“I spent the two weeks prior to filming driving safer. I was worried that I’d die before I could do it. I sold my wedding ring to fund it. I went through a divorce last year and felt the need to turn all that into something important. My mother is actually still alive, but those stories about her are true. I’m doing ok. My brother and sister are very confused as to why I made this thing. I hope they get it someday. I hope everybody does.” This is what director Jim Cummings explained after shooting, Thunder Road, a bittersweet 12-minute long comedy that was filmed in a single take, which received the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 edition of the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) and which has now originated a feature film version under the same name.
In the credits, the director thanks royals William and Henry, whose grief-stricken images at Lady Di’s funeral served as inspiration.
Thunder Road won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, as well as jury awards at South by Southwest, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and several others around the world. Sundance called it as “A mini-masterpiece of writing, directing, and acting”, Indiewire named it one of the best short films ever made, and Google lists it first under “The Best Short Films of 2016” and in their Top 10 of “The Best Short Films Ever Made”.
The films named after a Bruce Springsteen song, but it hasn’t the song on it, even if he’s praised the film afterwards. Did you try to license it?
So for the feature we didn’t. We shot the opening scene both ways, with the song and without the song, and the performance was so much better without the song that we used that instead. We had nothing to license, so we didn’t need to reach out and try.
You’re not an actor. How is it that you decided to play the main character?
I felt like it was going to work for the short film, I was rehearsing it for a few weeks and thought it would be best for me to play Jim. And then for the feature it had to be me, I did a good job acting in the short film.
Where did you find inspiration for Jim Arnaud and why did you decide that he had to be a policeman?
I grew up in the American South and so I know people like Jim. He was making me laugh and making me cry. I really wanted him to be a police officer because it’s so much harder for people in the tribe of testosterone to admit weakness, and if I could get a police officer to realize that it’s alright to need help, that anyone can.
His way of crying is both touching and embarrassing. Is this the way you really cry?
That is the way that I really cry! It’s equally humiliating and hilarious.
How is it that you’ve dedicated the film to Prince William and Prince Harry?
The film is about a young man becoming a wonderful parent as a love letter to his deceased mother. I thought about those boys every day that I was making this film.
What can a newcomer learn from your experience of achieving their film goals even if not going through the established channels?
I hope, that it’s possible! I really do hope that people make something of themselves instead of waiting to be taken seriously by a weird industry.