OCT. 17. 2021.
IMAGE CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
The Beta Test is easily one of the year’s best films.
Don’t believe us? Check out our review HERE
Set in sunny California, the film follows a soon-to-be-married Hollywood agent who finds himself sucked into an underworld paved with lies, deceit, and death after receiving a mysterious invite to have an anonymous sexual encounter.
While the story itself is fiction, the reality portrayed - rooted in toxic masculinity and digital extortion - is absolutely plausible. The result is an equally thrilling and hilarious horror film, and that’s only on the surface...
Ahead of the film’s release, our very own Dempsey Pillot was lucky enough to sit down and speak with the co-directors of the film, indie darlings Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe.
Together they chatted about how relevant the film’s themes are today, a new behind-the-scenes documentary about the film also being released with the film, and what’s next for the duo.
You can watch the whole interview down below, and read a full transcribed version of the interview underneath:
DEMPSEY PILLOT: One of my favorite interviews, so far, this year was when I last spoke to you guys.
JIM CUMMINGS: We just saw your name come up and we're like, ‘Oh man, that was such a fun opening.’ PJ and I were doing something weird, and then you came on and you're like, ‘Wow, it's gonna be a weird interview.”
DP: It was so weird after that. I had the weirdest summer because I kept on seeing you guys everywhere. I saw you guys on Dave. And Jim, I just saw you in Halloween. I was like, “These guys are everywhere these days”
JC: So I purposely didn't tell anybody that knew me that I was going to be in Halloween Kills. I like went down secretly to film in North Carolina. And then when it came out, everybody's like, “How are you in this movie? You're ruining this movie! How did you? How did you convince them that you're an actor?” It was really funny.
DP: That's great! Well, I don't want to take away from your movie. So I'll just focus on The Beta Test now. But it really is a pleasure to be speaking with you guys again...Last time we spoke you guys told me you were extremely nervous about following up Lin Manuel Miranda, and In the Heights at Tribeca. but now this is going to be available to the public. So how does that feel?
JC: Oh, it's terrifying. The movie is about us making fun of Hollywood, and now Hollywood is gonna see it. And so yeah, it feels a bit like we've been making jokes behind someone's back in the friend group. And then all of those text messages leaked to that person. It's like, they're gonna find out that we've been making fun of him for the last two years or whatever. So yeah, it's nerve-wracking, but also audiences seem to be laughing hysterically at it. So I think we'll be okay.
PJ McCabe: I guess back and Tribeca,we knew it was such a long time before it was coming out. It would only be like pockets of people - even that was nerve-wracking. But now that it's going just wide everywhere, there's definitely periods where I'm like, ‘Oh, boy, okay. Oh, here we go. Like, we'll just send that out to everybody and see what happens.’ Because it's a weird one. But I mean, I'm glad it finally is because it's time.
DP: Talking about time, this film is extremely timely now. Okay. Hollywood is on fire. Facebook. You know, when I first saw this film, I-we all knew targeted advertising and digital manipulation were things that were going on. But with everything that's been revealed about Meta - Right? We’ve got to be politically correct now - and everything that's happened in Hollywood with that strike that almost happened and the tragic shooting that revealed how awful working conditions are. I mean, do you think that any of those things will affect people's reception of this? If so, how?
JC: You know, I'm glad to hear you say that. I think, really, this has been a long time coming. This kind of populist movement of the workers finally being able to take over the factories, has been happening for the last 30 years, 40 years in the film industry. And only now, because of the internet and the power of connecting people, are they finally saying, ‘I'm not gonna take this anymore,’ and like, ‘This person's getting paid more than I am [but] I'm doing all of the hard work.’ All of that infrastructure that Hollywood was built on is now becoming shaky and collapsing, because of interconnectivity and leaks of data and stuff like that. That is really powerful. It's bringing the power back to the people. So I think although it's been happening over a long period of time, it seems as though it's happening all at once now, with these strikes, and with working conditions on film sets becoming, you know, front page news around the world. That is a shock to me. And it's a good feeling that people are finally talking about these problems.
PM: Yeah, for sure. And it kind of validates [us]. We were right to do this. This is a serious problem. And these suits exist that have to be dealt with, and all these issues are worth talking about. So it's good that it's happening.
JC: When we were writing it, it felt a bit like inside baseball, and we kept on having these feelings of inadequacy of like, ‘Oh, I don't know if this will translate. I don't know if people will watch this film in Sweden, or around the world. Will they care about a writer's strike? Or, the writers fighting back against these cheese-dick people in the film industry? I don't know.’ And so when we started to have the CAA firing half of its staff in the news, or any of these other big shifts in Hollywood, they were mainstream news now. [And] it was like, ‘Oh, this is the movie that we made last year.’ This is crazy that this is happening. So there is a bit of kismet and happenstance, but we called it. I mean, we've been working in this industry for 10 years. We knew that this was gonna happen.
PM: I think it's a lot of industries though, too. I mean, the corporate doublespeak expands in a lot of industries. I mean, people are just leaving their jobs that they've been stuck in because they're sick of dealing with the corporate [nonsense]. You're seeing that it's not just the entertainment industry. I really think it expands. So I don't think it's inside baseball at all. In that regard, I think there's a lot that can be gleaned out of this.
JC: People are sick of having to work with characters like us, around the world.
DP: Now, I wanted to ask this the last time I spoke to you guys..The first time I watched [the film], it was very much a comedy. I enjoyed it as a comedy. But this time, as I said, with everything that's going on,it seemed much more like a horror film. And I know, Jim, your last film dabbled in horror, and even Thunder Road, to some extent is, you know, a kind of a different kind of horror: the horror of grief. But is there something about that genre that fascinates you, or something that you think you can explore in that genre that you don't really get the freedom to in any other [genre]?
JC: It's funny. The different genres of cinema are like different lobes of the brain for audiences. And if you can do all of them in a film, it can be really fulfilling - it feels like you're having a full meal rather than an appetizer or, you know, brain sugar, which is what most movies are when they come out, nowadays. So really, just having the film have horrific elements throughout you're able to wield an audience's attention and their feelings of fear or tension or anything, and it's really fulfilling. [Like the] conductor of the orchestra, to be able to make an audience feel a certain thing when making a film. But we always say that. A film has to have comedy in it. If you don't make jokes throughout your movies, your audiences will. We want to have jokes being made at the expense of the film, and we just do it ourselves throughout the movie. And it's really fulfilling. I think horror is its own unique enterprise where there's such a built-in audience already, but it still functions a bit like comedy, where there's setup and payoff, and there's punch lines, it just happens to be scares, which I'm not surprised Jordan Peele has had such a successful career in horror, because it translates pretty easily to comedy.
DP: That sounds excellent. I'm a jazz fanatic, so I'm looking forward to it. And maybe when that film comes out, I can talk to you about it, too. Who knows?
PM: Yeah, I think they are very related. And also, because comedy helps you deal with horrific elements in life. I mean, it's kind of like some of the best comedians or philosophers. I mean, it's able to help you deal with big existential issues by connecting through comedy because it helps kind of disarm these kinds of scarier, dark elements of life. And so I don't know, it just helps audiences connect, I think, to bigger scary issues.
DP: And I have to ask this. I wasn't gonna ask this before, but I saw within the hour you tweeted something about a BTS documentary? Are you making a documentary about BTS? Or is it a behind-the-scenes [doc]? Do you want to explain? What should we expect?
JC: This is when I reveal that I'm really big into Korean pop music... No. Unfortunately, it is something far more self-serving. It is the behind the scenes documentary of The Beta Test, but PJ and I have been filming it for the last three years, basically. So it shows from the ideation period of when we had the idea for the script, through screenwriting, through production, through post production, through distribution festival circuit, so it is just this amalgamation over a 21 minute span of watching people start the crux of the movie to then finishing it in a way that I don't think has ever been done. So hopefully, the BTS documentary will be this inoculation to the Hollywood lies that you can't make movies by yourself with your friends. And then also inspire more people - young filmmakers - to say, ‘Oh, I can do it too.’
DP: Awesome. Final question. Just because I have to ask this I need to know from my own curiosity. What are you guys working on next? I know you guys are working on something. Can you give me a tease? What genre is it? What kind of characters will we see?
JC: Yes. The screenplay that we're writing right now is a Victorian horror, comedy, buddy-romance film about a gay Republican millionaire, who lives in this big house and gets his college buddy, who happens to be black electrician to install electricity in his house. And it's about them trying to raise the funds to bring the town into the 20th century. And it is a beautiful, hilarious movie.
DP: You guys are working on it together, right?
JC & PM: Yeah.
DP: I'm sold. I'm sold. I don't know how any of those things are gonna work, but I'm very excited because I know you’re going to make them work.
PM: It's like 10 more genres than even Beta combined together.
JC: Yeah, beautiful. You're gonna love it. You're going to love it.
PM: It's the greatest thing we'll ever do. It's gonna be phenomenal. I can't wait for everyone to see it.
DP: I can't wait. Hopefully I can speak to you guys about it when it comes out, but as always it was a pleasure speaking with both of you. Jim, PJ. I wish you the best of luck with the film, and I will continue to do my due diligence and tell everybody I know to go see it.
The Beta Test is now playing in select theatres, but is also available on VOD.