Festivals - FCAD 2021 : Let's talk with Jim Cummings about the upcoming The Beta test

By Mulder, Deauville, Hôtel Barrière Le Roya, 10 september 2021

The Beta Test is a 2021 American-British horror-thriller film written by, directed by and starring Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe.

Q : After winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Deauville American Film Festival, you are back to present your new film The Beta Test co-directed and co-written with PJ McCabe. This one is also your fourth movie after No Floodwall Here, Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. How do you feel to be back in Deauville ?

Jim Cummings : it feels amazing to be back in Deauville. it is a home away from home a bit it was nice to see the whole team and it feels so shocking that it was four years ago the last time i was here and to think that you know i've made two movies since and that they're celebrating this one is really unbelievable it feels like  coming home to roost in your feel.

Q :  In a few words, can you talk to about the story of your this film ?

Jim Cummings : yeah sure so The beta test is about a Hollywood agent who is engaged to be married and he gets a letter in the mail inviting him to a no strings attached sexual encounter in a hotel room and he goes and it's wonderful but then he never gets another letter and it starts to drive him crazy and so it's about him going down the rabbit hole trying to find out who you know sent the letter to him it's a bit like Chinatown but it's a comedy and it also gets very scary so it's a bit of a horror movie too.

Q :  How have you shared the written and the direction of this movie with PJ McCabe ?

Jim Cummings : yeah it was really great to work with PJ and we were friends in college and then started working together after college he was an actor i was a filmmaker and so we were always working in each other's stuff PJ was acting in some of my early short films and stuff and it just happened very naturally where the way that we write movies is all out loud so it's a bit like this where we'll set up a camera or a recorder and we'll act out scenes a thousand times and then find the best dialogue and then write it down so really PJ and i were already co-writing the movie just by rehearsing it and then in doing that we were just so close to directing it because every word matters in our movies and so it's like all right well why don't we just co-direct this one too and he had never made a short film before this is his first feature film so he jumped immediately into features um but he killed it and it was great we got to have like thousands of conversations about what would make the movie better and more perfect and not just like a normal writing relationship where someone's trying to make it different but not better it was really unique and really wonderful i want to do it again

Q :  Which researches have you done and which were your main sources of inspiration, some movies, some books to create it ? we think about the twilight zone, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller .. 

Jim Cummings : it is like a Twilight Zone episode or like a Black mirror episode it's a very simple story about what would happen if you gave into temptation and so i feel like it's a bit of a natural thing it's like a universal thing of guys being tempted to sleep with someone who isn't their wife but i think the biggest inspirations were probably Eyes wide shut i liked that movie a lot same themes ours is a comedy version of Eyes wide shut and then blue ruin I really like that film just because like it becomes very violent and the stakes are very high uh during some of these moments which i love i love feeling that anxiety rear window as well it's about like you know just the small social implications and breaking the rules a bit and tension in a neighborhood and then Parasite was a huge inspiration to make something that was that well-crafted and scary and funny at the same time.

Q :  What can you tell us about your filming locations and which impact had the covid 9 pandemic of the shooting on this film ?

Jim Cummings : so we shot the movie in November and December of 2019. okay so we completely dodged covid which we were we were so lucky so like yes legitimately the one of the schedules was such that we would shoot the movie in march and i'm obviously so glad that we did it and instead we shot the wolf of snow hollow in march of 2019 and then by November or October we were shooting this new movie so it's like two movies in one year and a bit of overlap in like post-production and then production um but it was we were very lucky and um there were moments that I had to get like there's a shot in the movie of PJ using his phone and then i'd do a 360 around him and he would get tested and come and help to edit the movie for a week at a time and we would get these small shots on cameras like this and it blends into the movie pretty

Q :  What Can you tell us about the distribution strategy for this film ?

Jim Cummings : we had saved enough budget from the financing campaign that we ran to potentially self-distribute we didn't want to be backed into a corner we had this other opportunity to self-distribute and very quickly we realized we weren't going to do that because IFC films in the united states loved the movie and Ariana Boca and her team championed the movie they had they understood that they had the same sense of humor as the movie and us we're very lucky and so very quickly we realized that they were the people that were they were us it was the same team basically and so i've loved all of their movies in the loop death of Stalin so many of their movies have been huge inspirations to me that they bought the movie for the united states and then we reached out to news story and a few other distributors around the world and have been able to have this global release in a way that you know we kind of had to do it on our own for our previous films and so it's been really nice to partner with people that have a good sense of humor

Q :  what should be for you the main duties of an agent ? what do you think about the battle between the WGA and the agencies ?

Jim Cummings : Agents are having less and less utility because of the internet because if you wanted to you could reach out to me on twitter and say hey i have this project yes so there so there is less borders to be able to get in touch with people yes and actually the agencies were started as this social network almost to be able to connect people and now that we have real functional free social networks they're having less utility i think the WGA put up one of the best fights in history they won they were able to make these people that seemed powerful who wear suits like this and are angry and to everybody Kato and Ben the knee to the creatives i think it was one of the most important fights in Hollywood history and it happened over the last three years four years um and they didn't have to put up the fight but because they did and because they won the industry will not become awful like the death star in Star Wars you know and i think that we were really on the precipice of losing this big battle and we didn't.

Q :  You have produced, written, directed, edited and you play on your movies. Which is your favorite parts ? 

Jim Cummings : oh man, my favorite part of making my movies. i hate to say it i love editing and putting in sound design that helps to make a joke work yeah and that's always fun but i can do that for other people's movies my favorite part of making the movies is being on set and doing the writing directing and acting because I have such a team of people that i love that at any given time we can we'll do a shot i'll race back over and watch the monitor and hit playback and it's just my friends in this little video village and i can put my arm around any of them and it feels like summer camp it's this incredibly vibrant feeling and it feels like living it  most alive that i can be and so i hate to say that it is all three of them writing acting and directing it just happens to be on set nice.

Q :  Your films seems to alternate long takes with montages. How do you find the rhythm you’re looking for ?

Jim Cummings : yeah so that's new to me so for the last few films i've only done for Thunder Road it was almost just long text so it's like these really long take scenes for things and then i just forgot that editing is an art form and like that you can do editing tastefully and make a good movie and so really The beta test was just was that for me it was me realizing that you could tell the story and it would be better by having it told like this and feel a lot more suave and like premium in a way that Hollywood people would watch the film because it has this slick feeling to it um you know nobody in Hollywood stuff on the road but really by making the movie to say Hollywood i kind of had to make the movie like this so um so yeah we tried to make it as like slick as possible and it looks good.

Q : Which are for you the good ingredients to create a good horror comedy movie ?

Jim Cummings : yeah i mean Edgar Wright does great stuff the same kind of thing like I think the best advice that i can give is to do it out loud like really there are times when i was writing screenplays and i'd be writing in text format and then the first time somebody would read it out it would suck and i'd go oh no we got to shoot this tomorrow you know what am i going to do and instead of doing that you can use a sound recorder and record the script and play different parts and then mix it and edit it and put in music and sound design and really feel the movie and hear it before you show up on set and so like really the only reason that any of the jokes work in any of my movies and he's like very serious movies is because we've done it before in audio format and I know that that joke is going to work because i've tried it before.

Q :  What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and why ?

Jim Cummings : we call that scene the mayor culpa like the complete apology and that was so that one my producers had scheduled it to be about three hours of a shoot and i said no we need it has to be we have to be there for eight hours I have to do this thing and it's got to be better than found right it's got to be great um yes and uh and it was exhausting and i went through four suits they had four identical suits and I’m crawling along on the ground up the suits covered in oil it was awful but really i hate to say it the most the hardest scenes for me to shoot are always the ones that I’m not in because I’m the director and I’m watching it and if it's not working i can't go over to the person and say just let me do it you know like with everything else i can do that kind of so i think the hardest scene to shoot for this film was probably the scene between Keith and Joy where it's the wife who poisons the guy with the vape and then he dies and we shot it in such a way we had scripted it in such a way to be different but then in the edit we made it much more like a Michael Haneke film where it's just focusing on her and then you hear him flailing around in the background anyway.

Q :  What can you tell us about your collaboration with the composer Jeffrey Campbell Binner ?

Jim Cummings : Jeff Campbell is a buddy of PJ that he went to school with and it was just a wonderful composer um i had not worked with him before but then we were telling him we wanted it to be like a giallo Italian horror movie and so he was like we're sending him all this like harpsichord music and like you know really cool sounding spooky Italian music and he delivered some of it and then about halfway through the first edit we started incorporating classical music as well to kind of give it this feel and then we realized  like we might just be using more classical music than Jeff's music and like replacing it with classical stuff and we just my girlfriend the post producer Julia found this great library of classical music that we had the rights to and so we just found these perfect Vivaldi moments and slowed them down and sped them up to make them work for the scenes um and then Ben Lovett who is the composer for The wolf of snow hollow came in and did the like opening title stuff and things like that and um really it was this kind of checkerboard of different composers to help to make the final product nice.

Q :  Have you already thinked to shoot a movie in Paris ? What do you like the most in this city ?

Jim Cummings : it's so bad  so I’m writing and making a movie right now that takes place in 1890 and it's supposed to be in Virginia in America but driving through Trouville yes it's like this looks a bit like um it looks a bit like America in the Dutch colonial era and so i don't know part of me and just from the train ride here 20 minutes ago it's about like what am I making movies in America here you know

Q : After the Deauville American film festival, the Beta test will be shown in the Champs-Élysées Film Festival and in Fantastic Fest in Texas that I will cover too. What can you tell us about the importance of the festivals actually ?

Jim Cummings : yeah so festivals for me for two different reasons the first one is for an audience where they get to watch something that then everybody will see in the next few months and so they are the most like insane cinephiles that love movies just as much as i do that care about movies that get the jokes basically you know they're perverts and i make movies for perverts and so it's really wonderful to have that um to have that relationship on like in a in a crowd i get to like show off a weird movie and people get to see it for the first time and then for me as a filmmaker going to a festival and watching movies really helps me to see what the future of artwork will be and what and it really helps me to be influenced for my next few movies in a way that going to the library and renting old movies um doesn't it feels like I’m given permission to make weird stuff every time i see a new movie at a festival

Q :  can you talk a little about your Twitter sessions ? 

Jim Cummings : sure so it's good.  I’m glad it's helpful  so i started doing these twitter spaces where i just help filmmakers who have a problem with their movie so much of my life has been having phone calls or emails with filmmakers who are stuck and i can't figure out a way to make something work and so there are times for the last five years where i would respond to an email and that person would say thank you the problem solved thank you for doing that but it would just die with that person so that piece of advice doesn't nobody else hears it and so i thought okay well i have a big enough twitter following now that i can do with twitter spaces and then speak to 400 people at once and it becomes helping the entire community instead of just a specific filmmaker who has the balls to reach out to me it's nice i mean i was so timid when i was starting out i didn't i didn't i was too nervous to ask questions and that's why i failed for so long and so it feels really good to be able to help and send the ladder back down.

Q : Which are your currents projects ?

Jim Cummings : right now we're going out for a tv show about astronauts coming back to earth and living in Florida uh which is very funny and poignant and sad and then we just wrote another a feature about a YouTube journalist in America and it's very funny and could be really beautiful and then I’m doing a movie  called the current uh that I’m writing that's about 1890 uh in America and this like really beautiful interracial friendship um during that time and yeah i really am very excited about that one.

Jim Cummings is a Sundance and South by Southwest Winning filmmaker from New Orleans. He is a champion of the digital independent filmmaking renaissance and is very vocal at film festival happy hours and on social media about DIY filmmaking. His films Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow have been showcased and praised around the world for their genre-fluid aesthetics and his new film The Beta Test is no different. He lives in Los Angeles and treats his home like a film studio. 

Synopsis : 
A married Hollywood agent receives a mysterious letter for an anonymous sexual encounter and becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data.

The Beta Test 
Written and directed by Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Produced by Matthew Miller, Natalie Metzger, Matthew Miller, Benjamin Wiessner
Starring Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Jessie Barr, Wilky Lau,
Olivia Applegate, Jacqueline Doke, Kevin Changaris, Malin Barr, Christian Hillborg
Music by Jeffrey Campbell Biner & Ben Lovett
Cinematography : Kenneth Wales
Edited by Jim Cummings    
Production companies : Vanishing Angle
Distributed by IFC Films
Release date : November 5, 2021 (United States)
Running time : 91 minutes

We would like to thanks Michel Burstein for this great interview and the Amazing Jim Cummings.

Photos and video : Boris Colletier / Mulderville