skyscraper Films

One of the real pleasures of attending the SXSW Film Festival is the opportunity to see some of the smaller, more personal films screening here. Friday night on the way out of Source Code I had the good luck to stumble into a film that is a prime example of the importance of the festival circuit for discovering and promoting talent.

Sound of My Voice centers around a young couple, Peter and Lorna, filmmakers who are infiltrating a cult for a documentary they are making. The film is simply excellent, and I could try to go into depth about what makes it so good—the composition, the pacing, the writing, the acting—but really, like most great films, I guess, it's just a good story with a lot of hard work and skill behind it.

The director, Zal Batmanglij, and the lead, Brit Marling, were also co-writers. The first step of the story originally came to Batmanglij in a dream, which he took to Marling at a brainstorming session the next day. "I had this weird dream that might lead to a story," he told her. "I was blindfolded, in a robe, and was being led down some stairs to a basement." "Because you were being led to a cult!" Marling replied. They went on from there, riffing off each other. "We just told each other the story," the director said.

Sound of My Voice was shot on a shoestring in Los Angeles, using two DSLR cameras and a lot of ingenuity. "I wouldn't necessarily recommend shooting a feature film on a still camera," Batmanglij said during a Q&A after the screening. But it allowed them to shoot without needing to set up expensive and time-consuming lighting rigs, and a great deal of mobility.

Many of the scenes with cult take place in a basement, which they don't really have in L.A., so they built one in a warehouse near some train yards (you can hear them going by at some points in the film). To save money, the film was edited while they were shooting. Since they couldn't afford computers to edit on, they went to an Apple store, bought an iMac, and returned it 13 days later (the stores have a 14-day return policy). After they exhausted their supply of Apple stores in the area, they went to Best Buy. "We needed to move fast," the director explained. "We were running out of money." This was all done while the two held down day jobs.

The film had its first cut completed two weeks after shooting, and they submitted another cut to Sundance four weeks later. They finished the final cut two days into that festival and drove it straight to Park City. It screened five times there and was a hit. Hopefully it will get picked up soon and everyone else can see what many of us are raving about.

Here's the opening sequence to Sound of My Voice:

Get updates about Sound of My Voice from the film's Twitter feed, @s_o_m_v.