Clapboard Jungle is a fascinating insight into the world of independent filmmaking set primarily in the horror community. The film is directed by and “stars” Justin McConnell, who is a no-name horror filmmaker. He clearly loves film more than anything, but through various factors hasn’t been able to get that next step up. The documentary walks a thin line between navel-gazing self-indulgence and useful tale about the pitfalls of independent filmmaking.
The film was shot over five years as McConnell attempts and often fails to get his indie horror projects off the ground. Part of the problem is an oversaturated marketplace with financiers who lack confidence, but to some extent he is his own worst enemy. The projects McConnell is shown seeking to make are ones that I have to admit I wouldn’t finance if I was loaded, and he doesn’t have any real track record. Announcing casting before the money is in place is such an obvious no-no that he comes off as unprofessional when he does it.
However, Clapboard Jungle also shows that McConnell matures as the film goes along, and by the end things seem to be going up for him. The acclaim that has greeted this documentary might mean that his decision to make this film is the wisest career move of his life so far. He’s had a lot more attention for his other projects as a result.
It’s a revealing look into the world of independent filmmaking. The big turning point is when McConnell goes to a couple of different marketplaces to attract investors to the project, and you see how key that whole process really is, especially for someone working on a low-budget feature who can’t raise the money themselves. It’s shown how important international pre-sales still are as well, and also the importance of festivals, especially for genre movies. At this point, unless you are released by a major genre house or a big studio, that is your theatrical run. You might get an LA and New York release, but it will be mainly a festival run, hoping that at some point you will be picked up for distribution. For the level of filmmaker that McConnell is, it will be almost exclusively digital releases at this moment in his career.
The story goes into how making short films can be completely useless on the one hand, yet useful on the other. McConnell’s day job is doing special features for companies (including Arrow), so he’s not a super-wealthy guy, just someone who makes a living. But he spends five grand of his own money to make a decent-looking short that plays some festivals and gets an OK reaction. There’s a little bit of interest, but it doesn’t go anywhere for him. He just needed to make something new to attract the funding he needed for his bigger projects.
We also see McConnell get thrown off one of his projects, Mark of Kane, because they were interested in making the film, but not in him as a director. That was going to be his big movie… Then he goes on make a film called Lifechanger, which to be honest looks shit.
The documentary intersperses McConnell’s filmmaking story and interviews with tons of notable filmmakers, from Guillermo Del Toro, George A. Romero and Mick Garris to Paul Schrader and fellow Canadian Vincenzo Natali. The long production timeline explains why people like Larry Cohen and Romero feature in the film, both of whom have since passed on. The interviews are OK—it’s basically all of them talking about making films and the process of filmmaking.
McConnell clearly has passion, and seems competent enough. There are some technical issues with the sound, but that’s to be expected in a documentary, especially one that’s being made alongside other things. I could have done without some of the video diary scenes, but that’s a documentary style thing, I get it. He’s working on a much lower budget than most of the people I know in the industry, but from what I hear, it paints a quite accurate picture.
The release from Arrow Video is absolutely loaded with tons of extended interviews with all the main interviewees, plus deleted scenes, director’s commentary, other documentaries from McConnell and a host of his short films, along with much more. Brian Yuzna supplies an essay for the booklet in the first pressing. Richard Stanley is in the film and also on the extras, including being a participant on one of the commentary tracks. McConnell has already distanced himself from Stanley after horrific accusations against the director came to public awareness, and Arrow has cancelled its planned releases of Hardware and Dust Devil. Arrow also removed Stanley from the Blu-Ray cover after the initial first print run ran out.
Alternatively it’s streaming from the 19th of April on the Arrow Player.