The stories of people like Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino made a generation of aspiring filmmakers think that hitting the big time was going to be a cinch. In truth, making a movie has gotten easier technology-wise but making money off that movie has become exponentially harder. Director Justin McConnell (Skull World, Lifechanger) details how he learned this first-hand in the documentary Clapboard Jungle, which screened at the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. This is essential viewing for anyone considering making an independent movie.
McConnell alternates between two different things. Half the picture is autobiographical, detailing his efforts over a five-year period to get several different productions up and running. He travels to film markets, meets with investors, and so on. Just when it seems he's getting ahead, some roadblock forces him to put the project on the back-burner and move on to something else. (He eventually gets Lifechanger off the ground.) The process of hitting so many walls is, however, a learning opportunity. McConnell is continually networking and looking for ways to climb over those walls.
The other half of Clapboard Jungle features some of the biggest, most prominent names in genre filmmaking offering commentary on the intricacies of financing/making/selling an independent movie. Among the interview subjects are Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, actress Barbara Crampton, Troma leader Lloyd Kaufman, and an assortment of producers whose work you'll recognize. What they talk about corresponds to where McConnell is in his personal story. By structuring the documentary that way, he's assembled what is essentially a step-by-step primer on what you need to know – or, more accurately, be prepared for – in order to navigate the world outside the studio system.
As someone on the fringes of that world, I learned things I didn't know about how indie filmmakers, especially those working in genres such as horror, get their pictures made. So much useful information is presented that the running time zips right by. McConnell's footage of film markets and festivals is entertaining, and the way the documentary presents complex material is easy to follow. The interviewees are well-chosen, offering a variety of knowledgeable viewpoints.
Clapboard Jungle will captivate anyone with even the slightest interest in how independent filmmaking works behind the scenes.
Clapboard Jungle is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.