Canadian indie director, Justin McConnell, captures the ups and downs of trying to get his passion project made. His video diary is intercut with interviews from producers, actors and directors who offer up advice and their own tales of getting films made.
Clapboard Jungle is a well put together documentary about the process of getting a film from a script to the fully formed piece the audiences see. Taking place over five years, it covers the struggles of financing, attracting the right talent, the practical effects required to make a good horror — but most importantly how to make a profit from your passion.
The most insightful aspect of the doc is the interviews with a range from other indie filmmakers to big hitters (Guillermo del Toro, Barbara Crampton, George A. Romero and Sid Haig are just some of the names). They don’t just discuss the technical aspects of making a film, they also cover the emotional stamina required to make it in the low-budget film industry.
The film manages to cover a lot in its modest 97-minute runtime without feeling like you’re being hit over the head with information. Perhaps it does gloss over the issues of being a woman in the industry and doesn’t even touch on white-centric casting — but those are bigger subjects for another documentary. Clapboard Jungle is very clearly about McConnell and his journey.
This film is aimed at those looking at entering the industry, offering advice as well as warning of the perils. This beginner’s guide is a bleak and brutal depiction of how hard it is to get the foot in the door. It’s not hard to imagine this being shown in Intro to Film classes in colleges and universities. It is also honest in admitting it’s as much about luck and who you know, rather than how talented you are as a filmmaker.
It’s not all bad news, it shows the community spirit and bonding that comes from those who are all working towards the same goal. Even if you don’t make it, you’ll have a great time, meet some great people and become really good at karaoke.
Clapboard Jungle does suffer from being self-indulgent. There are too many zoomed in shots of McConnell, stressed, anxious and often disappointed. There are selfies of him asleep on the plane, shots of him in airport lounges and answering emails on his computer. It is hardly thrilling stuff.
When the progressive things do happen in the film, they are skipped over. At times, McConnell seems to want to wallow in the bad days more than celebrate the good days. There are certain parts of the journey that are repeated and dived into, whilst others like the process of getting into a festival or the audience feedback process are skipped over. The film is as much a catharsis for the director as a lesson for wannabe filmmakers.
Clapboard Jungle is a fantastic guide to becoming an indie filmmaker. It’s honest in discussing the harsh truths of the sometimes-surreal industry. While it’s targeted towards horror filmmakers, these lessons apply to indie filmmaker in general, and even sometimes to other creative films.
The message to take away from Clapboard Jungle is that you should never give up. Even the biggest names in the industry have struggled to get their names out there. McConnell himself sums up the message of the film; there is no endpoint, there is just a ladder with endless rungs.
Clapboard Jungle is streaming on Arrow in the US and UK now
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy