Clapboard Jungle

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Clapboard Jungle
"Some of the participants are incredibly generous with their time and advice, and overall there is a welcoming atmosphere, and excitement at the prospect of engaging with new filmmakers." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Have you ever considered making a film of your own? From a technical point of view it has never been easier, but because of that there’s more competition than ever before. Finding your feet in the industry is still incredibly difficult, never mind building a successful career. What do you need to know before you give it a try?

Every few years a documentary like this comes along, attempting to guide beginners who have their hearts set on filmmaking careers. Every few years, indeed, a new one is needed, because they go out of date fast. Justin McConnell's is a rare example because, unlike the bulk of them, it doesn't feel like a vanity project. McConnell is not under the impression that he's an expert with infinite knowledge to impart, but he does have a thorough understanding of the early stages of building a filmmaking career. He uses one of his own projects, Lifechanger, to provide some examples and lend narrative structure to the film, but where he lacks knowledge he looks to other filmmakers to share their expertise.

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The sheer number of filmmakers who have been willing to do so is remarkable, and also makes this film stand out among similar works. Recorded over a number of years, it includes the late George Romero, generous as ever with his advice, whilst other big names include Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Biehn, Frank Hennenlotter, Brian Yuzna and Larry Fessenden. If you're noticing that this skews towards genre filmmakers, that's because McConnell comes from that background, but the advice they give is, for the most part, applicable to any sector of the industry. The genre aspect simply adds another layer of interest for fans like those at Fantasia 2020 and Frightfest 2020, where the film is screening.

Rather than trying to plough through everything in order, which could be very confusing, McConnell retains some flexibility, breaking with his mostly linear structure where necessary in order to look at the process topic by topic. Some of the participants are incredibly generous with their time and advice, and overall there is a welcoming atmosphere, and excitement at the prospect of engaging with new filmmakers, which is likely to be encouraging for those just taking their first steps. Viewers who have no filmmaking ambitions will find it an interesting, though by no means exhaustive, account of how the industry works. Nothing here is sugar-coated - it's a tough business - but McConnell's approach is practical and pragmatic.

An eight part series to accompany this film is on its way, going into more depth on key topics. This is the condensed version, but it contains unique material, and it's a valuable guide for new filmmakers on its own.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2020
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Following five years in the life and career of an independent filmmaker, supported by dozens of interviews, posing one question: how does an indie filmmaker survive in the current film business?


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