Meet Jim Cummings for his new feature film, “The Beta Test”, the very current story of a successful Hollywood agent about to get married, receiving an anonymous letter inviting him to a mysterious sexual encounter.
The Beta Test is released in theaters this Wednesday. Its director, screenwriter, actor and American producer Jim Cummings visited the Deauville Festival last September to present the film in preview. He was back at the Festival 3 years after winning the Grand Prix for his film Thunder Road.
AlloCiné: Your film evokes several themes, Hollywood agencies, a love story, after #MeToo, but which was the one that gave birth to the project?
Jim cummings : The Beta Test started with the idea of the purple envelope dating service. PJ [son co-réalisateur et co-scénariste, prononcez “Pi-djai”] is married, I’m engaged and we were at a party and a girl that I know has a boyfriend left her hand on my back a little longer than normal, and I thought that was a invitation to sex.
I might have got carried away, but the next day I called PJ saying: “What would you do if you were contacted (…) for a sexual invitation?” He responded to me : “I would never do it, because it would probably be to kill me, and my wife would kill me”. And I added: “What if it happened to someone willing to lie and cheat on their partner?”
And at the same time, there was a struggle between agencies and creators going on in Hollywood and that too was over infidelity and lying. So I said to myself that it would go well together.
Let Hollywood go befucked!
Precisely, for the general public, can you explain this fight between the agencies and the Guild of American screenwriters, which is an important part of the film?
Sure ! Originally, in the 1920s and 1930s, agencies appeared and with them contracts preventing them from creating their own content and becoming studios. But for the past ten years, agencies have tried to circumvent these contracts. Instead of creators / clients having the power and hiring agents, agencies have tried to reverse that and have the client work for the agency.
It could have destroyed American art and cinema, except that the American Screenwriters Guild opposed it. She could have let it go, but suddenly it became a huge fight between the powerful men in three-piece suits and the creatives (…) And no one was talking about it. Variety and the Hollywood Reporter wrote about it every day, but talking about it in public created a powerful unease, because of the power games.
And I found it very funny. (…) I interviewed assistants, ex-agents and agents still in post …
Besides, I believe you are a member of the Guild?
Pu ** in that yes! (…) And I called PJ telling him: “You know what? Hollywood go get fucked up, and all that! Let’s pretend we’re Trey parker and Matt stone of South park and let’s do it! “
Back in the film, your character is very disturbed at the beginning, and dreads to follow up on the invitation he receives but will tempt him all the same, when his best friend has tried to dissuade him. Is it because in Hollywood power is kind of blind?
Yes, and when you are close to getting married the male ego is disturbed by the idea of being with only one person for the rest of his life. In the United States, there is this idea of the bachelor party where you have to sleep with someone [avant le mariage]. So when this man has this possibility just before his marriage, he does not resist (…).
I enjoyed the editing of the film …
… Thank you, I did it! (laughs) He’s gone a lot higher than Thunder road, which had like 50 shots at most, and a lot of sequence shots.
Was it your desire to have a more rhythmic feature film to follow the character’s torments?
Yes ! And since we are dealing with global issues, the rhythm does not only impact the character (…) In Thunder Road, I am of all the plans because it is the story of this policeman, In this one, it ‘is broader, because everyone is impacted by lies and infidelity.
Nothing has changed in Hollywood …
Like in Thunder Road, you allow yourself some pretty awkward moments, wouldn’t that be the start of a director’s signing?
No, I’m quitting, it’s too bad. In the final parking lot scene I am seen during the editing thinking “I’m screaming again” as I try new things, I still end up with a scene where I take off my clothes and scream. This is my greatest Nicolas Cage moment! But I will calm down.
Who is this PC who is co-directing the film with you?
He has never directed a short film! He’s an actor and after college he became one of my best friends. We went to school, me in directing, he in comedy. We made a 3D movie called The Flamingo (2012), in which he starred and helped write.
And for 5-6 years, we worked on scenarios. When he volunteered on Beta Test, I had never co-directed and it was perfect. We wrote orally while acting the scenes, almost directing the film before shooting it. (…) We transformed these writing sessions into a podcast with sound effects and music where we played all the roles (…).
He was always there to tell me when it was bad, to support me (…) I want to work like that again. (…) And we give the podcast to the actors, it saves us a lot of preparatory rehearsals, which are very expensive.
And to finish, a line marked me very much in your film, it is “everyone still wants to be Harvey [Weinstein]”, do you think anyone from the movie industry or some other industry can still say such a thing today, in a post-MeToo era?
Nothing has changed in Hollywood. The power dynamics are the same, cruel men abusing their power are still in place at all levels. (…) And in private, behind the scenes, these people glorify Harvey Weinstein, saying that [le Festival de] Sundance is no longer used for nothing and that it is thanks to Harvey that it was something important in Hollywood. And it’s disgusting. They insist he was producing the Lord of the Rings trilogy and excuse it, not to mention the abuse and rape of 15 women!
Everyone who supported him is in prison too, but the system that allowed him to do all of this is in place. There are no women in high positions within these big structures, it is always a toxic and horrible “boy club” for someone who is just starting out, and especially women.
So this line is important to me, because there are always these fat guys in costumes in Hollywood, who even try to look like him physically. They shouldn’t be around anymore and have no artistic involvement whatsoever.