Meeting with the actor-director revealed by Thunder Road, supercharged spokesperson for US independent cinema and guest of honor at the Champs-Elysées Film Festival.
Jim Cummings spreads the good word. On Twitter and at festivals, from Austin to Cannes via Deauville, the actor and director has become the herald of the new generation of American indie filmmakers. It took a scene, the premiere of his film Thunder road, in 2018, for the Cummings phenomenon to explode: as a mustached cop clumsily trying to greet the memory of his mother to an air of Bruce Springsteen, the man revealed his nutty nature of heir lo-fi by Jim Carrey and a certain genius in the art of do it yourself. After a slightly more opulent attempt (The Wolf of Snow Hollow, unpublished in France), Jim Cummings returns to his mown roots with the very amusing The Beta Test, a Hollywood satire where he plays a celebrity agent made paranoid by strange sexual encounters, and who personifies a system not yet fully recovered from the fall of Harvey Weinstein. Something like a mix of Bret Easton Ellis and The Fourth Dimension, but funny, which will be released with us on December 15 and which Jim Cummings presented this week in preview to the public at the Champs-Elysées Film Festival.
Premiere: The magazine Variety describes you as “the guru of independent cinema”, does that suit you?
Jim Cummings: Ah, ah! The Buddha while we’re at it! But OK, that’s fine with me. The two biggest problems for independent cinema are financing and distribution and, with Thunder road, we have found the answer to these problems. So I take the liberty of giving advice to people on Twitter: here’s how to set up a fundraising campaign, how self-distribution works, how not to get blown up by the system, who just wants to make money with your film and give you nothing in return. I am not the first to advocate this cause, people like Mark Duplass or Sean Baker have done it before me. I accept this role, because a lot of new filmmakers need advice. But in truth, I’m not a guru, I’m nothing but a director and a funny nerd cinephile, who spends his life watching and making films.
Today, all American apprentice directors dream of doing their Thunder road…
We distributed the film ourselves because we had no choice. The biggest offer we got from the distributors was only half the budget for the film – which cost $ 200,000. No way I would go to the investors and say, “Hey, sorry, I lost half your money!” The Sundance Institute gave us a scholarship, we got out Thunder road ourselves and it blew up: the film grossed $ 700,000. People would tell us, “You can’t do this, it just can’t be done. But today there are plenty of ways to get around the system, thanks to crowdfunding, iTunes, YouTube, and so on. Hollywood doesn’t want you to know all the different levers you can pull, because then you become their adversary. Now, indie movies are a lot more interesting than fucking Hollywood movies. They have no interest in knowing that either!
Thunder Road: stripping tragicomic
And today, with The Beta Test, you’re making your movie about Hollywood …
Fuck’em ! Let them go fuck themselves!
Some directors shoot declarations of love in Hollywood, not you …
Me, it’s a fucking insulting letter, ah ah! A fuck you letter. No, frankly, Hugo cabret, by Scorsese, that’s a beautiful declaration of love. But a declaration of love in the cinema, not in Hollywood. Looked Mank, from Fincher: It’s a terrifying description of the early days of Hollywood – a horrible, abject world. La La Land ? The guy is good, but I could never make a movie like that! We have seen so many of our friends fall victim to the Hollywood system that we wanted to laugh at it. With The Beta Test, we wanted to do the equivalent of an episode of South Park, tell how this city fucks creative minds.
It seems that David Fincher is a fan …
Yes, I sent the film to Cean Chaffin, his partner and producer. I worked for her as an assistant on Benjamin button – I’m from New Orleans, where the movie was being shot. Cean introduced me to David quickly. I try not to bother him too much, but I email him every now and then, like when I won the award at Sundance with Thunder road. She always encouraged me a lot. The, The Beta Test, I thought that might make them laugh, because we don’t give a damn about agents and I know Fincher hates agents. He doesn’t have any, by the way. And Cean told me that they had watched the movie one night and that David liked it, he said that I was talented. Wow! Cool ! Fincher likes me! I can retire!
There’s this line in the movie that sums up the way you see Hollywood: “ Everybody still wanna be Harvey “…
And that’s true ! Harvey Weinstein is in prison but not the system that supported him. Everyone who knew what was going on, who created this destructive ecosystem for women, is still there. Harvey is still their role model. They continue to dress like him. They all even look a bit like him, it’s disgusting. They all still want to be that hyper powerful, vindictive, angry producer screaming on the phone. This is what they like. That’s why they entered the movie industry: to yell at their subordinates on the phone. Today they use the #MeToo movement as a facade, an advertisement to make their boxes look cleaner. It’s disgusting. They show off because they include women and people of color in their projects. But independent cinema has been doing this for a hundred years!
You asked Bruce Springsteen for permission to use his song “Thunder Road”. Did you stay in touch with him?
His wife, Patti Scialfa, messaged me on Instagram when Thunder road was released on Amazon. She wrote an adorable review of the film and told me they watched it as a family, on Christmas, her, Bruce and the kids. We’ve been sending messages regularly since, with Patti. My mom, on her seventieth birthday, went to see Bruce on Broadway and she got to say hello backstage. He was very kind. What am I talking about? Of course he was nice! It’s Bruce Springsteen! He’s a very cool guy!
So you write to David Fincher’s wife AND Bruce Springsteen’s wife regularly?
Yes, that’s how we get closer to super cool American icons. By sympathizing with their wives on Instagram!
Champs-Elysées Film Festival, in Paris until September 21.
The Beta Test, by Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe, released December 15.