Jim Cummings is an American actor and filmmaker. He started his career in 2016 with the short film Thunder Road, which he extended into a 2018 feature film of the same name. You probably know him best for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which he wrote,...
Jim Cummings is an American actor and filmmaker. He started his career in 2016 with the short film Thunder Road, which he extended into a 2018 feature film of the same name. You probably know him best for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. Wolf of Snow Hollow was one of my favorite films of 2020 and was the last performance of the dearly departed Robert Forster.
Jim's latest movie is The Beta Test, a dark comedy thriller about a hapless young man who unwillingly makes a sex pact and is thrown into a dark underworld of intrigue. Beta Test is super intriguing and surprisingly funny. Jim carries the entire movie hilariously, no pun intended, reminds me of a young Jim Carrey. He's a super interesting recent addition to the horror world, and I can't wait to see what he does next.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Jim Cummings.
- Keep hustling. Jim wrote his first film, the short for THUNDER ROAD, on the commute to his job, and it got into Sundance and won. A lot of would-be filmmakers somehow feel the need to do something extreme, like quit their job before they give themselves the permission and validation to embark on their movie-making career. This isn't always viable or sustainable, and there are many cases of filmmakers with day jobs who get their first movies made while they're doing something else, and that's ok. What matters is that you're consistently pursuing it. There's a metaphor about two trains, where you're on one train that represents your current job, and adjacent to you is the train that you'd rather be on, representing your real passion. The more fuel you shovel into that other train, the faster it will catch up to the train you're on, and once it does, you'll know when to jump.
- Number 2, a natural extension after number 1, even when you get signed, still, KEEP HUSTLING! After Jim's short won at Sundance, he got signed at the very prestigious agency WME - it seemed he had arrived, but after doing a waterbottle tour all over Hollywood, talking to many producers and studios, he had no offers. Unfortunately, this is the rule and not the exception for many directors who are signed, even to major agencies - you can enter a desert and waste years at a time just sitting on your hands waiting for your agency to bring you something. I've heard of this happening to more filmmakers than I'd care to admit. Once you're signed, it's critical that you keep that indie spirit going and get your projects made. Typically agencies make a cut of the total budget of a project, so they're usually less interested in pursuing smaller budgeted indies; that's ok; you don't always need them. Despite being signed with WME, Jim bootstrapped, kickstarted, and then equity-funded his first feature, cobbling together about $200k. Only after making that movie did Hollywood really come knocking, and he was able to make Wolf of Snow Hollow for a couple million dollars. The lesson here is to never rest on your laurels and to keep pushing your movies forward with or without your agency.
- Find a way to pre-visualize pre-experience the tone and trajectory of your movie. Jim and his writing partner PJ do a fascinating thing with their scripts prior to shooting - they will perform the entire script, record it, score it then listen to it to see where the lulls are and what could be better. This is pretty brilliant as a way to kick the tires on your own material because sometimes you need to hear the material performed, or even perform it yourself, to know what it needs to work. Sometimes he'll rent a cabin with his friends and make an event out of it. When you're deep in the trenches of your screenplay, you'll likely get tired of reading & re-reading the same material and lose objectivity - instead, find a way to bring it to a new platform. This can counter your screenplay fatigue while bringing a whole new perspective to your project.
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