Justin McConnell’s The Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business is an eye-opening and informative documentary all about the rough road countless artists travel on to get films made and seen by audiences. For making a movie is just half the battle.
We’ve long known movie making is a brutal, cynical, exploitative business run by those who care more for dollars signs than art and craft. McConnell is a director on the lowest rung of the industry ladder and his account of the trials and tribulations suffered in getting the chance to make his second feature, Lifechanger (2018), is likely something all aspiring filmmakers who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds should watch. It will immediately dispel your naivety and bring you crashing down to earth with a bump.
Shot over the space of five years, McDonnell’s raw and honest account of what it’s like to make low budget films in the 21st century takes away the magic of the movies and replaces it with cold reality. He knows his dream of making a career for himself as a horror film director is a long shot, but he’s also making films in a rapidly changing age, where old models of business are out and the new ones are occasionally nebulous and perplexing to navigate.
Time and time again, producers and directors interviewed – featuring an impressive roster including Guillermo del Toro – mention there are arguably too many movies being made and once you have a film in the can, the next giant step is to secure distribution and international sales. And these options are increasingly dwindling, as trips to Montreal’s Fantasia Fest and Cannes markets reveal. Sales agents are taking fewer and fewer chances. That’s why film festivals have become so important to filmmakers. Oftentimes, it’s the only place their work will ever be shown to the public. Yet streaming services have equally become vital in securing distribution and eyeballs.
From flaky business types roaring with enthusiasm one minute and the next refusing to come up with the dough when it’s time to get serious, to detailing the absolute daily grind of attending hundreds of meetings – all the while having to work for a living – film-making at this level is nothing but a series of chronic disappointments, a cavalcade of misery. But hope is indeed infectious, perseverance can pay off, and McConnell’s story ends in well-deserved triumph. By this point, as he winningly says, he doesn’t care what critics write. He got to make his movie.
FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio