And More We Learned About Her New Film
Few working filmmakers are as divisive as Miranda July. Her first film, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” was to some, one of the best films of the last decade, but to others was barely watchable insufferable hipster bait. We’re firmly in the former camp, and as such have been keenly anticipating her sophomore feature, “The Future,” for some years. Our man at Sundance suggested that great things had again emerged from the polymathic helmer, and we were delighted to discover at SXSW that the wait had been worthwhile; “The Future” is less immediate than its predecessor, but just as rewarding.
We were lucky enough to sit down for a one-to-one with July in Austin, and some fascinating stuff emerged about the six-year gap between the two films, the casting process, the film’s themes and their link to genre, and about July’s relationship with her husband Mike Mills, the director of another of our favorite films from the festival, “Beginners.” Roadside Attractions will release the film later in the year. After the jump, 10 highlights from our chat; beware of some mild spoilers.
The film grew out of a live performance by July.
“I did it first as a performance. After the first movie I finished a book, and then I wrote this performance which took about a year, until I finally did it in New York. And then instead of touring it and stuff, first I had the idea that it would be some kind of performance movie, and then I realized in a way it would be more interesting just as a narrative film. So, I mean as far as the idea, I don’t really like ideas — I mean so much comes out of things that are mysterious to me at the time. Everything I make, and I’m always making something, so it’s not like, it’s not like there’s a natural disaster in the world and I feel inspired to make… to do something. It’s sort of more analytical in a way.”
Despite appearances, the film isn’t about infidelity.
“In the performance there was the same story. There was this affair, but as time went on I became less interested in the idea of an affair in the passionate sense, and more interested in why might someone forsake themselves and their life and everything they cared about, and that idea of… losing your soul, almost, or trying to escape your soul. In my reality, the only thing awful enough to do that would be a blankness or an emptiness or an inability to make something, and so that ultimately became more of what the story was to me than an infidelity. It could have been any number of things she did in the moment of craziness.”
It’s also partly about mortality hitting you in your thirties.
“I do feel the difference between now and my twenties is that it hits that you’re not going to do everything. You’re not going to go to every single country, have sex with everyone… whereas in your twenties you really think that on some level, because there’s so much time. When things become finite, that is a little bit of a crisis, and I think for a woman it’s even more complicated. It’s one thing to be in the quarter life crisis if you’re a guy, but your body is still going the old fashioned way, it doesn’t care if you’re immature or whatever. Again, that didn’t start out being something I was focused on but by the time I started getting ready to shoot I was like ‘Wow, I actually have to finish this movie because there’s other things I want to do too’… When I’m with my husband I’m always picturing us when we’re old people and I’m like, ‘OK, the old people that you see around now, they probably weren’t picturing this back in the ’40s, whatever. Time to be in the moment a little bit.’ But I think there’s something kind of mesmerizing about it. Maybe you stop doing that when you have kids, I don’t know, I haven’t done that.”
July flirted at some point with casting bigger names opposite her, but co-star Hamish Linklater was simply the best fit.
“I thought, ‘Wow, bigger names are interested. I actually can meet with these people now,’ So I was very open, you know, and in a way [I] led people, my financiers on, to think that I might eventually cast a star. But there just wasn’t any guy my age… I mean there aren’t many who look like they would really be my boyfriend, that are a big enough name… Because he also had to be in contrast to the other man in the movie, I really didn’t have a lot of leeway, I felt like he has to be kind of skinny, even a tiny bit effeminate, not super masculine. And Hamish, my casting director, Jeanie McCarthy, she was like ‘This is your guy, I know you’re going to look at a million people because you’ll think it can’t be this easy, but this is your guy.’ And she was right… I will not ever tell the saga of people I seriously went down the road with, but then the recession happened and then I did cast it with these small people. They’re not small people, they’re normal sized people!”
Jon Brion composed the music for both the original live performance and for the film; the latter sharing some DNA with Michael Andrews’ score for “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”
“After the first movie he called me up and said let’s work together, which was one of the best things that came out of that. And so he did the music for the performance, and then years later we had our moment to do the score. We kind of knocked it out …when we were done he was, I was like ‘Wait, is this similar to the last score?’ He said, ‘Well it’s not, but I will admit that you got your happy look every time I hit these notes.’ He played them and I’m like ‘Okay, I guess I have this somewhat near idea of what music should be.’ He obviously pushed that, and he would never just repeat, he’s a groundbreaking genius, but yeah there’s a way that you end up bending things to your world.”
She learned a lot in the six years between the two films.
“I feel like the things I did in between the two movies taught me a lot. I wrote a lot of fiction, I learned more about story; in some ways this is a more dramatic single story. It’s a little easier, if you’re going to have a lot of little stories, in a way that’s an easy first movie thing. You’re like, ‘I don’t really know how to make this work, how about a lot of little arcs.’ I felt like that worked but I also knew the limits of my own ability, narratively, and I feel like in some ways I had the confidence, a lot of the surreal-ish things in this movie are a lot more like things that are in my performances or short stories and a lot of people have pointed that out. This is more Miranda July than the first movie and I think in some ways that just comes from confidence. ‘Okay, you liked that, then I’m going to become even more me now.’ Maybe that makes it slightly less broad in a way. To me that’s like a growth, it’s a feeling of freedom.”
She’s more open to the idea of appearing in other people’s films than she used to be.
“I had no interest in acting in other people’s things after doing the first one. I’m not as flexible as you should be in that. But now after having herded myself through this last one, I did kind of feel like, ‘Shit, I have to be in someone else’s thing, just to learn about directing.’ Even to get a moment to just do this [acting], you know, and not be like looking at every single thing, including the clock, because I think I’d be better. It’s always the thing that if something has to go, it’s [involving] my role, because it’s easier to cheat myself then other people.”
She also likes using non-actors, in non-traditional ways.
“There’s no room for improvisation because we shot in 21 days so it was like we were just running through the whole thing. The only exception was the old man, Joe [Putterlik]. That was him, those are his limericks that he wrote on the cards for his wife. So I knew that he could improvise, and that he couldn’t say a line. So there were some lines he had to say and we spent all of our time trying to get single lines, but we did… for example where he sells the hair dryer, in like four seconds… it was so lovely to get to do that, especially with a total non actor. I found him through the Pennysaver, through the classifieds.”
“The Future” is actually kind of a existential horror movie.
“I guess to some degree, it’s a horror movie about facing the void, the empty moment where you don’t know what to do with yourself. Which in little ways happens every day, and I usually check my iPhone in those moments, but if you didn’t do that, what would happen? The worst fear of that, that it could just keep going on and on, that moment of not knowing, and then, also, that you still come back around. I think I have the fantasy sometimes that I’ll get so off track that I’ll just disappear, that I’ll leave my life, and just not even have to face anything again, because I’ll just be gone. And no, in fact there are real consequences, and you end up still being in your world, even if you’re so distant and become so remote from yourself that it seems like there would be no way back. I think I’m past it now, but there was a point where that seemed like sort of like the car crash that I couldn’t look away from. I got married during the time that I made this movie, I think I kind of made my way through that in other ways, but one of them was by making this movie… I thought of it as kind of like my version of a horror movie almost.”
There’s a quiet kind of competition in her relationship with her husband, “Thumbsucker” and “Beginners” director Mike Mills.
“Well we stayed pretty separate, quite consciously, for these. I think you sort of want to believe you’re the only person on Earth making a movie, it’s very narcissistic and it’s kind of demoralizing when the person in the next room is having a great idea too, and yet it kind of pushes you on. Even on the plane here, we both had our cameras, and we’re filming things and I remember I said to him, ‘I get to film things too!’ Because he just bought a really fancy camera and I was like, ‘Just because you have a fancier camera doesn’t mean you get to film things more than me on my iPhone. I have dibs on that thing right there.’ So there’s this pretty heightened level of… making stuff. I think we were quite afraid of the bad side of that competitiveness and in a way our fear of it was the worst part of it.” —interview by RP