Miranda July has never been restricted by something as ephemeral as professional titles: She’s a novelist and a screenwriter, a multimedia artist and a movie director. So adding another skill set to her resume seems like the most natural thing she could do.
July’s latest gig is as an executive producer credit on Amber Sealey’s third feature, “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” which debuted earlier this month at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film follows the British Lexi (Gemma Brockis) as she travels to Los Angeles to find the father who abandoned her when she was just a child. Along the way, she encounters a host of unexpected people and situations that dramatically change the narrative of what she set out to do.
It’s not exactly the kind of film July herself would make (for one, there are no talking cats), but it has a sensibility that falls in line with her own oeuvre and obsessions. “We are different kinds of artists in the same wheelhouse,” Sealey recently told IndieWire, a sentiment that helps explain why the pair bonded so strongly over Sealey’s feature (and why the experience seems to have inspired July when it comes to her own next feature).
It’s been five years since “The Future,” and more than a decade since her breakthrough feature debut “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” But despite the relatively slim list of directorial outings on her resume, July has consistently kept busy creating. Best known in some circles for her short stories (her first novel, “The First Bad Man,” came out last year), July’s offbeat and whimsical sensibilities are present in all of her works, including her films.
“The Future” took a relatively been-there, done-that plot (a couple tries to spice up their boring relationship by adopting a cat) and spiced it up with elements like talking animals and a very loose sense of how time unfolds. “Me and You” tackled the conventions of the romantic comedy with similar wit, resulting in a singular feature that’s both transgressive and sweet. No matter the medium, July knows how to take expectations and turn them entirely into her own special thing. Now, she’s helping someone else do the same thing.
July, who first met Sealey when the two were college students at UC Santa Barbara, initially came on board Sealey’s project to help with the filmmaker’s IndieGoGo campaign, hatched last year to raise finishing funds for the already-shot feature. The campaign made great use of July’s fame and fan base (one of the perks offered to backers was a phone call from July, another was a video-taped version of her reading a pre-written letter), but it also played up one of the most revolutionary aspects of the film: That it features a cast and crew made up of 90% women.
For July, that aspect of the production was inspiring on a number of levels. For one, it spoke to her enduring indie sensibilities, illuminating how even a relatively small project (just like the kind she loves to make) could make such a potentially constraining choice work, and work well.
“It was kind of empowering to Amber. She had so little to work with financially, but she had that power. She realized that she could exercise that, that she could do something herself, something that people with massive budgets often don’t think to do,” July told IndieWire.
Sealey agreed. “In the small indie film world, change really does start at home and with ourselves. I really made an effort to hire as many women as I could. It wasn’t that hard, it was just about making the choice to do that,” she said.
Sealey’s initiative also gave July a road map to use on her own films, including the feature she is working on now. “The great thing about making a movie only once every seven years is that things do change, usually for the worse, but in this case, hopefully not,” she said.
Being on set with Sealey also seems to have invigorated July’s movie-making muscles and reminded her exactly what it takes to shepherd this kind of project to fruition. “I was kind of talking to [Sealey] like some sort of military advisor, like a coach, I guess, which is sort of how I talk to myself,” she said. “Just like, pushing for every last bit of energy.”
She found that the director could handle the project pretty well herself. “Amber seems less afraid [than I am] during shooting and directing and dealing with actors,” she said. “I am ruthless with myself, which works for some things. It works for writing and editing. But there’s a kind of gentleness that you need to have when you’re dealing with other people, and I think Amber has that.”
And it seems like Sealey’s style has already seeped into July’s own filmmaking. When she shot her short film “Somebody” in 2014, she invited Sealey to sit with her on the set. “We just chatted about other actors and stuff,” she recalled. “I saw this real, other way of being strong for people that was a lot gentler and in a way more confident [than how I work].”
The effects of this new partnership may even extend into the future. “I hope we work together again,” July said of Sealey. “She said, ‘How will I ever repay you?’ ‘Well, I’ll be making a movie in not too long, and I hope you’ll be sitting next to me, lending me some of your magical calmness.'”
July is already at work on that next film, her first since 2011’s “The Future,” in which she starred alongside Hamish Linklater.
“I kind of rotate on mediums,” July explained. “Once I finished my novel, I was like, ‘Okay, I‘ll start writing a movie now.’ I can’t write another novel [now], but I am writing a script now.”
Part of July’s process includes a certain degree of secrecy. “I feel like it never helps me to talk about it beforehand. Honest to God, I told my husband and I actually just told Amber the other day. No one else knows,” she said. “That’s just my work, it’s like a growing magic inside me, it feels like something I really have to protect.”
But July promises that the feature is her main focus right now, and one that’s exciting her. “It’s a priority everyday right now,” she said. “That feels good, and it took a while to get to that point.”
Production is, however, still a ways off, as the always-busy July has a few other loose ends to tie up. “I have some pretty large scale art projects that will happen before I can even think about being in production for this, so it will not happen anytime too soon,” July said. “Also, I spend a long time writing and I don’t even show anything to anyone until I feel like it’s really solid.”
For all her different irons in the fire, there’s one area where July is hesitant to tread. “Everyone keeps encouraging me to go into TV, and I look at that and it seems pretty inhospitable,” July said. “What it would take for a mom, what it would really take to have a show. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to do that. Like, you make a movie and it’s a rough chunk of time, but then it’s over.”
“Every invitation I get asked to do, every plan I make, I think of my son first, for better or for worse,” July explained. “I want to think that most mothers tend to do that, regardless of whether they’re the head of a company.”
One thing that helps a multi-tasker like July? Planning. Lots of it. “I am always planning. I have planned how many movies I will make in my son’s childhood, like how many is right for him and for me, and the math with all the different ages I’ll be [when I make them],” July said.
Having a partner, especially a fellow artist like July’s filmmaker husband Mike Mills (“Beginners”), helps, too. “I’m gone probably one week almost every month, and I don’t even have to think twice about the fact that my husband will be there and behind that,” she said.
But what might be most essential to July’s success – and her creativity – is her ability to feed each desire and project as she sees fit.
“I have four projects happening right now, and they all demand different degrees of my attention, and it somehow works for a child and for a marriage and for just me personally. There’s no one in charge except me,” July said. “No one has the slightest idea what I’m doing overall. There’s no one person who could tell you what all my projects are.”
Not that she’s complaining, mind you. “I think there’s something kind of relaxing about that,” she added. “It means I can sculpt my life how I instinctively feel it should be, and that is sort of outside the demands of any one industry.”
“No Light and No Land Anywhere” premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.