Miranda July Talks 'The Future'

Miranda July is no ordinary filmmaker. Even though it has been six years since her directorial debut Me and You and Everybody We Know, July has kept a busy schedule with other projects including the publishing of her book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You. Her second film The Future is about a thirty-something couple who realize they aren’t satisfied with their lives after adopting a wounded cat. The idea first came to July in a performance piece back in 2007. The film definitely feels like it has the Miranda July stamp on it, in that it embodies this indie, quirky, weird feeling. We got a chance to chat with Ms. July about the making of her film, her creative process, and more.

When you started doing the performance piece (Things We Don’t Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About), did you know that you were experimenting towards a film?

Miranda July: I did always think it would end up as a film, but I thought it was going to be a new kind of film that like the performance involved audience participation and therefore would not be distributed in any of the normal ways, and might even have a web component. This was me thinking, “Well, I made a movie. I made a normal movie that happened the normal way, why do that again?” I want to make movies, but why repeat that? I think the answer came after doing something wild enough that I got all that desire, I was satisfied. The thing that compels me to make movies, came back. It just felt like the most interesting way to tell that story, that in a way the more surreal elements, a lot of which were in the performance, might be more interesting in a more conventional context, if I could pull that off, that that became the challenge.

Why did you decide to make this movie about the uncertainty of life, and other things?

MJ: In the last ten years, or at least since I was a child, I’d gone from thinking that this life that we know would go on forever to thinking that no, probably we fucked it up. I’m not a scientist, but whether or not that’s true, that’s kind of a big thing, to have shift without ever noticing it happening. Just a shift in consciousness. That mirrors a lot of other themes in the movie. It seemed worthwhile to put in there.

Making The Future:

Why did you chose L.A. as the setting for The Future?

MJ: For the most part, I’ve just made things be where I am living, you know. I live here. I don’t think it’s a super place movie, really. It’s so interior and stuff. There are certain things that you could be in a totally different world. The way Tarzana feels to me, living in Silver Lake, yet it’s only 15 minutes away. It’s not actually that far. That feels poignant that she was just there all along. It is like another world.

Where does the Paw-Paw story come from?

MJ: When I was working on the performance, I did see a stray cat get hit by a car and that was this moment of – it felt like part of what I was making in a very tragic way, not cutely, in a really sad way. Especially if it’s a stray cat, I mean, I’m the one who ended up burying it, I realized that this story is gone, that no one was going to mourn this cat. That was my starting place, and sort of working backwards from there. I’m putting all sorts of ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ emotional content into that cat because it is so artificial to begin with that I felt free to do that in a way that I wouldn’t with a human character.

Where you in the paws or was that someone else?

MJ: I’m not going into detail about that. It seems a little mysterious to people how it was done. I’m so impressed that we made anything that was mysterious at this budget level.

Joe (Joe Putterlik) wasn’t an actor, you found him, and decided to have him in the film. Is there a conscious effort to have non-actors in your films?

MJ: Certainly, all the short movies I made before the short feature, I had mostly non actors. Even for the feature, I didn’t assume I was going to go the normal route. I remember when I moved from Portland to L.A., I asked the mover who I hired off Craigslist that if he could, when he was done moving, audition, which I have on tape. I was pretty open to anything there. Then, once you have a casting director and you go through the process, it actually pretty fascinating and fun to cast and bring these people in. I really liked having a non-actor. It feels like evidence to me that I was getting to do that. It felt like a good sign. With the movie, in general, I was trying to be more myself, even on the first one. That was one way to do that.

The film is so much about the influence of the internet and being connected and visible all the time, how do you see that shifting people’s consciousness? Even for kids growing up now.

MJ: It’s mind boggling now that we’re alive at this time when things change so much and now I didn’t for-see that for my whole adult life, or almost all of it, I would be checking something again and again throughout the day, like a maniac. You have visions of your adulthood and that would’ve seemed so weird to me, if someone had told me that. That doesn’t seem good. My own desire for that hip, which use to be the letter in the P.O. Box, that I would check way more than letters actually came, now I just check my email more than I actually need to. It’s such a human thing. What a potent territory to occupy, that it’s just limitless and it’s self-perpetuating. The more you do it the more you want to do it. It’s like every person for himself as far as wrestling with it and self-preservation, which is not to say it’s clear cut, I mean, it’s very useful too. Very handy.

Between Horror and Indie Film:

Some elements feel like a horror movie, where you influenced by David Lynch or David Cronenberg?

MJ: I wasn’t. Well, not so much Cronenberg, but I could see David Lynch slipped into my consciousness for sure. I followed him the whole time. I was talking abstractly about it as a horror movie because I thought that for someone like me, a person who has to be creative all the time or I don’t know who I am, to set up a situation where a character divests herself of all the trappings of self and moves into this blank slate life. That’s horrifying to me. But then when I actually got into editing, I remember we were cutting the part with the t-shirt when it comes up on the bed and I was like, “Wait, wait, if it slips away for a moment and you don’t see it, that’s scarier. You need that moment where it’s like, where is it?” That’s a horror movie. I said that. There’s reasons why horror movies have all those tricks. What’s unseen is worse than knowing.

Your performance work so different from the film work. It’s almost as if your films speak the language of indie film. How do you marry those two?

MJ: Whatever genre I’m in, I’m not thinking that much about the language of the genre, especially with film. My cinematic references are pretty few and far between although I like to watch movies. I’m mostly concerned with what is really necessary to show the inner world, and to try and be as free as possible about that. Sometimes I write down, like on a post it, move-in symbols because when I start to get too literal or, heaven-forbid, autobiographical which is like sudden death for me, it just gets bad. If I let go and realize that this can hold the feeling, no one has to enact that feeling, time can just stop and that’s how you know that’s inside him.

The Relationship Between Jason and Sophie:

What about the relationship between Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie? It seems like their connection is very cerebral, and then she goes off and has this sexual, physical experience. Why is that?

MJ: Sometimes, in the beginning of a long relationship, there is a point where it almost ends. It’s either going to end or it’s going to be for real, you know, from now on. There’s that end of the beginning thing, I think it’s a real thing. I’ve talked to other people and I’ve felt it myself. [But] movies by the time they’re edited, they get a little simpler. In the beginning there’s a lot of complicated stuff. I had shot a sex scene between Sophie and Jason. We fully prepared it, did it. It turned out way ‘pornier’ than I intended to do. No one will ever see that. When I saw the first assembly, and the editor had dutifully cut it together, I was like, “I’m never watching that again.” I don’t know how you accidentally make an X-rated movie but we did. It’s not technically x-rated though. Part of me wanted to show that part of a relationship that’s four years in. That seemed like a great challenge, that sex versus the sex that she has with [Marshall] but I failed. It didn’t work. And it wasn’t the best way tot tell the story. It was like a detour, which ended up making them even more ‘sibling-ly’ which I had to just embrace. How you think of yourself sexually, it’s like you, especially your inner relationship, you have your way that you think of yourself and if you’re in a stranger’s world, none of that matters. To them you don’t come with all these things that are your way. It’s all wide open so that freedom too of [thinking] that maybe [you're] this person. I wanted to show the lightheaded space of that too. It’s sort of self-sabotaging, the whole thing, but that’s not to say that in the moment of it, there’s not something that’s a relief. To not have to be the self that you already determined within the relationship.

Miranda July’s Creativity Process:

How is it when you’re getting ready to go into a new project?

MJ: Last night I had gotten very little sleep because I was spinning, for the first time in a while, this new NEW project. I don’t think is that it feels – it’s more like I’m thinking, Ah maybe I can get at this thing that is almost like an itch that I’ve been carrying around for so long. Maybe I can get at that, in a way, that’s going to free me, going to lead me to a new place that I don’t even know about yet. That’s more the intoxication. Yeah, kind of like that.

When you are thinking about a new project, does it come to you as in a certain form or just an idea?

MJ: Usually it’s in its form. I have a whole performance idea that I wrote out that’s waiting that I know is a performance. This one, last night, I think I’ve been going back and forth on it being a movie or a fiction book. I really would like to make another movie right now but I can’t, then I’m just a filmmaker, I really want to be a writer. I have this one book of short stories. I’m really curious to see if I could write a novel. I got to do that and take the time. So I began to think of it as a novel, last night, more than a movie. I realize that that’s better for all these reasons. I suddenly could see and feel and was excited about.

Miranda July’s The Future hits limited theaters July 29, 2011.

(This interview was originally published at ScreenCrave on July 28th, 2011.)