INTERVIEW: Kim Cummings (“In Montauk”)

Director Kim Cummings
(Photo by Ken Nanus)

Biography: 

Kim Cummings wrote and directed the award-winning short “Weeki Wachee Girls.” It screened in 70 festivals worldwide, earning three “Best of” awards and a nomination for best short at Taos and is distributed by Buskfilms.com. Other short films include “Flower Of A Girl” and Kate Greer’s “That’s What She Told Me.”  Cummings was a finalist for the Women In Film Foundation Post Production grant in 2010.  She received a finishing fund grant from the Long Island Film/TV Foundation and two separate grants from Queens Council on the Arts for “In Montauk,” which is her first feature.

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Her Film:  Typically, short films are used as “calling cards” and stepping stones to work in features.  Can you describe your creative and professional jump from your work in shorts to making In Montauk, your first feature film?  Why was this film important for you to make?

Kim Cummings: 10 years ago I made a short film called “Weeki Wachee Girls” that was my calling card film.  I had a feature-length script that went with it, although the feature ended up being very different from the short.  Although the film played all over the world and won a few awards, I didn’t get any bites on the feature.  Shortly after that, I gave birth to twins, which forced me to take some time off.  As time went on, it seemed harder and harder to get a feature made despite having made a successful short and I kept reading that if you wanted to make a feature, you needed to make a feature. I made a few more shorts, “Flower of A Girl” and “That’s What She Told Me,” then felt that it was time to make a feature.  I look around at the resources I had available to me, especially locations and wrote a script to fit the resources that could be shot with very little money.  Before deciding to go ahead, I talked to my DP, Brian Dilg, and Co-Producer, Jeremiah Kipp, who are good friends that I’ve worked with for years and asked if they were willing to take the leap with me.  Lukas Hassel, who plays Christian is also a good friend, and I re-wrote the role of the composer after he signed on.  The script came out of my frustration out of trying to be a filmmaker while still being there for my kids. It’s important because I feel that the message we get from society is that there is nothing more important for a woman than being a mother and that we should put aside our own needs indefinitely for the sake of our children.  I know for myself, that if I hadn’t made a feature, I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror, nor would I have been a very happy mother.

Josh, Julie & Christian have an uneasy lunch together.
(Photo by Aja Niesenson)

HF:  You’ve edited short films as well as written, directed and produced them.  How has the “editor as storyteller” experience impacted or informed your “director as storyteller” work?  Has being a mother and playing that storytelling role (reading stories and teaching about life, ethics, respect, empowerment, etc.) affected how you tell stories as a writer/director?

KC: Editing short films has taught me a lot about directing and had a big influence on the shots I plan for on set.  Editing “In Montauk” and then watching  my editor, Eleanor Burke, re-shaped the film, taught me a lot about the power of juxtaposing disparate images to create a feeling.  It was amazing to watch her.  That experience opened me up to a whole new way of writing.  It was difficult, since I’m an editor myself, to admit that I really needed someone with more experience to help me get the film to where I wanted it to be.  My kids have made me much more aware of what I’m writing, especially with respect to my daughter.  I see her looking for heroines that she can relate to and struggling to find any.  My son once asked me why girls in movies always seem to be on the side.  While they both understand that women are people, they don’t see that reflected in the majority of movies available to them.  It’s made me much more conscious of how I represent women in my stories.

 

HF:  Can you describe what the experience of balancing your film career and motherhood is like, particularly as you make your first foray into feature films?  How does your life as an artist and relationship with your children change over time, given that they are growing up throughout the filmmaking process?

KC: It never feels like I’m balancing it all very well, and I’ve only been able to manage it because my husband is incredibly supportive.  While I was in the process of getting the film made, especially pre-production and production, my kids dubbed me “Mount Cranky.”  My typical day went like this: get up at 6 & get the kids off to school, work, pick the kids up, help them out with homework or take them to after-school activities, hand them off to my husband for dinner, while I went back to work until mid-night.  My husband took a week off when I was shooting in Montauk.  When we shot in Queens, my kids ate breakfast with the crew.  They even had a scene in the film that eventually got cut.  It was all it a little crazy.  It was a little better when I was editing, as I could do that on my own schedule, more or less.  As the kids saw the film come together, they started to understand what filmmaking really meant and what it meant to me.  As they’ve gotten older, they’ve started rooting for me and were very excited when the film was accepted to it’s first festival.  And, of course, they’ve begun making their own films.  My daughter writes & directs, my son shoots & edits and they both act.  It’s been amazing to see what they can do.

Julie & Christian in adjoining rooms.
(Photo by Brian Dilg)

HF:  I think it’s fantastic that your daughter participated in your crowdfunding pitch video on RocketHub, and your first feature film must be a huge part of your children’s lives, as well.  Does being a mother actually help you as a creative professional?  Are there practices or lessons rooted in motherhood that you employ as a filmmaker?

KC: Being a mother has definitely made me more focused.  It’s also made me more ambitious.  Before I had kids, I felt like I had all the time in the world.  After, it felt like time passed so much more quickly, and I had to learn to say “no” to things that weren’t directly related to filmmaking or to raising my kids, which was very difficult for me.  My husband would tell you that I’m still not very good at saying “no.”  Being a mother has taught me patience, as well as the need to slow down and be in the moment every once in a while.  And kids are so naturally curious, that just talking to mine gives me a ton of story ideas.

 

HF:  The way you describe the production of In Montauk in your Women and Hollywood guest post, it sounds like a bare bones shoot.  You also talk about the re-shoot in one of your Facebook notes.  Is there anything you would change about the way you made the film, if you could?  Do you think that the circumstances actually helped the process?

KC: It was a very bare-bones shoot, by necessity.  I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to pay everyone something for their time.  So that meant having a very small crew, where everyone did multiple jobs.  My cast & crew were terrific and very motivated which made for a wonderful working environment, despite the fact that no one had any down-time on the set.  I did re-shoot a scene that wasn’t working in the film and the re-shoot didn’t work either.  I was basically trying to make a scene work that had never worked in the script.  If I’d been able to hear that in the script stage, I could have avoided that.  I would also budget more for contingency. I learned things doing this film that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t shot the film.  And working under-the-gun definitely made all of the crew think creatively at all times.  While I wouldn’t like to shoot that way again, it was definitely an invaluable experience

 

HF:  You are crowdfunding your film festival campaign through RocketHub.  Why did you decide to use that crowdfunding platform?  And can you update us on your festival status?

KC: I chose RocketHub, because a colleague knew one of the founders, Brian Mecce and suggested I meet with him.  Brian was terrific and gave me concise guidelines for running my campaign, as well as convincing me that I would get more personal attention by going with a smaller organization.  They also have an agreement in place with Fractured Atlas, my fiscal sponsor, so all donations would be tax-deductible for my donors.  They were terrific to work with and I would definitely recommend them.  Since then, my film has been selected to screen in four festivals this summer: VisionFest12 in Tribeca, Long Island International Film Expo, World Music and Independent Film Festival in DC and another that hasn’t been announced yet.

Director Kim Cummings, DP Brian Dilg and Gaffer Thomas Perry getting a long shot of the beach entrance. Needless to say, it was cold!  (Photo by Aja Niesenson)

HF:  Putting together financing for a film is an incredibly difficult process.  Can you give a brief overview of your general financing structure?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of fiscal sponsorship?

KC:  This film is essentially self-financed. I probably went about it a little backwards.  I had a fixed amount of money and I made a budget and shooting schedule and hired crew based on that budget. (I also had a fairly simple script with minimal characters.) I had enough to get through production.  I always assumed that I would do the final edit of the film, but when I got to what I thought was a final cut, it became clear that I needed to bring on an outside editor.  My husband and I made the decision to hire an editor, and while she edited, I wrote grants.  I was awarded a few grants, which helped defray those costs.  When it came time to finish the film, I needed more money for color-correction and sound mixing, so I launched the crowd-funding campaign.  I initially signed up for Fiscal Sponsorship to be able to apply for grants that required a fiscal sponsor.  I think Fractured Atlas is a terrific organization and it’s been great to be able to accept money through a fiscal sponsor and know that my donors can get a tax-deduction.

 

HF:  How important is professional strategy to you?  I don’t mean contrived, opportunistic networking (which I think is a mistake a lot of people make), but forming meaningful creative and professional relationships and moving forward on a particular plan of action.  Do you strategize your career at all?

KC: Setting goals and reviewing them periodically is very important to me.  You have to take yourself seriously as an artist and recognize that in addition to being a creative, you are also a small business owner, especially when you’re producing your own work. I find it sometimes difficult to know what the right next step is, especially as common wisdom changes about the best way to launch your career. There are a lot of established people who will tell you that cream eventually rises to the top.  I don’t think that’s true.  There are a lot of talented people who’s work is not being recognized because it doesn’t fit into current trends or the characters and/or filmmakers aren’t the right gender or race. But being unafraid to ask questions and treating everyone you meet with respect are crucial to being successful.  I work hard to forge long-lasting relationships with people in the business who’s work I respect and admire.  My DP, Brian Dilg, and Co-Producer, Jeremiah Kipp, are both people that I met in an ad hoc filmmaker’s group over 10 years ago and we all work together whenever we can.  We’ve learned how to make films together and have grown together and I love working with them because I know what to expect.  In the past few years, I’ve worked with several talented people who I hope to work with again and again.

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To learn more about this filmmaker and her work, please check out these links:

Website (includes trailer for In Montauk): inmontauk.sirenstalefilms.com
Blog (“Filmmaking, Motherhood and Apple Pie”):  sirenstalefilms.blogspot.com
Facebook (In Montauk)facebook.com (Sign up for the mailing list!!!)
Fractured Atlas (for tax-deductible donations to help fund the festival run for “In Montauk”): facturedatlas.org

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