Making a film has possibly never been easier, hell people are making them on iPhones now, selling and getting that film distributed, however? Well, that is a different kettle of fish that Justin McConnell navigates his audience through in his engrossing documentary Clapboard Jungle.
Navigating the current film business is more complicated than ever before. Rapidly changing technology and an overcrowded marketplace have led to an industry in which anyone can now make a film, but few can make a living. Following five years in the life and career of independent filmmaker Justin McConnell, this documentary explores the struggles of financing, attracting the right talent, working with practical effects and selling the finished product in the hope of turning a profit. Featuring interviews with a range of industry luminaries – including Guillermo del Toro, Barbara Crampton, Mick Garris, Tom Holland and George A. Romero, alongside a host of others – not only are technical aspects and interpersonal skills discussed but also the emotional stamina and little-known tips needed to survive in the low budget film industry.
Justin McConnell’s engaging documentary succeeds where other documentaries about breaking into the film industry falter. Clapboard Jungle is a guide about the avenues into the industry as it is a detailed look at one man’s determined dream of making his dream come true. By adding in Justin’s own personal trial and tribulations regarding his own career, we can have a solid base to see the effectiveness of the advice presented by our esteemed talking heads.
Wisely McConnell provides his audience with a rough linear narrative to invest us with. We start off McConnell talking up his career thus far, and we see the difficulties that even if you have made a feature film, how hard it is to get going with a second in an already packed industry. From there, we see several other projects that he has going and states the difficulties of finding the interest of his premises. While scripts are written, a keynote is that no matter what, you should always be creating, be it always writing, or if you are a director, always making. The point to keep moving forward is strong and continually mentioned.
As Justin details each aspect of the process of making a film. Be it the importance of networking after writing that script, as he travels around North America and Europe trying to find an in with someone, anyone can help him progress. Or as he moves towards the actual production of a film (with some cute editing cuts during the editing discussion), we see the stages and cannot help but be exhausted for him.
At times Clapboard Jungle is headache-inducing with the amount of information and advice thrown at you within the first 20 minutes, but that is exactly the point. The sheer volume thrown towards Justin McConnell and the audience about what to do to get your film made is overwhelming, and at times, you never quite know which direction you are going in. This is only in the first 20 minutes when McConnell talks to producers and distribution companies. It is hard to fathom just how complex this industry is and as more experienced talking heads state, this world is nothing like what it used to be.
At times, what is discussed here can isolate those who have no familiarity with what everyone is talking about. Particularly in the opening half an hour as the entire financial aspect is quite heavily spoken about. Yet, it has to talk about these moments to allow itself to stretch its legs later on. By doing all of the heavy liftings early on, we can be more comfortable as we get more into the actual filmmaking side and its difficulties.
What resonates the most throughout Clapboard Jungle is that the bevvy of talking heads and advice is how positive they are. They offer this advice because they want people to succeed with their dream movie; they want them to have a wonderful career full of wonderful films. The welcoming atmosphere allows us to settle as cynicism is removed from the piece. Even when McConnell becomes frustrated with the lack of progress with his career and, importantly, his projects, talking heads explain why these hurdles are put up in his way and what should be done to try and jump over them.
Never do they suggest giving up. They give examples of going down other avenues. If they are given advice that the writer or filmmaker may not like, there is more likely than not good intent with that production company or distributor are suggesting. McConnell has given us a documentary that often feels like a warm arm around the shoulder full of positivity to get you that extra inch down the line to getting your film made.
A small struggle is that we are given such a short time with everyone who provides their expertise to McConnell that you are desperate to hear what they have to say. Obviously, McConnell has to limit how long his film should be, but there is a feeling that there is most likely an absurd amount of material out there that can be used. Would I watch a four-hour version of this ala the In Search of the Darkness documentaries? You are damn right, there has to be so much footage not used, and with a capable helmer such as McConnell, this one could easily stretch out and keep our interest.
Clapboard Jungle becomes a treasure trove for young (and old) filmmakers who want to go out there and make their film. If you have a story in you, why not make it? For those who want to, this is the documentary you need to watch.
Clapboard Jungle is available now on Arrow Player.
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