Resident Video 21: The Voice

Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month, we bring you Kyusik Gam’s The Voice.

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Few films manage to use the subject of technology effectively in telling a personal story with strong characterization. The Voice, written and directed by Kyusik Gam in 2013, accomplishes this feat.

Based on the novel by Kristin Dimitrova, The Voice tells the story of Elizabeth, a woman wanting an escape from a dull job and a struggling relationship. She finds this escape through ‘the voice’, an Italian language software. This voice provides her solace, more intimately than a simple hobby. She begins to obsess over it, sometimes losing her grip or forgetting about reality.

This obsession with ‘the voice’ represents a message that relates to all of us in the 21st century. Have we become too engulfed in our technologies? Our phones, computers, tablets, and other devices. Some may raise the argument that these technologies are dangerous because they pull us away from real life, which happens to Elizabeth in the film. On the other side of the coin, they’ve left their positive mark on us and made life more enjoyable for millions of people. There’s no simple answer to the question, but The Voice manages to tell a great story based on the very same principle.

In the interview below, we talk to director Kyusik Gam about the film.

The Voice features a deeply personal venture into the life of Elizabeth – she loses her job, her relationship is falling apart. Often times, she’s portrayed sitting alone. But really, she’s not alone, because she finds solace in ‘the voice’, her language software. Were there difficulties in telling such a personal story through the use of an impersonal subject?

Of course, there were many challenges to portrait a certain kind of human emotions through a faceless device, but that was one of the main concepts that we wanted to explore from the beginning of the process. My producer, Assya Dimova and I thought this kind of unusual relationship would be very interesting and timely in 2013 when we made the film. Around that time, artificial intelligence did not go far beyond prototype but began to reveal the great potential that would be a huge impact on daily human life.

In order to show the relationship with the impersonal subject visually, my DP, David Charry and I wanted to establish a specific color theme for each space in the film. For instance, most of the spaces surrounding Elizabeth reference coldness and dryness, such as dark blue for her room and dull green for her workplace. On the contrary, her desk with the language software is illuminated by the warm and soft orange light. This space is isolated in the corner of the room, emphasizing her real situation, but this is the place where she feels comfortable and relaxed and is emotionally connected with the voice of the software.

I was lucky enough to have a really good voice actor, Kevin Craig Wesley, who has an attractive and gentle voice for the software. Before participating in this film, he had never spoken Italian but, as an actor, he was able to mimic the fluent Italian accent – at least for non-Italian audiences.

My team also put a lot of time and effort into the graphics of the language software which has vivid waveform along with its voice that also helps the lifeless software to be shown as friendly.

Your film echoes societal obsessions with technology. Seemingly everyone’s on their phone these days, in some cases even sleeping next to it for ease-of-access. How was this film an analog to these societal tendencies? Ultimately, do you believe technology has a more positive or negative impact on our daily lives?

This is a hard one because it’s a language software rather than “read-only” online media post. What I mean is that I find a voice to be more personable and engaging and intimate. And in the case of the language software, it follows Elizabeth’s directions (and what she longs to hear) rather than her just seeking out any type of connection. But it is also a type of A.I. in the end, too, and a replacement for what she lacks in the real world.I don’t believe she is obsessed per se, but there is an echo to the way society treats technology today and what expectations we project to our devices and virtual relations. Personally, I think technology is affecting our lives both positively and negatively. But it’s all about moderation and purpose. How we interact is always changing but the conversation always remains.

I don’t believe she is obsessed per se, but there is an echo to the way society treats technology today and what expectations we project to our devices and virtual relations. Personally, I think technology is affecting our lives both positively and negatively. But it’s all about moderation and purpose. How we interact is always changing but the conversation always remains.

We found it an interesting choice to personify ‘the voice’ through Tony, even if he may have been a hallucination in the context of the story. This choice is a contrast to the A.I. in Spike Jonze’s Her, which released in the same year as your film, in that the A.I. remains a voice alone. Was it a difficult choice to use this style of personification? Do you think it made your characters and/or their relationships more compelling?

This film is about a lady who wanders with crossing the boundary between dream and reality. So, I believed that the personification of the software through Tony (who might not really exist) would present the main character’s situation and perspective more properly.

She dreams because she feels desperate in reality and the appearance of Tony can play a role as representing the psychological state of the protagonist. There might be a huge gap between fantasy and truth but I didn’t want to clarify their distance, and rather imply that her ideas might be closer than she thinks. So, I described Tony as if someone who might live next door but she just does not recognize it.

The film ends when Elizabeth comes back to the real world (and realizes her dreams are flying away like the plane in the sky) but I think she would probably keep dreaming in her own way.
“The place… I can’t touch or even see. But when I close my eyes it reaches my ears,” from the poster of the film

As we mentioned, The Voice tells a personal and quite intimate story through the short duration of its 14-minute runtime. It should be noted that your film was based on the novel by Kristin Dimitrova. In what ways does it share similar or different qualities with the novel? Were there elements that you wanted to include but couldn’t due to budget or time constraints?

The Voice is very much about language. And language has been a huge part from the very beginning of the development process. My producer, Assya Dimova, had stumbled upon the short novel by the Bulgarian writer Kristin Dimitrova. She read it in the original language, Bulgarian, where the main character is learning English. When we contacted Kristin for the film rights ofor the story, she was happy to see our interpretation. She also sent us an English translation of the novel to help me in my adaption process. That translation had the main character learning German instead. I made the change to Italian because I find the language poetic and emotional, and I feel this helped us fully define the character of Elizabeth as someone longing for real connection and a different life — as someone who wants to be noticed and appreciated.

Another big difference is how Elizabeth handles the realization that the software has been deleted. In the novel, her reaction is way more internal: she cries for a bit and goes on with her day. I really wanted to bring her sadness and anger and included the TV smashing scene. In a way, one could argue that she takes away her boyfriend’s escapism method away, too. But I personally wouldn’t put them on the same level.

I believe we managed to include all the creative elements that were envisioned in the novel. Yes, there are always budgetary and time constraints, but sometimes those can be even more beneficial for the filmmaking process, forcing you to be more creative and to think outside of the status quo.

I have to say our whole crew and cast were incredibly helpful. At times it was a bumpy ride but the whole team responded strongly to any challenges that came our way and I am proud I got to work with them on this project. I can’t wait to see what we do next, individually or as collaborators.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.

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