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April 19, 2021

Clapboard Jungle

clapboard jungle.jpg

Justin McConnell - 2021
Arrow Films

Clapboard Jungle should probably be mandatory viewing for anybody with aspirations of being a professional filmmaker. And, yes, it is a jungle out there.

Justin McConnell has documented part of his life, primarily the years between 2015 through 2017. Even with a modest track record of several shorts, a couple of documentaries and one feature, McConnell goes through the frustration of hoping to get financing to make a second feature. This means a concerted effort at networking, going to film marketing events to meet with potential producers, and having seemingly having nothing to show for all of the efforts in selling one's self and one's film. Finally, the modestly budgeted Lifechanger has enough financing in place to allow McConnell to make his film which in turn has an unexpectedly good run on the international film festival circuit, and several distribution deals.

More than just struggling to get the financing, McConnell shows what needs to be in place when in production. We briefly get to see some of the nuts and bolts that are part of the pre-production process, such as casting and scouting locations.

In between are excerpts from other filmmakers, primarily directors and producers, discussing the state of independent filmmaking today. The most familiar names would be Guillermo del Toro and George Romero. There are also actors Sid Haig, Dick Miller and Barbara Crampton. McConnell even puts his own uncertainty about his directorial career in some perspective by having some female directors including Jovanka Vuckovic and Gigi Saul Guerrero discuss the difficulty in being taken seriously. Film programmers also point out what they look for and ways in which film festivals can be helpful.

With the exception of Paul Schrader, everyone else who appears in Clapboard Jungle is associated with genre filmmaking. That should still not mean that the person wanting to be the next John Cassavetes should ignore what can be gleaned here. More likely, the road to making the film made and more importantly, seen, will be even more challenging.

The state of contemporary filmmaking exists in a kind of paradox. With the variety of streaming channels available, there is a demand for content, especially if it can be branded as Netflix has done with films picked up at the major festivals. If there seems to be a glut of horror films available, it has to do with several factors - they can be produced on modest or even micro budgets, they do not depend on name actors, and they are easier to sell. By sales, I mean having the filmmaker sell the concept to the potential financiers who are more likely to hop aboard if you say your film has similarities to an older, successful film, but also has its own unique qualities. As the Thai saying goes, "Same same, but different". And even though there are more films made to fill this insatiable demand by the streamers, it does not always translate as more opportunities for filmmakers who have to deal with producers who want to play it as safe as possible financially. Making a profit is the exception, not the rule, once a film is available to the public.

Even in the short time since McConnell filmed his odyssey, the horror film landscape has changed somewhat. There are more women making horror films, though not all of them have the kind of high profiles that make themselves known on the film festival circuit, or get distribution deals with high end niche distributors. McConnell also does not mention how some filmmakers have made use of crowdfunding, which was used by Ana Lily Amirpour for her debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Mattie Do for Dearest Sister, the first Laotian film to compete for the International Film Oscar. In the meantime, Lifechanger still has a life of its own being available on multiple streaming apps.

Clapboard Jungle is available on the Arrow streaming app by subscription and PVOD via other streaming services.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 19, 2021 06:30 AM