Written by Justin McConnell.

“I hate to be bored.” This sentence is one I speak whenever I try to self-deprecatingly attempt to justify why I have so many projects on the go at once. Or whenever someone asks why I decided to make a given piece of visual media, despite rarely having the proper resources to pull it off. For the relatively few aware of my career, one littered with features and shorts produced out-of-pocket, where the key resource was time, a somewhat common refrain I hear is, "Imagine what you could do with a budget!"

It was in this same "just get something made" spirit that I set out to start producing my new documentary Clapboard Jungle, all the way back in 2014. Back then, I came to the realization that the development of my various narrative projects was going to take time, likely a lot of time, and cooked up a way to start producing something in the meantime. Something I could create on the periphery, with the goal of having a finished release down the line. A film I could make on metaphorical table scraps while the other projects simmered.

I came from the DIY school of filmmaking out of necessity first, and for many years lamented this fact. While chasing something as elusive as serious financing for enough years without ever obtaining it, you begin to fill yourself with self-doubt and can let yourself get a little jaded with the "business" side of the business. I began thinking “maybe I’m not good enough,” or “maybe I don’t know enough,” and I began to suspect others thought the same. In some cases, I was probably right in these assessments, but that hasn’t stopped me from pushing forward. I worked to become good enough, to know enough. I keep working at that, but now I do so to appease my harshest critic: myself.

Au1isa5gDirector Justin McConnell on set.

As you may have guessed, years of making indie films have filled me with a degree of imposter syndrome. I’m sure I’m far from alone in that sentiment. An independent filmmaker working today is in a system of insane levels of oversaturation, yet seemingly more opportunity than ever before. With the rise of countless streaming platforms producing content at varying budget levels, "overnight success stories" seem to pop up all the time now, yet the chances of getting someone to watch your little indie film when you are in an endless ocean of content is relatively low if you didn’t produce an overt hit. It can feel like an arms race at times, and if you don’t approach the current environment from a healthy perspective, you can fall into a level of despair by thinking the "grass is greener" for some of your contemporaries.

This is an argument for the DIY approach, a message for those who need to hear it: in the modern indie film landscape, your story and plan are far more important than the resources you have at your disposal.

On one hand, you should absolutely still learn the ropes of the business, and attempt to get your projects made at the budgets you need to do the ideas justice. On the other hand, this approach can be long, difficult, and ultimately fruitless. There’s real value to continuing to create in the meantime. Whether that’s short films, YouTube videos, or "out of pocket" feature films, it does you no good to sit and wait for the big one to come.

Vmm94wsgShoot on what you've got.

I’ve been making feature films now for 21 years (if you count the one I made in high school), and Clapboard Jungle is my seventh feature. It took until my sixth feature, the horror film Lifechanger, to have outside investors come to the table and allow me to produce something with the level of polish that money allowed us (which was still likely the budget equivalent of a week of catering on a Mission: Impossible film). Had I not taken the DIY approach with my career and waited until that point, Lifechanger would have been my first feature, but in reality, it likely wouldn’t have existed at all. That past work fed the path that led to people trusting me with any sort of investment at all. Without the years of self-generating projects and time put in learning about how the business operated, that film would not have happened. Nor, do I think, would Clapboard Jungle exist.

It may happen faster for you. It may happen slower. You may blow up and get a chance to direct a big Hollywood tentpole. You may create in relative obscurity to only have your work appreciated decades later. What is true for one person will not be true for others, and opportunities vary depending on too many factors to name. But one thing I know for sure is the best way to ruin your own career is by not constantly trying to make things happen, and waiting for the business to come to you. So whatever it is you do in film: write, direct, produce, or any job in between, as long as you put everything you’ve got into the art form itself, at the very least you will never be able to say you didn’t try.

3eeifu4gWorking on set with actors.

The technology to produce visual media and film has never been cheaper, and although you may not be able to create the giant vision in your head on mere pocket change, you can create something. YouTube creators have built careers from their homes with the most basic camera gear, teenagers on TikTok are doing inventive things with visual-storytelling and editing unseen in the history of the medium, and filmmakers from all walks of life from countries worldwide are creating material on sheer will and ingenuity alone. I spent five years of my life shooting a documentary in my spare time with cheap gear, and now it’s coming out on a special edition Blu-ray via Arrow Video, played a ton of top genre festivals, and has received distribution all over the world. Not having the means is no longer an excuse to not create. If you can afford a smartphone, chances are you can make a film of some kind.


Even after all I’ve produced so far, and all I’ve had released, I make no illusions about my position in this business in relative terms. I’m aware that I’m basically a nobody when seen through the lens of the top level of the industry. Most of the people reading this, if they were truly honest with themselves, would probably say the same about their own careers. There’s freedom in that realization, I believe. It means you really don’t have to prove yourself to anyone but yourself. It means you have the freedom to truly create something that isn’t beholden to anyone but yourself. Yes, it’s important to think about the market and how you’re going to sell something, but then also realize you aren’t handcuffed by the pressures of delivering a project to fit a mold when you go the DIY route. You have the freedom to take some real risks.

Realize that every one of your favorite filmmakers started as a nobody, and with every apparent overnight success, you likely aren’t seeing the years of hard work to get them to that point. Shop your scripts, try to get the representation you dream of, try to raise your money. But at the same time, just make something. Then make another thing. Then another. It’s better than sitting and waiting for your shot to come.

Justin McConnell runs Toronto-based production/post company UNSTABLE GROUND, is the founder of the monthly horror short-film festival LITTLE TERRORS (which he co-presents with Rue Morgue Magazine), a Programmer for TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL, and a distribution consultant. In addition, he is the acclaimed director/producer of multiple feature and short films, including Lifechanger, Clapboard Jungle, Broken Mile, The Collapsed, Skull World, and many more.