‘Kajillionaire’ Interview: Miranda July on making original films and the importance of film festivals

Kajillionaire is the latest film from writer/director Miranda July. The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival back in January where it was purchased by Focus Features soon after. Sadly, I did not have a chance to see the film at the festival due to the large number of films playing combined with the limited amount of screenings for the film itself. Luckily, I was able to screen the film recently and enjoyed it quite a bit. It is a very strange and unusual film but one that held my attention pretty much consistently throughout. I had no idea where it was going or what was going to happen next which is very refreshing when it comes to the majority of films made nowadays. A few weeks ago, I got a chance to speak with Miranda July about the film where we discussed what it was like to make original films, how important film festivals were in shaping her career, and why putting together an ideal cast is key.

Scott Menzel: Hi, Miranda. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Miranda July: Thank you.

Scott Menzel: I really love a filmmaker like yourself who makes movies that are bold and wildly original. So, I’m going to lead with that. I found this film to be wildly strange, engaging, thought provoking, and refreshingly original. As a filmmaker who has been working in the industry since the ’90s, have you found that it has become easier or harder to make films like this?

Miranda July: Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, on the one hand, it’s gotten harder because as you said, this isn’t the kind of movie that’s getting financed for the most part. It’s just not what people are growing up as even thinking of a movie. To them, a movie is this action experience, not that we don’t have a little action in this movie. But I also think on the other hand, because of the technology and even ability to share work, make and share work, we’re seeing more different kinds of stories told in really inventive ways and really reaching audiences. So in some ways, I feel like this shift really might be okay, ultimately. It’s a new medium, and maybe this was what was meant to happen to it.

Scott Menzel: I know film festivals have been a big part of your career, and this film debuted at Sundance back in January, which seems like so long ago at this point. Can you talk a little bit about the impact that a festival like Sundance and maybe some of the others have had on your career as a filmmaker and storyteller?

Miranda July: I was very lucky. And at Sundance, not only did I debut my first movie and all my movies there, but I also came up through the filmmakers’ lab and the screenwriters’ lab. So they really took care of that movie from the beginning, which was really important. I mean, I was a young woman living in Portland, Oregon. I literally never met anyone in this industry when I started making that movie. So it was the kindest possible introduction. And that festival and the Cannes Film Festival both embraced me right out of the gate in a way that… I mean, now in retrospect, that’s pretty rare, and it really gave me permission to think of myself as a filmmaker for the rest of my life.

Scott Menzel: And then the last thing that I wanted to ask you because I know we are so short on time, what is your secret to finding or putting together the perfect cast?

Miranda July: For me, it begins with the writing. Because I’m a fiction writer, I have these very fully formed characters. And so I’m trying to figure out if the soul of each of these humans, these actors resonates with the soul that I already know so well. And I think if you do know it well, then you can tell, and you can tell right away just through one conversation, which is usually all you get, at most. And so I think half that process you can do alone just by learning your own material.

Scott Menzel: Well, thank you very much, Miranda. It was nice talking to you. Best of luck with the film. I hope it finds a nice audience and a nice cult following like your previous films.

Miranda July: Thank you so much.

Kajillionaire opens in theaters on Friday, September 25, 2020

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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