Paw Paw, a cat, is at the vet’s office with an injured paw. Paw Paw now has to wait 30 days to be moved into the apartment of his new human owners.
Sophie and Jason are the pussy’s new parents to be. Until the month is over, Paw Paw will narrate a movie in its feline voice.
Such is the premise of Miranda July’s new film The Future. Besides writing and directing the film, July provides the voice of Paw Paw. She also takes the lead as Sophie, a thirtysomething kids’ dance instructor who quits her teaching gig to perform moves on YouTube like some of her associates. Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine and much stage work) is a tech support specialist for a computer company who quits his job to sell trees door-to-door. The couple figures they have 30 days until their lives are changed forever when a recovered Paw Paw becomes part of their family.
And what exactly can happen in a month’s time? According to The Future, a lot.
Miranda July’s first film, 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, was an indie gem announcing the arrival of a unique voice and vision in filmmaking. Filmmaker Magazine ranked July numero uno in the New Faces of Indie Films. The film won awards at Cannes and Sundance. And, later, Roger Ebert named it one of the best films of the decade. At the same time, July amassed a big following as well as some haters, people who found what they considered a bohemian artist act exasperating.
The short-story writer and performance (and, later installation) artist seemed to be on her way, tapping into another side of her creativity by adding screenwriter and director to her resume. But July didn’t know The Future would have to wait so far into the future to be realized.
But here it is. Miranda July’s long-in-gestation The Future is upon us. The wait for the film certainly wasn’t helped by July’s reluctance to take even a teensy step toward the mainstream. You and Me and Everyone We Know, in which she played a performance artist and driver for seniors, who falls for a single father shoe salesman (John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone) whose kids delve into Internet chat sites and porn, easily fit into the “off-beat” and “quirky” mold. While The Future touches on some similar themes as Me and You and Everyone We Know—fear of/ fascination with the Internet, loneliness, the desire and failure to connect with other people, doomed romance—it often goes further out of the norm. And of course, there is Paw Paw and the notion of stopping time which we must mention.
Just back from a screening of The Future in Paris, Miranda July looks like she could be from another time and perhaps another place, almost as if she walked out of a vintage cartoon, Max Fleischer variety, as she glides through the European-styled Sofitel Hotel in downtown Philadelphia. The 37-year-old multi-hyphenate has gorgeous blue eyes that appear almost unearthly. Her curly locks seem to be from a different era and her dress-sweater, multi-colored Moebius scarf covering her neck belies the 90-plus degree heat outside. As she settles into a booth in the hotel’s lounge, a fruit plate and a cup of tea are offered to her, and July discusses the past, The Future and beyond with Movie FanFare.
MovieFanFare: So, Miranda, what took you so long?
Miranda July: I knew I wanted to make a second movie, but first I finished a book of short stories. I got that published and flew around and promoted that. I started to write a performance that I had a feeling would turn into the movie. I didn’t want to just sit down with (the screenwriting program) Final Draft and write a script. I wanted it to be freer than that. In that performance was a talking cat and the idea of stopping time and the dance in it, but there were a lot of things that can only be done as a performance with an audience. So after I did that in New York rather than tour with it, I said “OK, I’m going to take these ideas and go with it in another format.” I wanted to take these kinds of out-there ideas and work it into a screenplay.
MFF: How about the idea of a cat narrating the film?
MJ: It was always there. It would sort of be a parallel story and it would be in like its own little movie within a movie and nobody else would know.
MFF: Is it strictly a coincidence that you have a cat narrating your film and your husband, director Mike Mills, has a talking dog in his recent film Beginners?
MJ: I think we tried to trace it back. Originally it was something I was doing in a performance and he was doing in a movie. And they came from such different places. Is his based on a real dog? I’ve had cats in other performances. So we each have a strong case because both have ideas how we came to it, but the truth is that we are drawn to each other because we have a similar sensibility. And it’s kind of amazing it doesn’t happen more. Basically we’re living the one life in the same life. I think it’s sweet. Maybe it’s a little uncomfortable now, but it’s like a testament to our love. These are both beloved characters in a way.
MFF: Do you see yourself as always starring in films you direct and vice versa?
MJ: I have ideas for movies that I realize after I gotten excited about that there’s not a part for me because of age or whatever. But it is sort of how I got into the world like this, playing all the parts in my short movies. So I am not interested (starring in any other movies) at this point. I enjoy it and it is a challenge and I am enjoying it so much.
MFF: Can you talk about the shooting schedule and particulars in making The Future?
MJ: It was shot in 21 days, using a Red camera. I did rehearse, which I didn’t do with the first film. It wasn’t exhaustive. We just went through, and I’m in all of the scenes, so it was good for me to do that too. I was also aware that this is a much bigger part for me. I realized that it’s one thing where you are not in all the scenes in the film (like Me and You and Everyone We Know), but I realized this one was going to be a marathon. So I kind of had to get in shape for it.
MFF: Your self-casting was a foregone conclusion, but how about casting your lead actor?
MJ: I had auditions. I had a clear idea of the right kind of person. but no actor in mind. And it seemed like fun for four seconds to cast your own boyfriend, but then you realize “This is like real life and no one is good enough.” But this was the first pick of my casting director. I met with him (actor Hamish Linklater) and he seemed perfect, but then I thought there must be a lot of great people out there. It’s like buying a house. The first one may seem right, but there are so many out there. So I met with so many people. I flew around the world meeting the great talents in that age range. I went, “Who knows? Maybe he’s not in America.” I met great actors, but none of them were perfect. I needed someone soulful yet funny. Much later, after he (Linklater) had written me a letter, he was determined to have the role.
MFF: Both of your films seem to deal with technology and some of the ways people are obsessed with it and maybe a little scared or frustrated with it.
MJ: That’s super interesting to me. That all works, but no one is going to know exactly what was in my heard. One thing for her is—this whole thing of being watched is a key component of it. All artists want certain attention, but you have to keep it out of mind or you can’t make it work. I wanted this person who gets paralyzed with just being watched. The whole YouTube thing is about reaction rather than what you are putting out there. Then there is a general thing about the Internet, filling in all the cracks when you don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s a very convenient distraction. I certainly use it that way. If you turn it off or you lost your phone, the feeling of crisis. You know, I wanted to have a crisis anyway, a kind of paralysis and creative crisis, but I thought we can all relate to by turning off the Internet and facing the void, just yourself and expectations of yourself, and just utterly failing. I feel like she just breaks up with herself and flees. For someone like me, that’s this mysterious thing.
MFF: Is the movie’s Sophie anything like Miranda July?
MJ: Nothing that happens (in the film) is close to my real experiences. People who know me can see I’ve drawn a lot from friends—particularly one friend. Hamish and (his character) Jason are not like Mike (husband Mills). We don’t live in an apartment like that and I’ve never done anything like this. But at its emotional core, the film is very me. Whenever I head into something autobiographical, it feels really fake.
MFF: After Me and You and Everyone We Know got the awards and attention, was there an opportunity to do other things, projects that emanated from Hollywood?
MJ: Things that came weren’t that interesting. There was no way I was going to direct someone else’s script. I just said “I am not a director for hire.” There were some deals I should have taken in retrospect. But I hate owing somebody something. I already had too much expectation (from the success of the first film). I didn’t want more. I didn’t want a company waiting for something. I said, “We’ll just rough it out. And we’ll see who’s interested when the time comes.”
MFF: All the financing for The Future came from foreign sources, I understand.
MJ: It was easier in the sense that there were these companies that were waiting. Like Film Four (from England) who said we want to be involved in your next one. But we didn’t know it would all be European financed. But it was the recession and a terrible time to be doing this. And I didn’t want have stars (in the leads), but in the United States, all these companies are starving so much, they want some collateral.
MFF: The whole market has changed radically even since your first film came out six years ago. A lot of indie films debut on the Internet or cable or on pay-per-view and skip theatrical all together.
MJ: Looking back, we figured that if the climate was like it was, we were looking at no theatrical. And I didn’t want to think about it. But I’m lucky that didn’t happen. It was a good year. At Sundance there was—I don’t know if you can call it a bidding war when it’s such low figures—but a few companies were interested, the obvious companies. And we went with the one who I wanted to work with.