Filmmaker Writes Open Letter to Bruce Springsteen, Asks for Music Rights — And It Works

Director's Jim Cummings' Sundance-winning short "Thunder Road" will be available on Vimeo in the next two weeks.

"Thunder Road"

“Thunder Road”

courtesy of Jim Cummings

The letter worked.

Earlier this week Jim Cummings wrote a widely circulated open letter to Bruce Springsteen asking the musician for rights to “Thunder Road” so that he could make his Sundance award-winning short by the same name available for free on Vimeo. Cummings has just told Indiewire that he heard from representatives of Sony music, Springsteen’s label, and that he has been granted the digital rights to Bruce Springsteen’s classic track.

Terms of the deal are being kept under wraps, but Cummings told Indiewire that he plans to put the film online in the next couple of weeks. Cummings had already paid $7,000 for the theatrical and festival rights to the song, but had been stymied by a $50,000 price tag for a year of digital rights.  Frustrated by his inability to make his case directly to Springsteen for the last few months, he took to the internet.

 

Jim Cummings

Jim Cummings

courtesy of filmmaker

“I understand that artists need to get paid for their work and I’m willing to pay more on top of the $7,000 I’ve already spent,” Cummings told Indiewire in an interview earlier in the week. “I just want to put my film on the internet for people to see for free and I really believe if Springsteen knew of my situation he wouldn’t be asking for tens of thousands.”

Springsteen’s classic track isn’t just a song that plays during Cumming’s short. As the film’s title indicates, the song is baked into the movie. The short tells the story of cop (played by Cummings) who, while eulogizing his mother, is so overcome with emotion and unable to find the right words that he plays her favorite song, while dramatically performing and singing along with the Springsteen recording.

The film has put the filmmaker on Hollywood’s radar. After winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Cummings signed with WME and landed a $150,000 deal to make six more one-shot shorts for Full Screen. After winning Sundance, Cummings brought his film to SXSW, but the music-focused fest demanded Cummings first get the festival rights to “Thunder Road.” 

“I wasn’t expecting to get into Sundance, let alone win,” Cummings said. “This was something I was planning on throwing on Vimeo and I’d fly under the radar. We’ve done stuff in the past and used big songs, so I never thought I’d need the rights.”

 

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Comments

Greg Runnels

I had a similar situation happen to me. I wanted to use “Hoist that Rag” by Tom Waits for my animated short film “Breakfast With Bukowski.” I wrote him a personal letter, he asked to see the short and wound up giving me the song for $400.

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