My notes on Clapboard Jungle, which has screened/streamed at FrightFest.
Canadian filmmaker Justin McConnell made Lifechanger (2018) – which was well-liked on the genre festival circuit and, while not exactly a breakout hit, stands as a solid credit. In this autobiographical essay documentary, he’s slightly embarrassed by his earlier, microbudgeted apocalypse movie The Collapsed (2011), but it got distributed widely enough for me to have seen it – and, as McConnell laments, plenty of people to have shitposted it online. Yet this isn’t the inspirational story of someone sticking to their dream vision and triumphing over all odds. This is about the actual grind – all the stuff that has nothing to do with actually making a movie but which anyone who wants to be a filmmaker has to go through.
It takes an unusual, interesting approach to chronicling life inside the independent genre film scene which makes it a valuable counterpart to the more upbeat The Horror Crowd (Mike Mendez is interviewed in both). Shot over five years, it chronicles the frustrating time spent on projects that don’t get financed, greenlights that wink out just before production, endless travel, and sales or script development events which (as McConnell’s writing partner Serena Whitney puts it) are like speed-dating with production companies and finance folks.
McConnell, who admits to struggling with despair (and his weight) during years of various industry gigs, has an upbeat punchline in that Lifechanger turned out well and was well-received … but there’s a sense that many, many others in his position are having an even tougher time, toiling on films that never get made, or having a bad time on projects that get strangled in production.
Even the elder statesmen interviewed here – Guillermo del Toro, Paul Schrader, George Romero, Larry Cohen, Lloyd Kaufman – have as many tales of woe as of vindication, though there’s an obvious emphasis on people who’ve got further in their chosen career than, say, the subjects of the documentary American Movie. It might have been interesting to hear from some of the Justin McConnells whose Lifechangers never happened – or the folks who got one movie together then did something else with the rest of their lives. This is inspirational because it ends with a montage of happy festival screenings … but McConnell’s long-in-the-development unmade projects – a vampire movie called The Eternal and an adaptation of Douglas Borton’s 1980s paperback The Mark of Kane — haunt Clapboard Jungle.
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