Aperture Cinema - Winston Salem, NC | Blog Post – Thunder Road with Producer Benjamin Wiessner
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Blog Post – Thunder Road with Producer Benjamin Wiessner

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Flawed police officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) lives a shambolic life made worse by his mother’s passing. Unable to change his life for the better, his only stability comes in the shape of his daughter (Kendal Farr) who he tries to her father in the best way he can. Written and directed by Jim Cummings, who also stars alongside Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer, Macon Blair, Bill Wise, Jordan Fox, and Chelsea Edmundson.

From the e/vent

“A lot of my funniest jokes have been from moments of tragedy. One time we were sitting with the guy at the funeral home when my mother had just passed away and he asked, ‘are there any grandchildren,’ and I was just like… *knocks on wood*. It was probably dead silent for a minute and then my brother finally gets the joke and he starts laughing and crying and I started laughing and crying and then the mortician starts laughing. So it’s those moments..” -Benjamin

audience member: First off, great movie! I’ve seen this, I think this actually my second time seeing it. The first time that I saw it I thought it was hilarious. This is my second time and I was paying more attention to the filmmaking. A lot of the one takes weren’t showy at all, they were all naturalistic. How did you guys manage to do all this in 14 days? Can you tell us more about the production and the problems that you guys had?

Benjamin: You have as many days of pre-production as you want. That’s the nice thing. This was feature ten for me. So we could get all this other stuff out of the way before we were down there. One of the reasons that we really loved to use the really long takes is because suddenly you’re setting up lights a fifth as many times or a tenth as many times and you’re getting 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there back in your day… We wrapped at least half an hour early every day, but one. It was just this thing where it was like it’s got to work. There is no time for going back over and like deciding new things. You have to make your decisions on set and everything is rehearsed to death.

audience member: Is Jim Cummings making any sort of push for this award season coming up?

Benjamin: We don’t have that much money. Do you?

audience member: How much does it cost to submit for awards?

Benjamin: So the more important thing is your advertising campaign. There has not been anything become successful for less than 10 million dollars. I think Moonlight was like a 22 million dollar awards campaign?

audience member: So you have to be advertising? Buzz can’t just naturally build around something like this?

Benjamin: No. Our tiny little company… So, we were nominated for an Independent Spirit Award… It’s a $500,000 and under category and our company had 2-5 features. So you’re put out to the side there, but it’s a space that we still really believe in…

audience member: During the distribution process there was like a lot of success in France and other regions. Can you talk about how the distribution process went? And how all that panned out?

Benjamin: It was rocky. So, when we were fundraising for this film we went around to like every company that we could and we were told no every single time. Then we made it and it won in SXSW and we went back to those companies and they said no again, basically. So what we did is we had been talking with Sundance creative distribution lab which is an initiative that is really wonderful to help figure out like what happens to films like this. For us, we got a couple of offers from companies that wanted to toss it online and we thought, well we can put it online. So we did all of our own international sales. That went really poorly for a long time. Then we figured out okay we have this partner in France…and we’ve had several other features that have opened pretty well with them. We stopped going to any foreign festivals basically after Cannes and waited for our French numbers to come in. And so then, at that point, we had 75,000 come to the film in France in the first couple of weeks of it being out. So we had that.. and because we had pulled that many we were suddenly able to … in all these territories. I think we’ve sold like 20 territories which is like 60 extra countries at this point. So, it’s this really incredible opportunity where next March it’s going to be coming out in theaters in Spain, and Greece, and the UK, Australia – all over. So that was this kind of like … fun thing… that was basically just listening to podcasts by myself and emailing this giant list of people from this humongous spreadsheet…it’s not like cool or glamorous it was just like this work that we felt like we wanted to do…It’s never the people in the fancy offices who are going to help you.

audience member: What’s it like working with someone who is writing, directing, producing, and acting all on the same project?

Benjamin: Um, you don’t have to order nearly as many meals for catering. So, I think it really helps because of the trust that Jim and I have. The creative director Danny Madden who has been running these with us for years, it was the two of us like sitting behind the monitor and we were giving Jim the acting notes because he’s on the screen like 70% of the time. So just having that trust. We knew his vision, we knew what he wanted, we knew what he wanted from him and how to push him to have that. In terms of how that works for the team, it’s this really great thing for a director to act as well…when he’s in that scene and giving them something it’s really easy for them to react. So that was I think a huge savings.

audience member: So did you guys just decide at some point like we’re just going to do this ourselves or did somebody else come along at some point like, ‘hey we want to help finance this’?

Benjamin: Nobody wants to help. I was walking into cost-co… and I called Jim up and said how quick could we get a Kickstarter together and it was like 36 hours. So we did that. We were trying to raise $10,000, we funded that in the first seven hours. We ended up raising $36,000 out of that, but what we’ve found with Kickstarter in the past that happened this time and which has happened for us since then as well… is that, once you have that momentum we had people reach out from all over the place. They just wanted to be a small part of the film. So, we started selling off a percent of the film to all of these different places. So, from that Kickstarter, we raised the first $100,000.