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Short film by alumnus selected by Sundance

Mark Vashro '08, with binder, and Jim Cummings '09, right, on the set of Thunder Road. The film was selected by the Sundance Film Festival.

Emerson College alumnus Jim Cummings ’09 can thank his 45-minute commute for refining his 13-minute feature film, Thunder Road.

All that driving back and forth to his job as a creative producer for gave him time to think of ideas for the film and later, to rehearse his performance as the short’s lead actor.

The slog paid off when Thunder Road, also directed by Cummings and produced by fellow Emerson alumnus Mark Vashro ’08, was one of 17 short American films to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival, being held January 21–31 in Park City, Utah.

“I never dreamed it would get in. It’s, like, everybody’s dream to have a film there,” Cummings said. “Statistically, it’s easier to get into Harvard—maybe to get into Harvard twice. I’d never get into Harvard.”

Thunder Road is one long shot of a police officer eulogizing his mother at her funeral. Gradually, over the course of the eulogy, the officer starts to lose his composure, eventually breaking out in a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s song.

“It’s a weird movie, but it’s this heartbreaking and hilarious performance,” he said.

The whole film was shot in eight takes, inside a Southern California church filled with 30 or 40 extras, including Tony Yacenda ’10, a fellow short film director and a former CollegeHumor staffer, and actor/producer PJ McCabe ’09.

Vashro said his job morphed from producing to assistant directing to running the set.

“I just get to sit back and watch this awesome play unfold in front of me,” Vashro said. “The very first take, there were people crying.”

Despite overlapping at Emerson, Cummings and Vashro didn’t run in the same circles in college. They met in 2009, while working on a film being shot in Boston with “such a bad set, we bonded,” Vashro said.

They did a film together in New Orleans later that year and then went their separate ways, until they both ended up in Los Angeles.

Cummings said they’ve probably been getting 10 invitations a day to meet with people in the film industry while they’re in Utah, and they have plenty of ideas to pitch when they get there.

But Sundance isn’t just about swapping business cards for Cummings and Vashro. It’s just as much about meeting other filmmakers who are passionate about their work, they said.

“For me, it’s mainly enjoying Sundance and enjoying the celebration…and getting to meet people that are passionate about the industry,” Vashro said.

“I feel like while I was making this, I would come home to an empty apartment, and I would write, and I thought, ‘Is this a thing, or am I just a crazy person by myself?’” Cummings said.

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