The Lean Start-up Model and the Film Industry
Producing a film is easy right? You have an idea, that goes into a script, you hire a director, crew, shoot, edit, distribute. Easy. Well, usually a film’s lifespan is around three to five years. Yes, from the moment you have an idea, or even a script, get the money, start forming your team, and finish it, three, five or even more years have passed. That is, if you are able to finish it. And usually the main reason for films to take this long, or not be able to reach the distribution phase, is money, or lack thereof.
I come from a country where making a film is not only expensive but getting capital to produce your projects is incredibly difficult if almost imposible. Since coming here I’ve been thinking how can we address this problem as a growing industry. My ultimate goal is to create content on subjects and stories that I’m interested in telling but also to make it productive as a business venture, so that we can keep creating more content.
I’ve been thinking that maybe the “lean start-up” method is a way of tackling this problem. Sure, we think of a business, and most of the examples we read are about tech companies, but this might also be applied to films as single projects. After all, films, tv shows, web series, plays, documentaries, are all projects within themselves, they are individual companies. They even have the same lifecycle as a product company. As a producer you need to have the concept, create a business plan (not only to attract investors but also your team), pitch your idea, make the actual product (movie) and sell it (distribute). The same way you would sell a product or service in any other market. This approach in film sometimes work, sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time, specially with documentary filmmaking, you know what message you want to send but you don’t have a clear view of how to get there, specially because in this particular type of film, you create most of the story in the editing room.
What I like about the lean methodology is that it helps you achieve your goal without going bankrupt, by testing and changing in early stages of development. How can we connect it to film? I found several ways of applying it to the film industry. For example, usually you create a teaser, something visual that can help you sell your product to investors. This is, most of the time, very low cost, since it is just a tool to show what your idea or concept is. We can use this to test potential users (audience) by doing a focus group in the target market, then see the results to analyse if we have something that can move ahead or we need to pivot. If we went ahead and made a movie, that might not appeal to the target market or that audiences just don’t want to see, we would loose a lot of money and time when we could’ve test it first.
To be clear, this testing is common in the industry, but when you already have a finished film. Which is usually harder to change besides the main problem of having spent a lot of money making it. This is why some films never get to the final stage of distribution.
Another way I think we can use the lean method is by creating content in different ways. You may make a pilot of a web series, always keeping costs low, and test online for users (audience). If this gets a good reception and you get some money to make more episodes you can even in the future turn it into a film or a TV show. With the help of technology, audiovisual content nowadays have the ability to transform into all kinds of products, so why not experiment with it?
Of course the film industry is unpredictable, as you never know what the audience would like or not, even with all the research and preparation in the world. But I think that if we experiment with different techniques, as the lean method recommends, we can start to create more content periodically, more efficiently, without relying on big amounts of money, and learning new methods in the process.
It might not be as easy as it sounds but the most important, and valuable, lesson I’ve learn from the lean start-up model is to not be afraid to fail, after all you can always pivot.
Topic: New Venture Development
Ries, E. (2011). The lean startup : How constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Portfolio Penguin.
Blank, S. (2013) Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/05/why-the-lean-start-up-changes-everything (Accessed: 5 November 2017).