Miranda July Makes The Leap; Multimedia Artist Takes Her Stories To The Big Screen
by Gary M. Kramer
Miranda July is a multimedia artist whose first feature, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is a wonderful offbeat independent film. July, who wrote and directed, also stars as Christine Jesperson, a would-be multimedia artist with low ankles who flirts with a shoe salesman named Richard (John Hawkes). While Christine hopes to break into the art world and romance Richard, other narratives take shape — such as one that has two teenage girls practicing oral sex on Richard’s teenage son.
July’s unusual ensemble comedy-drama may have its provocative moments, but it is a winning independent film that has deservedly received tremendous acclaim. It earned a Special Jury Prize for “Originality of Vision” at Sundance, as well as awards at Cannes and other film festivals. July sat down with indieWIRE to discuss “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”
indieWIRE: Can you describe your transition from being a multimedia artist to making a feature film?
Miranda July: As a video artist, my stuff is a little less on the experimental side. Narrative and characters have always interested me. I never tried to alienate an audience. Of course, gradually, I wanted a bigger and bigger space to draw people in, so it’s very organic [growth]. I see this movie as really connected to “Nest of Tens,” a short film I made that has a lot of the same themes.
iW: Your film is set in part in the art world. Did you specifically want to poke fun at this milieu?
MJ: I’m not really satirizing it. There’s humor in it, but to me, I’m satirizing myself just as much. The thing I am most interested in is power relations — it is so easy in a relationship like that [of an artist and a gallery manager], to imagine that the other person is living a perfect life.
iW: What then, was your inspiration for this film — the story, the characters, and the narrative structure that unites all of these seemingly unrelated people and events?
MJ: I didn’t conceive of the story all at once. It accumulated over time. I tried to just write the scenes I wanted to write, which were reflections of how I was feeling that day. Ultimately, I wanted to make a movie that somehow reflected how life felt for me when I was younger. I was almost like a detective figuring out, that these characters must be linked. It’s my job to create them and [determine] how.
iW: I was very conscious of the way you used language and explored how people communicated with each other in the film. Did you have precise words and points in the script, or did this come together more organically?
MJ: It was all very careful. The cast will tell you I was relentless in keeping them on the script. There were some times where I had them play with it, but you know I was to the point where I’m like, “Oh, did you notice that it says ‘Yeah then comma?'” I was keeping them really to it because I’m a writer.
iW: So you identify more as a writer than a filmmaker?
MJ: For me, it is harder to direct. There is more leeway with directing — editing and stuff.
iW: Do you find it difficult to be an actress?
MJ: I’ve been in all of my movies. It is an integral part of what I do. It would have been an odd thing for me to suddenly give away the one part that I could play. I could have played the part of the art gallery manager. The character I played was, in a much earlier draft, two characters. I ultimately combined them into Christine. I think it was partly because I wanted to play both of them.
iW: Did you have actors in mind for the roles when you wrote the script? How did you cast “Me and You and Everyone We Know”?
MJ: There were a lot of financiers who would have done the film if I had a star in it, so it was a really conscious decision not to choose people for their box office power. I actually didn’t want anyone who is familiar. John Hawkes actually walked the line, but he was so good, that I thought it was OK. I really just went at it with ‘who has that feeling inside of them that will come through”? That is the feeling that I created the [characters] with. I kept looking until I found that.
iW: One of the most provocative scenes in the film is the sex scene between the teenagers. Did you feel secure about writing and directing this?
MJ: I didn’t have concerns, but it’s hard when you realize that other people might think it is exploitative. That’s a certain pressure. But like anything, other people also might not think the movie is any good, and that’s a pressure. You are kind of constantly just needing to believe in your own reality, and mine was as much as possible, one that was without any kind of shame or judgment. But that is just inherent with what the movie is about. We storyboarded the blowjob scene — not that it was so complicated, but we needed to have everything go smoothly. And there were child labor people on the set, and everyone needed to know what we were doing.
iW: And were the kids comfortable on the set when it came to filming this?
MJ: The three kids really bonded that day. They were in a world to themselves, just protecting themselves. In a way, I was, on that one day, almost secondary. They were like teenagers are — “Keep Out Mom! This is our thing.” I was so glad that they made it safe for themselves in that way. It was awkward. It should be awkward. I don’t think it was traumatic.
iW: I was also concerned about the sexually explicit signs one character places in his apartment window for all to see. This seemed a bit controversial, but also implausible as well. Can you discuss this?
MJ: There are a handful of things in the film that are not believable, but if you think too hard about them.I guess, I always feel that, well, for what I lose in believability it is worth it for the feelings, which is what I care most about.
iW: Do you also care about shoes?
MJ: No, but I do have low ankles. Just slightly low, not grotesquely low. That said, I have sometimes cut down the sides of shoes. It’s funny, since I made the movie, a couple of people told me that they have low ankles, which is just an unexpected benefit to have a support group.
iW: As a multimedia artist, what are you working on when you are not making films?
MJ: I’m finishing a book of short stories and a performance that I’m working on. I do want to be able to do some of the other things I do before I make my next movie, which I also have started. But now I know how much it blankets out everything else in your life.