In Thunder Road, a police officer gives an emotional eulogy at his mum’s funeral, eventually breaking down and turning to Bruce Springsteen for help.
The short film has become a darling amongst American festivals, receiving awards at SXSW, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, and even the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It’s not hard to see why.
The plot, though relatively simple, gives its audience the feels through powerful storytelling. It was filmed in a single, continuous take and starred its writer and director, Jim Cummings, whose 12-minute monologue easily made a connection between character and viewer.
Interestingly, the film’s climaxes with an odd song and dance tribute, with the aid of a boombox playing Thunder Road from Bruce Springsteen. According to Indiewire, Cummings initially shelled out AUS$9,120 (US$7,000) to get the rights to the song for the festival circuit. But to post the video online, he had to cough up and additional AUS$52,000 (US$40,000).
But instead of paying, Cummings wrote an open letter to Springsteen – which worked! The result is something you can now enjoy watching on Vimeo.
We recently had a short chat with Jim Cummings to know more about Thunder Road.
What was the inspiration for Thunder Road?
“A friend told me about a friend of his singing at a funeral and then two cops told me that you have to wear your uniform at a funeral in California and New York.”
You were the film’s writer, director, and lead actor. What was it like to juggle all those roles? And which role challenged you the most?
“Acting for sure was the most challenging. I kept saying, ‘I can do it better’ between the takes.”
The film was also shot in one long take. What made you decide to do that?
“Shooting it in a single take made it more of an experience for the audience rather than a weird short film.
I feel like you can inadvertently digest ideas when something seems like constructed.”
The plot is simple, but the storytelling – the dialogue specifically – is very emotional. What’s your advice on writing dialogue that really hits at the heart of the audience?
“Write something that makes you cry. Emotionality in dialogue works just like a joke, it has setup and payoff and sometimes punchlines.”