In The Future, the second feature-length film from writer/director/Renaissance woman Miranda July, July plays a self-centered dreamer who abruptly ends her relationship with her live-in boyfriend, a simple premise that’s complicated by a talking cat, God-like powers, and July’s own true-to-life handling of the complicated emotions of early thirtysomethings. Cinedelphia recently sat down with Mrs. July to discuss her latest work, the screenwriting process, and her previous experiences with Philadelphia…
CINEDELPHIA: What comes to mind when you think about Philadelphia?
MIRANDA JULY: I was in Jesus’ Son (1999), the one movie I was in that I didn’t direct, and that was shot here. There was a magic shop and during one of my breaks I went and got all these amazing old magic tricks. I got some exploding lipstick that I brought back to the makeup person and I said “maybe you should use this” and then she opened it and…kind of a punky thing for a day player to do.
I once dated a guy from here that was cute. It didn’t last very long, but I still think fondly of him.
C: And thus the city?
MJ: And thus the city.
C: I read an interview with you recently in which you stated that you dread the collaboration that comes with filmmaking. Does this fear influence you at all when you’re writing a script in terms of characters, situations, ambition…
MJ: No, my first movie [Me and You and Everyone We Know] was a great big ensemble cast. Frankly, the whole time you’re writing you’re just desperate to get to the shooting part so it’s not like I fear it…it’s like some people like to be the host of the party and that’s a very good talent to have as a director and I’m not really that person. I really love to be at the party, but I like to hide in the corner and watch everyone. I’m pretty controlling though so it’s more like the social aspect that I dread, the collaboration is great, it’s keeping the energy and the happy level up, that part is hard for me.
C: Do you tailor your scripts to an estimated budget or level of ambition during the writing process?
MJ: I can’t think of a time when that’s happened. There are expensive ideas that sometimes just go away and you think “well, I probably would never have been able to do that anyways.” And then expensive things come up…how the budget is divided comes about in weird ways. We have a song [in The Future] that I had in my head and just wanted to have act as the signal for the couple. The Peggy Lee song, the old song. That’s a really expensive song and not a song that should be in an indie film. All that old, classic stuff is not cheap at all. And y’know, you have to give things up for it.
MJ: I perform, I’m an artist and I’ve performed for a long time, and when I was getting ready to make a second movie I didn’t want to just sit down and start writing with Final Draft, I wanted a way to think about it that was much freer than that so maybe in the back of my mind I thought that this performance piece could be a movie in one way or another, but I loved the fact that the audience was going to be small and it wouldn’t be subjected to the whole process that a movie is. And that allowed me to be free in ways that I couldn’t have been if I’d just started a script.
Performance is kind of a broad word and these performances of mine are very scripted. There are some lines from the performance that are in the movie, definitely scenes, so it’s not some spontaneous performance I did where I ran around screaming that transformed into this. That’s what my performance work tends to be, very cinematic and very crafted.
C: You seem to excel at creating these realistic portrayals of quirky social outsiders in your films. Are these the types of people that you’re attracted to in real life?
MJ: Yeah, well, I don’t know what you’re thinking of exactly…
C: How about The Future’s elderly raunchy limerick writer.
MJ: Right, well he’s a non-actor playing himself and I met him the same way that Jason does in the film, which is through the PennySaver classifieds. I was doing another project where I was interviewing people who were selling things through the classifieds and so I met all kinds of people. So yes, I am drawn to strangers and people outside my own world and he was one of them and he was so inspiring to me in a lot of ways that seemed relevant to the movie that I just wrote him in.
C: Is it inappropriate to refer to characters like that gentleman as quirky?
MJ: No, I didn’t know if you meant the couple was quirky, it all depends on where you are.
MJ: I’ve been both. Between my first movie and this movie I was both broken up with and broke up with someone so I think I was drawing from both ends of that when I wrote this. And then I met my husband [Beginners director Mike Mills] so that too.
When I first started writing the movie I thought I would play the Jason part, but then I realized that it was more interesting if the genders were reversed and then I started to create a female character that I could relate to in really dark ways, things about myself that just seemed so awkward and unlikable and…not okay? And that seemed interesting to me. I don’t always want to be this winning, charming character, you feel more complicated than that as a person so come what may it’s hard to not want to play a character that gets at some of those more unsettled parts of yourself.
C: I don’t think there are a lot of filmmakers or actors that would want to do such a thing in fear of audience perception changing…
MJ: Right, well, I think there was a lot of goodwill built up from the first movie and it was kind of like “well, how do I want to spend that? Do I want to buy more of the same thing or do I want to spend it like ‘Ok, you liked that so maybe you’ll be willing to go out on this limb with me that’s a little uncomfortable?’”. And that seemed more interesting.
The Future opens Friday at the Ritz at the Bourse.