REVIEW: Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business (FrightFest 2020)
Plot synopsis: ‘Following five years in the life and career of independent filmmaker Justin McConnell, this documentary aims to understand the struggles of financing, attracting the right talent, working with practical effects and selling the finished product in the hope of turning a profit. Interviewing everyone from Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Schrader, Dick Miller, Mick Garris, Tom Holland, Sid Haig and a host of other genre luminaries, 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.’
If film festivals have proven anything, it’s that I love documentaries a lot more than narrative features right now, and particularly when the focus of those documentaries is about filmmaking itself. These documentaries are able to provide you with valuable and enriching insight into how films are produced, developed and eventually distributed, and for anyone who is a fan of films, this is fascinating subject matter.
Generally speaking, watching documentaries has become a big priority of mine, giving me an appreciation of life beyond my four walls, and giving a glimpse at how certain events have changed the face of the planet as we know it. I am particularly fascinated in seeking out docs that explore subject matter well outside of my comfort zone.
With all that being said, it is nice to watch a documentary that you can really relate to on an emotional and intellectual level, due to having some experience in the same artistic field. Appearing on this year’s FrightFest billing, Clapboard Jungle is framed as a survival guide, detailing how to succeed in the competitive and cutthroat independent film business. I may not have actually picked up a camera and started shooting just yet, but I have however previously taken an intensive two day masterclass in Guerilla filmmaking, which gave me some idea how the business side of making your own movie works.
The film covers many things I was familiar with from my masterclass, such as learning how to make a feature on a micro-budget, and exploring the process of filmmaking from conception of an idea through to production and distribution. For anyone who has even a passing interest in making films, or what this process involves, this wonderful documentary does an amazing job of unpacking what a gruelling, and yet rewarding process this is. We see the story unravel through the eyes of director Justin McConnell as he embarks on a five year journey (from 2014 to 2019), as he fights with sheer determination to finally get his big break as an independent filmmaker.
Additionally, the film is also loaded with interviews from many directors, actors, producers, screenwriters and FX artists who have been working in this competitive industry for many years, as they offer tips and advice on the pitfalls you should be avoiding when working independently in film. These include words of wisdom from Guillermo Del Toro, Michael Biehn and the late great George A. Romero, to name just a few.
The advice also spans beyond filmmaking, with one interviewee stating the importance of clearing off as much debt as you can first, with the goal then being that you can fund as much of the process yourself, and getting out there to start making movies. Whether saving to make a movie, or just saving for the future and security, this is pretty sound advice whatever way you look at it, and definitely something I could relate to at the moment.
The thing this documentary captures so well, is that there is something so wonderfully uplifting about seeing a relatively unknown filmmaker trying to make it in this industry. Inevitably, he comes up against one problem after another, feeling like he is banging his head against a brick wall, but yet with sheer will and determination and five years of hard work, he actually gets to see his finished movie being screened at prestigious international film festivals like Cannes and TIFF. It’s something that is incredibly inspirational to me as it paints a truly honest picture about the rewards that can come from hard work. Wherever you might be at in your journey, it is inspiring to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’re interested in any aspect of making movies, then look no further than this wonderful documentary; easily my favourite film of the festival this year and one which I would highly recommend.