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Miranda July Talks to Amber Sealey About Artistic Impulses and Low-Budget Filmmaking

Miranda July Talks to Amber Sealey About Artistic Impulses and Low-Budget Filmmaking

Filmmaker, writer and artist Miranda July is serving as consulting producer on award-winning writer-director Amber Sealey’s third feature, “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” which is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Below, July interviews Sealey exclusively for Indiewire.

Miranda July (MJ): I met Amber Sealey when we were both 18 at UC Santa Cruz. She was the first person I knew who waxed her legs and did sexual role-playing. She was a gutsy, complex ball of fire and she still is. We’re good at very different things and I think that keeps us perpetually in awe of each other. I’m proud to talk with her here about her film “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” campaigning on Indiegogo now.

READ MORE: Amber Sealey Launches Indiegogo Campaign for ‘No Light and No Land Anywhere’

MJ: You’re making your third feature film!  I’m curious if you feel like you’ve made progress, or if each movie is just it’s own beast, with completely new challenges. What was harder about this one? What was easier?

Amber Sealey (AS): Things do get incrementally easier. Probably because I learn more with each film, and I gain confidence in my style of working. But at the same time, each one is a new monster. The strains, for me, are always financial. If I had the millions one really needs to make a production run easy, I think there would be much less stress and hardship. When you’re shooting a low-budget movie you’re never just the director: you’re also in the catering department, and hair and make-up and a part-time grip. I can’t even imagine the luxury of not having to keep an eye on every aspect of production while directing. That’s my dream for my next film!

MJ: You were the lead in your first feature, had a supporting role in your second, and are not in this one at all — why? 

AS: No particular reason. I usually cast myself in things because acting is how I best relate to artistic impulses. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, so a scene usually plays itself out in my head with me performing it. And if I cast myself that’s one less person I have to pay, one less person I have to explain my vision to, one less person I have to worry about. But I don’t write with myself in mind necessarily. The story just takes shape and in this one there wasn’t a part for me. It didn’t even occur to me that I wasn’t in it until we were filming it. I think I was just so excited to be directing Gemma [Brockis] in something that I felt like she was an extension of me.

MJ: You’re in the midst of an Indiegogo campaign to help with your post production budget (and it’s going really well!) How did you finance the shoot itself? 

AS: The money came from all over the place, but mostly it came from talented and generous friends willing to work for almost nothing. As a producer, my job was to get as many people to give us things for free as I could. And most people are kind, and they know how hard this kind of thing is, so they are willing to help how they can, and reduce their fees how they can. The sort of movies I make are not ones that can easily be sold upfront, so I have to make them and prove their mettle before I can sell them. Everyone who helped us did it because they believe in film as art rather than commerce, or because they are passionate about this kind of moviemaking. And what I didn’t get in-kind or in donation, I put on a trusty ‘ole credit card. Thank you, Federal Trade Commission.

MJ: Tell me about directing a movie as a mother. How have you made these movies, logistically, with two kids under the age of five and not being rich? 

AS: Truthfully, it’s been really hard. And probably hard on my kids. If we could afford a full-time nanny who could come every day and given them the same routine all the time that would have been great. But just having a babysitter twice a week meant that my husband had to take days off work, that I work nights and weekends, and that nothing ever gets enough of my undivided attention. We shot 12 days in a row, with three days of pre-production, and I almost never saw my kids during that time. I pumped on set, my husband would come pick up the breastmilk, and I was banking on the idea that my doing what I love and feel compelled to do (filmmaking) will translate into kids who are proud of their mom for doing that, and will give themselves that same commitment to their dreams/art/self when they are older. But I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t cry a bunch of times.

MJ: I asked you to give me feedback when I acted in my short film “Somebody” and was so impressed by how seamlessly you stepped in and directed me. What was that like for you — to direct another director in a movie that wasn’t yours?

AS: Well, I wouldn’t say that I was directing you, I was just offering you ideas that you could take or leave. And you have so much to offer in so many ways that it was a joy to work with you. I knew that you could handle any suggestion I gave and that you would be willing to go the distance, no matter what the direction, so it felt easy to offer suggestions. My job was to get in the way of your process as little as possible, to support you in the creative choices you were already making, and because you had such a clear vision of what you were doing, it was easy and fun. I think it’s easy to forget how scary this all can be, and most people are at their best when they feel good and supported. But working with you was so fun — I’m also a little bit in love with your face, as you know, so it was just a pleasure to watch you go through the emotional transitions of that scene.

MJ: What in the story of “No Light and No Land Anywhere” do you relate to most? 

AS: Even though I am close with both of my parents, there’s an element to our relationship that feels like I’m perpetually trying to understand them and get them to understand me. It’s fascinating to me how close I am to both my own children now, and I imagine it must have been this way for my parents when I was young, and yet it morphs as we age into a totally different beast. So that aspect of chasing some sort of acceptance or love from a parent is certainly something I can relate to, even though we are close. I can also relate to the stranger-in-a-strange-land thing that our lead character goes through. It’s really rare that I feel comfortable or at ease with people, and spending seven years living abroad, I was constantly reminded of how I was a foreigner.

MJ: I can tell from little snippets I’ve seen that your lead actress, Gemma Brockis, is pretty incredible and I know this is her first feature. How did you find her?

AS: Gemma is an old friend who I met in London around 1998. We were both working for $5 an hour in The Museum Of on the South Bank as museum guards. We were doing a pretty bad job of keeping the public from trashing the installations, because we’d spend all day trading back rubs instead of doing our rounds. Gemma and some friends had started a collaborative devised theatre company, Shunt, and they invited me to perform with them in their first big show. We worked together for seven years before I came back to the States, but Gemma and I stayed close and I’ve always thought she was an amazing actor. Why people get big film opportunities or not always seems to be based on something I don’t understand, because someone like Gemma would be phenomenal in any film. But for whatever reason, she’s never done a film before and her and I have for years been saying we wanted to do something together. Gemma lost her father when she was a young girl, and that idea was the original inspiration for the story, so I wrote it for her.

MJ: I love the idea of women writing films for other women. In closing, I want to remind everyone that Indiegogo uses PayPal so it takes two seconds to donate. And it just feels good. 

READ MORE: Watch: Miranda July’s New 10-Minute Short Film “Somebody”

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