It has never been so easy to make or distribute film, with digital technology, home software and the global village allowing collaborators to connect and create works that can potentially compete with major studio projects; the flipside, regrettably, as expressed by writer and director Paul Schrader in the documentary Clapboard Jungle is the resulting “tsunami of product” which overwhelms programmers and streaming platforms: it is not quality which wins but who can shout the loudest.
An ambitious and hopeful filmmaker attempting to raise finance for the screenplays he has written, The Eternal, linked with Michael Biehn, Tripped, proposed for Michael Eklund, and Son of Kane, an adaptation of a novel by Douglas Borton, in May 2014 Justin McConnell began a video diary of his struggles to secure a foothold in the film industry, a steep and painful learning curve with important lessons imparted by many who have climbed the ladder before him.
Guillermo del Toro talking of his frustration with the language of “content and pipelines”, films discussed as though they were sewage or oil, he is sympathetic of the frustration of an independent filmmaker with few contacts in the business or financial resources, counselling that “the lost causes are the ones worth fighting for,” Larry Fessenden similarly mourning the “graveyard of sad, beautiful movies that lived in my mind.”
McConnell’s ambition at times seeming greater than his talent, producer Jenn Wexler offers a quick win with her suggestion of a “look book” to accompany prospective script submissions to create immediate visual appeal, but his inflexibility is an obstacle: offered a chance to sell a script he has been pitching for years, he refuses unless he can also direct, wrongly believing a better offer might be forthcoming.
The desire to retain control is understandable and McConnell’s disappointment is palpable, but the opportunity to turn an idea into cash and gain an additional credit on a film while someone else sweated the details should have at least been considered, nor does his determination to focus on features which he can’t get made help his stalled career while others are pushing ahead with more easily financed short films which open doors and reach audiences.
Released on Blu-ray by Arrow, Clapboard Jungle is crammed with hours of additional interview material from the more experienced contributors, informed, insightful and entertaining, filled with both advice and warnings about the industry, and a perhaps overly generous selection of McConnell’s earlier work, but best of all it has a happy ending with the aptly named Lifechanger, written and directed by McConnell, premiered in Montreal and screened at horror events across the world before a sold out performance at his hometown festival, Toronto After Dark.