Alum’s Sundance-winning short makes it to the big screen


Jim Cummings ’09 behind the scenes of “Thunder Road.” The 92 minute feature was filmed over 14 days in Austin, Texas. – Photo Courtesy of Jim Cummings

By Zenebou Sylla

After the success of a Kickstarter campaign that raised $36,829, Jim Cummings’ ‘09 Sundance-winning short film, “Thunder Road,” is now a feature film.

The feature launched online Oct. 30.

Cummings wrote, directed, and acted in both the short and feature film; he portrayed a recently divorced police officer who suffers the loss of his mother and now raises his daughter alone.  

About 100 people attended the Emerson Bright Lights screening of the 92-minute feature on Nov. 6. Cummings Skype-called after the screening to answer questions for the audience.

He filmed the 12-minute short in six hours in one day, and the feature in 14 days with a rehearsal period of three weeks. He edited, mixed, colored, distributed, and exported the film. He also created Facebook ads to promote it.

Cummings said no major distributors wanted to produce his short film into a feature. He said besides the funds he raised from the Kickstarter campaign, he and his team received $33,333 from the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship for creative funding, marketing, and distribution.

No groups offered any other funding to the team, despite the short’s reputation of winning film festivals like South By Southwest, Seattle International Film Festival, and Deauville American Film Festival.

Cummings said he paid $1,200 to upload his film to iTunes, Google Play, Comcast, and DirecTV through an app called Quiver Digital, a distribution platform that allows filmmakers to own the rights of their film while distributing it through these platforms.  

Cummings said he felt unsure whether the short could expand into a larger creation.

“I spent about 11 months— maybe eight months— thinking that you couldn’t turn it into a feature,” Cummings said. “There’s that moment of my daughter [in the film] pulling away from me, and I thought about screenplay format. I thought, ‘What if that is the inciting incident? The rest of the film would have to be about me getting my daughter to like me again.’”

Cummings said he pursues film to depict different experiences.

“I feel that films are important as an art form because they are the most engaging art form that I’ve seen,” he said.

Nicholas Callais ‘18, who attended the Emerson Bright Lights screening, said he thought Cummings transitioned from a short to feature film exceptionally.

“It’s really inspiring to come out of Emerson and do big things like that, and to do it on their own in an independent sense,” Callais said. “I think what’s unique about Jim, is doing it on an independent scale and not a major distributor.”

Junior visual and media arts major Kathryn Garelli attended the screening and said she felt inspired by Cummings’ work.

“I think [the film has] a lot of different messages about society, about the family, about- masculinity,” Garelli said. “I think it’s definitely an interesting process, and I think having Jim here to talk about it, to shed some light on that process, it’s just inspiring.”

Garelli said that as someone involved with film, Cummings’ work moved her.

“As a person who makes short film, that kind of evidence is to me that I could turn my films into something bigger than as they exist right now,” Garelli said.