Interview – Miranda July
– by Shawn Conner
Miranda July‘s The Future opens in many major cities today, and it’s tempting (and awfully easy) to position the low-budget indie film as an antidote to this summer’s noisy, generic and just plain dumb blockbusters. But, uh, it kind of is.
The follow-up to her 2005 critical and commercial hit (for an indie film) Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future follows a young-ish couple, Sophie and Jason, at a crossroads in their lives. Like all of July’s work, it is light without being fluffy, observational without being hamfisted and quirky without being ironic. Fans will love it; detractors probably won’t be converted.
We chatted with the woman whom co-star Hamish Linklater calls “the Queen of Indie Filmdom” over the phone while she was in Toronto to promote the movie. We touched on the writing process, her other projects and some of the problems (and solutions) in making The Future, her novel and the filthy songs she put on the mix CD for her co-star, Hamish Linklater.
Watch – The Future (HD trailer):
Shawn Conner: I think a lot of people would think that, what with success, however modest financially, of Me and You and Everyone We Know, that you would have no trouble getting financing for a second movie.
Miranda July: I also was looking for money in the heart of the recession. People just more than ever wanted some kind of guarantee. You needed like a big movie star to get anyone to care at all. And I was sort of open to that and I met with a lot of more well known actors who just weren’t as right for the parts. Ultimately I had to go with the people who were willing to support this movie with these exact actors and they were all European investors. It wasn’t much but it was enough.
SC: That got me wondering, while watching the end credits and seeing all those German names, if there were any awkward casting decisions like in [the Woody Allen movie] Bullets Over Broadway, where they had to cast the gangster’s moll…
MJ: [laughs] Yes, even in so much as any part we could get someone with a European passport in the role we had to do that. There are some weird things – an unusually high number of smaller parts have people with accents, like the vet. I don’t even know what accent that was.
SC: I wanted to know a little more about Angela Trimbur. Were those dance videos part of her audition? [Trimbur plays a co-worker whose YouTube dance videos are the envy of July’s character Sophie.]
MJ: Those were some really fun auditions. People would have to be able to act, and they’d do their little scene from the script, then they had to do a dance. [laughs] We’re just sitting in these chairs watching these women dance. All different kinds of dances. Angela came in fully in character, but I didn’t know if she was a character or not because I’d never met her. It was kind of almost like a Jersey Shore thing she was doing, it was a lot more exaggerated than what ended up in the movie. That dance she worked on with a friend of hers. I kept my distance from it, because I knew I would just mess it up. She was working very purely within the form already.
SC: And you found one of the actors through Pennysaver, which we don’t have in Canada, it sounds like a cheap print Craigslist?
MJ: It’s like the classified or nickel ads, most people throw it out, it just comes with the junk mail. During a particularly procrastinating time of working on the script, I began reading the ads and started calling people and asking if I could interview them. I became curious. Who doesn’t have computers now, why wouldn’t these people be using Craigslist? And thinking that it wasn’t actually that easy to see what isn’t on the Internet – you kind of feel like it’s the whole world and it’s actually not.
So I met all these people, so many amazing stories. And one of them was this old man, Joe, who had this whole collection of sort of raunchy, sweet cards that he’d made for his wife over the years. Not that he was selling, but I just noticed them in his house. And he just was an amazing guy, and I asked him if he would be in the movie ‘cos he was just so much more interesting than anything I was working on at the moment.
SC: But his character was already written in–?
MJ: No, I wrote all that in. I had this sort of predicament, that Jason was going door-to-door, selling the trees, and I knew he had to meet somebody, something transformative had to happen. And I had so many bad versions of that until I met Joe.
SC: So much of writing a script is problem-solving, isn’t it?
MJ: Yeah. And that’s a good example. It wasn’t good to begin with, I had to live my life to find the solution.
SC: And now those Pennysavers interviews are going to be your next project?
MJ: Yeah, right. That’s a book that’s done that comes out in the fall, it’s the first thing I’ve done that’s really not fiction. It was so interesting having the “I” actually be me, you know? I’m so used to making these characters that really are not me at all. And then I’m working on a novel. Which will not be out in the fall. Or anytime soon.
SC: That’s good to know, as someone who enjoyed your short stories. I actually listened to the audio version. Anything stand out about recording the audiobook for No One Belongs Here More Than You?
MJ: The people who record those record a million and one people reading, and I remember at first I just read them how I read them, and there was this “Is that how you’re going to do it?” kind of moment. They didn’t say it exactly but there was this sort of this uncomfortable look. I perform, and I guess they eventually realized my sheer commitment, I guess it’s just my way of reading, over time they were won over to it.
SC: So you weren’t hired to read the new Tom Clancy novel..
MJ: No, no offers came in.
SC: Your movie is coming out in the summer, amdist all these big blockbusters, and it just seems that the gap between big movies and small independent films has never been wider. Is this discouraging or empowering?
MJ: It’s pretty weird because we’re all in one world. There are only so many critics, they’re all reviewing the same movies. It’s strange when you’re finally sharing a space with those movies, even a movie theatre in some cases. It’s totally discouraging, it’s not good for me that no one wants to fund these movies. They exist, they’re just not made.
It kind of also means that you come off seeming a lot weirder, like the space itself is very conservative. So it’s like you’re in the ring alone. And I’m kind of like, hold on here, there’s a whole history of pretty weird things that have been done in movies. This is not even that weird. But just in the context of this particular moment it looks that way.
SC: In that same interview, Hamish was talking about the two of you exchanging mixed CDs when he got the role, and that yours was totally filthy… I’m wondering what songs you put on yours?
MJ: Uh, I think I put, I’m trying to think, there’s a Liz Phair song, “Flower”, I think there’s a part that’s like… “I want to fuck you,” I don’t know, something.
SC: “I want to be your blowjob queen.”
MJ: Right. Well, I’m just trying to break down these barriers, and Sophie is a girl who came of age in the ’90s. And this song… I don’t know, I was just trying to think of what was around then. And then I think there was this Unrest song, it’s always a little confusing to people, I think the chorus is “I want to be your skinhead girl”. The lyrics are like “I want to fuck you all the time.” But there was probably 15 other songs that were very sweet. Those ones obviously made a huge impression [laughs].
The Future opens in theatres in select cities Aug. 5.