Clapboard Jungle provides a frank and sobering perspective of the modern film industry, though it will not appeal to everyone.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but whenever I brought up my desire to pursue art as a career with my parents, I was often met with a side-eye glance of skepticism and worry accompanied with a variation of the phrase, “You know it’s really hard to make a living at [insert anything that isn’t a corporate office job here].” And of course that’s true: though making a living at just about anything nowadays seems to have become increasingly difficult, it’s particularly tough in artistic industries. But it’s not necessarily difficult in the ways you expect it to be difficult. Guillermo Del Toro articulates this struggle well during the opening minutes of Clapboard Jungle: “Making movies is beautiful. Prepping them, raising the money, selling them is horrible. And I think I can make movies the rest of my life. Selling them, you grow impatient; you see it for what it is more and more with every year.”
Clapboard Jungle is a documentary following Canadian filmmaker Justin McConnell’s multi-year journey to procure funding for a film project. Along the way, there are interviews with several directors, producers, and other prominent figures in the film industry, all of whom discuss the decidedly unglamorous and not fun world of business that goes on behind the scenes of every movie that is released.
Clapboard Jungle would be a great documentary for any current and prospective filmmaking students to view. It is blunt and open in its messaging regarding the brutal business side of modern independent filmmaking. It discusses how finding funding for a project can take years, or even longer if you’re not an established name. It addresses how just because a project is greenlit doesn’t mean that the rug can’t be pulled out from under you at any time, leaving a project in indefinite development hell. It challenges you to think about the hundreds, if not thousands, of movies NOT getting made, either due to lack of funding, or because of gatekeepers at production companies deciding which few of the hundreds of potential films on their desk they can afford to produce. We get to see Justin’s journey over the course of about five or six years from the genesis of an idea to finally seeing it realized; about half of that time is just spent searching for funding.
Now, you may be looking at this description of the film and thinking to yourself, “Gee, that sure is a lot of focus on the nitty gritty nuts and bolts of the film business.” To that I would answer, “Yeah, that’s kind of the point of the movie.” Clapboard Jungle is an in-depth look at filmmaking, but not the parts of filmmaking you may be expecting to see. Instead of focusing on how cool special effects are done or actors’ processes of finding their character, Clapboard Jungle mostly focuses on the business end of filmmaking.
To the film’s credit, it’s a topic we don’t see explored very often, and I personally found it to be a very educational watch. That being said, I can absolutely see how someone who isn’t curious about that side of films and filmmaking (or is uninterested in anything that has to do with business) may find it dull. Heck, I am interested in this kind of thing, and I found a few parts of the movie to be a bit dry. Also, a lot of the movie revolves around the frustrations, rejections, and failures that pile up while trying to even get a movie made at all, let alone release and promote it. While it’s not without its little victories here and there, I can understand if you want something a little lighter in tone given the past year we’ve all had.
For every Steven Spielberg there are hundreds of Justin McConnells, and thousands more struggling to get to where Justin is in his career. Clapboard Jungle is an acknowledgement of independent and non-A-list filmmakers doing their best to get their art out into the world, despite the thousands of other artists fighting for a slice of the same pie. There’s definitely an audience for Clapboard Jungle, but it is not going to be for everyone. If what I described doesn’t sound like your thing, then you’re probably right. But if you’re a filmmaker or just a film nut, this is mandatory watching; not as a means of scaring you away from chasing your dream, but as a way to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Clapboard Jungle will be released on January 19, 2021 in the US and Canada, where it will be available to watch via Kamikaze Dogfight/Gravitas and Indiecan Entertainment. The film will be available in UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand via Arrow Films in Spring 2021.