Justin McConnell’s Clapboard Jungle documents five years in the life of an indie filmmaker. The documentary is not only a must-see for the advice from established filmmakers and producers, but also because McConnell takes you along for the rollercoaster ride of emotions involved in getting a project off the ground. You’re with him during his most optimistic moments but he also lets you in on the anxiety-fueled, pit-of-despair nights where nothing seems to be going right and everything is falling apart. A little rough around the edges, as indie films generally are, it’s a warts-and-all look into the life of an independent filmmaker outside of the Hollywood system trying desperately to make a living in an industry where the line between success and failure is paper-thin.
” a warts-and-all look into the life of an independent filmmaker outside of the Hollywood system”
Getting a movie made is nothing short of a miracle. It’s a sentiment you hear every creative share when they really open up about the Hollywood process. Over-development can kill even the greatest of ideas; Brilliant pitches can fall on deaf ears; Financing can fall through at the last minute. There is no shortage of reasons why a movie doesn’t get made, and for every movie you see grace the marquee at your local theatre, hundreds of thousands are sitting on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere collecting dust. Even successful filmmakers aren’t free from this grind. George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park, a film that’s been suffering in Hollywood limbo for 46 years, is only now finally getting the release it deserves!
When we’re first introduced to filmmaker Justin McConnell at the opening of Clapboard Jungle, we learn that he has carved out a small space for himself in the Toronto filmmaking community. He has a few short films and low budget features under his belt, as well as a programming gig with the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Although he feels like he is making a lot of big steps toward his dream job, he has to admit to himself that he doesn’t know as much about the industry as he thinks he does. From there, he sets out to speak with as many filmmakers and creatives as he can to get a better understanding of how movies are made, how to avoid common mistakes, and how to deal with the crushing reality that every day is a struggle when you’re pursuing a life in the arts.
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The real selling feature of Clapboard Jungle are the incredibly honest stories from creatives explaining the challenges of getting the elusive green light. Every single talking head, from Academy Award-winning directors to low-budget local filmmakers, have projects they’ve had to watch die slowly, or scripts they’re still shopping around even after years of having doors closed in their face. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, these war stories can make you feel like your dreams are just as impossible as they’ve always been but it’s important to know the reality of the business you’re trying to break into. You need to remain confident, optimistic, and focused to make any headway but you should also know that things aren’t always going to be applause and accolades. As we see through McConnell’s own experience, you are going to have a lot of days that make you feel like you’re a fraud, a failure, and entirely unqualified.
There is a surprising amount of practical advice throughout Clapboard Jungle but it all comes at you at such a frenzied pace that it’s a little hard to take in. The interview clips fly by, sometimes faster than you can even read the subject’s credits, and it’s all sandwiched around personal stories of McConnell’s own journey in showbiz. McConnell wants you to see where he was 5 years ago, and how the project he was putting all of his time and effort into slowly dissolved and morphed into something else, but it’s also (at times) a story about his weight loss and personal health. Sprinkled in are anecdotes and opinions from interview subjects that move us from one aspect of the film business to another. It’s all a little bit directionless until roughly halfway through when the development and production of Lifechanger becomes the main focus of the film. That said, for a documentary about filmmaking, we skip over a lot of actual filmmaking to make space for tortured confessionals and festival praise for the finished film.
“Clapboard Jungle should be watched by every kid with a camera dreaming of becoming a director”
McConnell’s real interest as a documentarian is the struggle. In a particular crushing moment, we see him elated that he’s finally found financing for his film, only to have it all fall apart in a few short weeks. It’s admirable that McConnell allows us into his world, sharing his raw emotions with us immediately after receiving day-ruining news but some of those moments stand out like sore thumbs against the other interviews. It’s important to McConnell that he show us at his most vulnerable but those moments often appear like video diaries intended for an Instagram story. There’s no denying that Clapboard Jungle should be watched by every kid with a camera dreaming of becoming a director, but I wish McConnell had partnered with a documentarian to shape his footage into something a little more focused.
McConnell’s story is worth sharing, but it could have used another set of eyes to mold it into something as impactful and useful as the footage he managed to get from his peers. Clapboard Jungle is as useful to aspiring filmmakers as any “Hollywood For Dummies” guidebook. It also happens to be one of only a few documentaries brave enough to let you know that moviemaking is going to be stressful and aggravating, and soul-crushing- but that it could also be the most rewarding experience of your entire life, and one worth fighting for with every ounce of your being.
Justin McConnell’s Clapboard Jungle celebrates it’s Quebec Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know what you thought of Clapboard Jungle (and if you’re working on your own indie feature!)over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!
Review: CLAPBOARD JUNGLE (2020)
There's no denying that Clapboard Jungle should be watched by every kid with a camera dreaming of becoming a director, but I wish McConnell had partnered with a documentarian to shape his footage into something a little more focused. McConnell's story is worth sharing, but it could have used another set of eyes to mold it into something as impactful and useful as the footage he managed to get from his peers. Clapboard Jungle is as useful to aspiring filmmakers as any "Hollywood For Dummies" guidebook. It also happens to be one of only a few documentaries brave enough to let you know that moviemaking is going to be stressful and aggravating, and soul-crushing- but that it could also be the most rewarding experience of your entire life, and one worth fighting for with every ounce of your being.