Miranda July
Photo by Frank Bauer

Miranda July: “I am making more room in the world”

Short Profile

Name: Miranda Jennifer Grossinger
DOB: 15 February 1974
Place of birth: Barre, Vermont, United States
Occupation: Film director, author, actress

Ms. July, apparently you have a rule that after you write a book, you make a film, and after you make a film, you write a book. Why?

Mainly just because they take so long that if I were to do, say, two movies in a row, I would lose my agility as a fiction writer. I don’t know, it’s not like they take away your writer’s card if you don’t produce something but I am a participant in that world and that culture, and really it’s on a creative level, like I don’t want to give it up. It’s already quite a long time to go without using those muscles. And then also, I usually want the break, usually the other medium looks really good to me at that point.

Does it get frustrating that films can sometimes take much longer to complete in comparison to books?

In film, they are making a whole world and I think I learned pretty early on that you have to have incredible patience. But frustrating isn’t the word, really. It’s inherent, time is part of what you are working with there: you want time, you want more days to shoot, you want more days to finish, you really want it to be good, so you are always wanting more time. And to be honest, books are really… I mean, it’s not collaborative in the same way, but they take fucking forever, too! (Laughs) It really is about the same amount of time. So again, I think that is partly why I do these other projects in other mediums; I want to connect more immediately.

“It was the first time I really felt that everyone was laboring to create something that I was holding in my mind the whole time. I had a lot more energy to give.”

Rachel Kushner says there’s a certain thrill to writing that she waits for when she’s working on a book. Is that a motivation for you?

I am always calibrating when to let myself play in the present and when to be disciplined and work for a bigger reward, in a way. I will say after my most recent feature Kajillionaire, it was such a joy to make that I did actually immediately start making multiple things in the movie medium, but not in the same scale.

How was the experience of working on that film as solely the writer-director, rather than also starring in it like you have done in the past?

Yeah, it was a relief! I mean, I don’t think it was a bad idea to be in the first film I made, I sort of was establishing my voice and I literally had to be there and show you what I am — and maybe even show the other actors to some degree. But now everyone working on Kajillionaire kind of knew what that voice was already and I didn’t have to literally be in it. It was the first time I really felt that everyone was laboring to create something that I was holding in my mind the whole time. I definitely had a lot more energy to give and couldn’t quite settle down into my book immediately afterwards.

You’ve been putting out work steadily for years now — where do you find the energy?

I feel like the brain sort of goes through cycles of being dumb and then regenerating, and you kind of have to let it be dumb when it needs to be. And it’s hard, like, you can get really down on yourself during those times and be like, “Oh, I am not working, I am not thinking properly.” I try to notice when I am at one of those times and I simply cannot go any further, I am like a horse balking or something.

So what do you do to recharge?

I sometimes literally am like, “What would bring me pleasure right now?” And I try and think of something, and I try and do that thing. And sometimes it’s very small — or often for someone else! I have a friend who has a show opening this weekend and I made her this gift and left it by her door, and that was just a break for me. And it made her so happy, which fed me. It’s realizing there’s other channels that need to be fed and you have to become aware of what those are and then do something a little different for a while. And then you can come back and whatever, charge ahead if you are tasked, but I guess the main thing is just noticing.

Do other endeavors like social activism also help energize you in a creative or professional way?

I mean, I am literally changing my day-to-day life and I am devoting a certain amount of time to activism, so of course that is impacting how I think and how I work.

“Sometimes I am working on that level, just thinking: how can I make something that is truly mine but not in a way that recreates power structures that are ultimately not helping anyone?”

So would you describe your work as political?

I do tend to think that most art is political. Even the very making of the work ends up being kind of political sometimes. We get to make work with so much money, but with what sort of mental space? That’s been harder and sometimes more of a fight. And then recognizing the hierarchies in what I am doing and the sort of very imperfect way that movies are made… I mean, it’s often a lot of white people working together, or even kind of the vision of a single person, so it’s good if you can question that and question the very premise of how these things are made. And so sometimes I am working on that level, just thinking: how can I make something that is truly mine but not in a way that recreates power structures that are ultimately not helping me or anyone — just in terms of how we communicate, how we include people, what we prioritize…

And in terms of subject matter in your film? Do those messages also inform the narratives of your work?

It’s not everything about my work. Often the things that most excite me or that I am nervous about when I am working on something are the things that I haven’t seen before. And those things most relate in my mind to overtly political issues. And it’s hard to think of a work that hasn’t had that, I think I look ahead towards it, like I want it to on some level be of service to somebody. I know that I am making more room hopefully in the world, and I hope I am doing that well.

How do you hope that people understand your work? Or does it only matter that they react to it?

If it’s only going to impact people who understand it exactly the way I understand it, then that’s going to be a real waste of money, I think, and time. (Laughs) And you think of a beautiful piece of classical music or something, there’s just been so many people in so many situations who have taken that deeply into their soul — and have they misunderstood it? Not if it serves them. So, yeah, I do want to be understood, but I think there is quite a vast territory of what that could mean.