It is a relatively well known fact that trying to break into the film industry can be a stressful and painful long-term tour of the nine circles of hell. Any independent filmmaker will tell you that everything from funding to marketing, and everything in between, will be an abject lesson in beating your head against a wall in as much as sometimes it’s only good once you stop.
To get a film made is a true labour of love and you’ve got to really want to get your creations out there to go through the purgatory that is the independent movie landscape. It’s a lifestyle that so many people over the history of cinema have chosen, and it’s a lifestyle that has beaten the love of cinema from enough of those people to make the creation of a documentary like this a necessary public service.
Clapboard Jungle documents horror filmmaker Justin McConnell’s journey across half a decade to get his film – the excellent Lifechanger – made. Split more or less evenly between McConnell recording himself in various stages of the process, from writing to getting onto the festival circuit, and talking head interviews with filmmakers about the perils of the industry, it’s a 98 minute rollercoaster that gives a warts-and-all look at the effort it can take to not only get your foot in the door of the film industry, but to keep it there long enough to actually do something meaningful.
As we follow the director through his film, we see the brutal toll that the stress of finding the money for a passion project can take on a person’s mental health. It’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the toil filmmakers have to go through as they take meeting after meeting with investors in markets and sales fairs across the world. For those not living on the inside track of such a soul-sucking industry, Clapboard Jungle acts as both roadmap and warning to inspiring filmmakers wanting to be the next Steven Spielberg.
The half of this film that isn’t Justin McConnell pouring his heart out into the camera is a revolving door of some of the greatest names to grace the independent horror film scene over the last few decades. The biggest parts of most of these documentaries tends to be the filmmakers pulling in the biggest names they can get their hands on and putting them in front of the camera to talk about their experiences with whatever the film happens to be about.
These are the segments that can make or break a documentary, with creators putting the biggest names front and centre when they have very little to say and only really being used as trailer fodder. Thankfully, Clapboard Jungle mostly sidesteps this particular landmine. While the interview with The Shape of Water director Guillermo Del Toro is a pretty egregious example of this particular practice, the insights he brings to the conversation are still worth listening to.
As McConnell rolls a steady stream of faces that will be relatively well known to lovers of a certain type of low-budget horror flick, the biggest complaint to be made about Clapboard Jungle is that the names and filmographies of the people bestowing their advice flies by far too quickly for an unfamiliar viewer. While, for example, Steven Kostanski has become a familiar name over the last few years with his films like The Void and Psycho Goreman, if you need a second or two to note down these films or take a mental note to look him up later, these names flash and go far too fast. Great filmmakers like Gigi Saul Guerrero and producers like Travis Stevens have their names and select choices from their IMDB pages floated upon screen just long enough for you to realise you’re reading it before it’s gone.
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But with frank and forthright talks with names like Barbera Crampton, Jenn Wexler and Heather Buckley, there’s a sea of voices here that wouldn’t usually get to tell their stories and warn of the pitfalls they’ve been through without a film like this. It’s a candid look at just how brutal and unforgiving the independent market can be and will be on the shelves for future filmmakers to learn from for years to come.
Arrow, as always, has put together a splendid selection of extras to go with this Blu-ray release, starting with full versions of McConnell’s previous documentaries. The funny and interesting Skull World, the film that documented two years in the life of cardboard combat enthusiast Greg Summer, and a film that looks at life getting onto a record label in Working Class Rock Star. Both are excellent films that put the passion for their chosen subjects right there on the screen for all to share.
As well as commentaries from Justin McConnell himself and a panel from a few of the talking heads featured in the film, Clapboard Jungle’s features also include around five hours of additional interviews with many of the stars of the film. As the stories they tell are extended out and more detail is brought to their insider knowledge, the extended interviews are here for those who are desperate to hear more and simply can’t get enough of the stars featured in the film’s original two hours. All are excellent, all are informative, but in an ironic twist for this film, not everything you film gets into your final cut.
Clapboard Jungle is out on Special Edition Blu-ray on 12th April from Arrow Video.