- Juliana Lugg
Writer, director, and actor Jim Cummings spoke to Katch University interns about his experiences in filmmaking his 2016 short film, Thunder Road, garnered acclaim at the Sundance and South by Southwest film festivals. The film was made into a feature two years later. He grew up inspired by films like The Matrix (1999) and Fight Club (1999) while living with a family who also loved storytelling. He studied at Emerson College in Boston before moving to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, where he found far more opportunities than his previous locations. He worked at College Humor as well as serving as a production assistant on many film sets. He learned that it was best to meet as many professionals as possible because "people hire people they know." Before coming up with the idea for Thunder Road, he admits without shame that "it took many years of failing, practicing, and learning before anything really clicked."
Thunder Road was conceived when Cummings listened to a story about a funeral in a hot tub, followed by meeting police officers in a pizza parlor. The expectations for the short film, which was shot in six hours, was much smaller than the ending result of the surreal Sundance win. After winning Sundance, Cummings left his job at College Humor only to be met with minimal earnings over the next year. He ended up making a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for his film. Cummings initially didn't have the idea to make Thunder Road into a feature for a few months, but eventually realized that he wanted a film about legacy. He had a lot of control during the shooting of the film and after each scene he would go and watch dailies. He takes pride in the atmosphere of his film sets, referring to them as "summer camps" instead of "rigid Hollywood sets." The transition from short film to feature was difficult for Cummings and he recommends that filmmakers practice with many shorts before they transition to feature-length. In reference to his journey, he quoted a saying that was on former President Obama's desk: "Hard things are hard."
Cummings also suggests learning how to edit as it was extremely valuable for him to understand more about how the film comes together. Additionally, he recommends that any filmmaker attend film festivals, regardless of whether or not their film is in it because it provides a chance to meet other filmmakers and watch movies from filmmakers who span generations. In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cummings predicted that this will be a catalyst for people in the industry to prove that they are doing their jobs well and that overall, this is going to be a great time to be an independent filmmaker.