CS Interview: Writer/Director/Star Jim Cummings on The Wolf of Snow Hollow
In time for the film’s debut at the Beyond Fest and on digital platforms and select theaters, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with the writer, director and star of the horror-comedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow Jim Cummings to discuss developing the concept, his influences on the story and working with Robert Forster in his final feature role.
When it came to the conception of the film and developing his story concept, Cummings expresses his large appreciation for the works of Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher and really desired to “make this, like, detective story” and actually started with his ending before building the plot around it.
“I had the idea after the ending of, like, you know, in the breaking story, I’d like to have a certain amount of clues, and there’s one clue which stands out,” Cummings explained. “It’s such a simple biological thing and I had the idea for the reveal of the twist at the end of the film and I was like, ‘That would be so dope, that would just be the coolest thing to do 70 minutes into a movie.’ I had to do that, I wrote the story and did all this research and read all of John Douglas’ books about serial murderers and motive and detective stories and all that stuff and I tried to make it as realistic as possible in that sense. Very quickly, it was like, ‘Alright cool this is actually a pretty dope idea, let’s see if we can go out with it’ and Orion read it and was ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely, let’s do this movie.’ It was kind of perfect, I was living in Los Angeles for three years and it was always boiling hot. I thought it might be fun to do like a snowball fight, kind of fun movie with my friends and we were incredibly lucky, the guys at Orion were just incredibly endorsing of us and allowed us to go out and make this thing.”
In tapping into both the detective nature of the story as well as the horror nature of the werewolf element, the multi-hyphenate filmmaker notes that he and his crew always kept the tropes of both genres in mind and “used that a lot on set,” stating it was “so important to do that.”
“The horror fandom is like such a unique kind of like crazed fandom and like the more that you can plant Easter eggs and like it becomes a much more diverse conversation with the audience in a way that other filmmaking isn’t,” Cummings expressed. “It’s like you have such a tapestry of horror movies that you kind of have to embrace these things because you’ll get cheers from the crowd. It’s a neat and fun thing to do.”
Cummings also found getting to work with the recently revived Orion Pictures was like a “daydream,” warmly recalling how it was “such a trip to see the first cut with the Orion logo and the spinning stars” and joking that he “could retire tomorrow, like, I made it in life.”
“I get to have this open one of my movies, like that stuff was really fun,” Cummings stated. “Outside of that, the team we’re working with, the executives were so kind and young and like, got it. They were very much understanding of, you know, how subtle you can be on a joke or subtle you can be in detective stuff and that the audience would follow it along anyway. Yeah. It was a daydream to work with them and they all kind of got the tone of the movie and gave notes that made the film better, not just different, which is very rare.”
Prior to partnering with Orion for his first studio film, Cummings broke out with his feature debut on the indie dramedy Thunder Road, based on his short film of the same name, on which he served as director, writer, star, co-editor, composer and visual effects artist. Coming into Wolf of Snow Hollow, however, Cummings elected to hand a number of these reins off to other talent and choose to focus on acting, directing and writing and he found it be a “great dream” experience.
“There were there were full days on set where I didn’t have to go into hair and makeup and I got to just direct,” Cummings recalled with a chuckle. “I got to work with Kelsey Edwards who, we met her in Utah, she’s a local and she plays Liz Fairchild in the film. She just could do all of the wonderful monologues, stuff that I think I’m, you know, halfway decent at and I didn’t have to do it. There are people who we got to work with where they were such a juggernaut of what they do that I didn’t have to worry about any of it. I just got to show up and do it. Natalie Kingston, the same thing, I’d never worked with her as a cinematographer, but I was a fan of hers for years. She and I are both from New Orleans. This was the first movie where I never touched the camera, I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to do any of that. It was like exclusively cinematography versus directing they were two non-overlapping departments, which is really, really wonderful. It was different, it was nice to be able to just direct and not have to race back and forth in front of the camera and behind it [laughs].”
When it came to building his cast, which alongside himself included the likes of Knives Out‘s Rikki Lindhome and Breaking Bad alum Forster, Cummings noted he had the latter at the top of his list when writing the character while finding the rest of his cast came with the luck of the draw of the casting process.
“One of our producers, Matt Miller, had worked with him in a film called Too Late so we knew that we could at least get a script to him that he would read,” Cummings explained. “But then some of them, no, like Rikki Lindhome came in to audition and I had seen her in Garfunkel & Oates and a thousand other films, and it was mainly comedy stuff and it was mainly a bit metropolitan. I had never seen her play this kind of like cowgirl tomboy and then as soon as we talked, as soon as we got on the phone and hung out with each other, she was like, ‘Oh no, this is like I grew up in a small town. This was me. Like, I know this. I know this person. I know this thing.’ It became very clear. So like it was kind of casting against the grain, but she fucking killed it in the movie. She comes across as like so, you know, desirous of success and then also like wanting to create diplomacy and she’s just so put upon this whole time. It’s just like it was exactly what the character was supposed to be. And she became that it was really wonderful.”
Cummings discussed it was “a crazy shock” when the news first broke that Forster had passed away, leading to everyone “calling my phone and I had to merge a bunch of calls” and finding it to be “a really weird thing when somebody that you know who is a celebrity passes away” but that he’s honored to be bringing his final feature performance to the world.
“He’s so good in the film and I feel like I got to know him a lot and he kind of was this paternal figure for all of us,” Cummings warmly remembered. “The movie’s about this guy who’s hiding a medical condition from people so that he could keep working and so it was kind of this perfect fusion that he you know, he did such a great job. I don’t know. We didn’t change the edit after he passed away, I would say that we because, you know, we loved him just the same from the first day we started editing it and he gave us gold. The movie, his performance was so funny and so heartbreaking and kind of honest of what it’s like to be the head of a patriarchal group like a sheriff’s department. That performance, I mean, I stand by it, that’s one for the ages, he’s so good.”
While not faced with too many creative challenges on the film, given a supportive cast and crew and producers, Cummings did laugh as he recalled he encountered plenty of production challenges with his shooting in the mountainous setting.
“Shooting on the top of a mountain at 14 degrees, you know, when trying to murder someone over 14 hours outside,” Cummings related. “We had to do all of this stuff that like from my hot porch in Echo Park, sounded like a good idea, and then when you’re at the top of the mountain and all your friends have frostbite, you’re like, ‘Why did you do this to us?’ It’s not the best idea. I mean, everything, dude, we had, you know, at the most, I think were 60 people on set, 60 members, the cast and crew, for some of these bigger set pieces, that’s something that I had never done before. Somebody and producer Ben Wiessner says ‘Making a movie like this is like taking an aircraft carrier to the grocery store’ for getting the simplest shot that you would normally be able to get by going and grabbing the camera and taking it up very quickly has to be done with this huge team of people, and so it just takes a lot longer. There’s a quote there’s a great quote from Uncle David Fincher who says, ‘You don’t know what directing is until you’ve got five shots left to get, but the sun is going down and you’re only going to get two.’ And I remember hearing that in film school and then learning it in a real way on this film.”
Having mentioned the Social Network and Se7en filmmaker a few times in previous answers, Cummings confirmed that two-time Oscar nominee Fincher was a major influence for the look of the film as he and cinematographer Kingston discussed his works frequently as she built her lookbook that was “based off of kind of darker films and photographers as well.”
“Going through all of Fincher’s cinematographers and like some of the movie lends to that, like, ‘Hey, it’s ok that this is not as sculpted, this is just like this girl eating ramen in her kitchen,’ that felt a bit more, you know, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Cummings explained. “Yeah, I mean, there are thousands of conversations we had, we spent five days in a room together just talking about what the look at the movie was going to be and doing shotlisting and talking about the emotions of the scenes and that kind of stuff. Which is something I had never been before. But yeah, that was that was all kind of in the DNA of the project before we showed up on set.”
With the film coming at a time in which people are still sequestered to their homes, the studio was unable to hold test screenings and established its premieres at the Beyond and Fantastic Fest as the first time people would see it and Cummings laughingly called it “a waking terror” leading up to the release but also expressed excitement for the response, especially as it heads to drive-ins and digital platforms after the festivals.
“It really is relatively unsanitized it’s so cool,” Cummings excitedly opined. “You know, Jim said it was okay and the two other editors say, okay, the studio says it’s okay let’s put it out to the world. But then dude, it’s like the fact that Beyond Fest and Fantastic Fest and American Cinematheque, all these people that are, like, working hard to get the movie on the screen. It’s such a daydream to be able to have made this thing over the last two years and then finally people get to see it, that’s a very cool thing. Like all of these amazing actors that acted in the film finally get to have clips for their reel and like, you know, that the universe gets to have something that’s like a fun Christmasy werewolf movie for the holiday season. I don’t know, man, it’s a it depends on what day you ask me, there’s times where I’m like, ‘I wish I had known, I wish I’d known AfterEffects when I was doing that shot, I could stabilize it better. But like that’s it, you put it out, it’s my first studio movie, I’m thrilled. I think it’s also really something I’m feeling the transformative nature of like being transported to this snowy small town, but like it snowed in Colorado last weekend. So there’s going to be snow at the drive that like it’s going to feel like you’re part of that experience. So much of the movie is like in cars and like it’s such a fun movie to watch with a crowd, and I just I’m thrilled for people to be able to engage with it in that way. There’s like such a retro, the movie has this kind of like ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, like retro Orion classic feel to it. And so it’s just fun. I don’t know, it feels like it feels like, you know, John Carpenter, we’re putting Halloween on the big screen again. You know, it feels like that kind of fun, rush of excitement for fandom.”
Written and directed by Jim Cummings, the film follows a small-town sheriff struggling with a failed marriage, a rebellious daughter, and a lackluster department, as he is tasked with solving a series of brutal murders that are occurring on the full moon. As he’s consumed by the hunt for the killer, he struggles to remind himself that there’s no such thing as werewolves.
Alongside Forster, the cast for the film includes Riki Lindhome (Knives Out, Under the Silver Lake), Jimmy Tatro (American Vandal, The King of Staten Island) and Chloe East (Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Next Level).
The trailer for the film includes a new song called “Little Red Riding Hood” from the soundtrack for the film, arranged by Ben Lovett with vocals from Valen. The film is scored by Ben Lovett (composer for The Ritual, The Night House and The Wind). The soundtrack is set to be released by Lakeshore Records.
The Wolf of Snow Hollow is now available in select theaters and on digital platforms and VOD just in time for the Halloween season!