Producing Film Using Lean Ideas?

Since Eric Ries’ influential book about applying Lean methodology to startups, countless people have written about different ways to implement Lean. I am working in an industry that is seeing a massive drop in production costs (in the form of camera equipment and post-production tools, just to name a few) and a concurrent rise in high-quality content. Add in the general willingness of creatives to work for free to build a reputation and demo reel and what you get is people with no money creating amazing films that otherwise would have cost millions. Being indie no longer means having a studio grant you a low six-figure budget, but running on a next-to-no-budget and achieving the same quality.

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Take the recent Star Wars Fan Film “Darth Maul — Apprentice”. The creators are from my university and pulled this off with a low five-figure monetary budget but the work and dedication of over 70 people that worked for almost nothing. They produced 17 minutes of film. Scale that to a 2-hour movie (roughly) and you get maybe 80.000€ of spending plus wages — hypothetically. I was fortunate to have worked on the set of the feature-film TORO by Martin Hawie which was produced on less than 30.000€. What is the relevance to Lean? Well, essentially, these productions are Minimum-Viable Products. They maximize their use of rare resources and reduce the necessity for big spending to produce something that, despite its minimalism (in terms of small sets, few locations, non-A-list actors) is a viable, creative, worthwhile product.

For over two years, me and my partner Tamara Mansaray have been working diligently to create an original TV series. Being young and inexperienced, we have no hope of ever getting even the chance to pitch at a TV network — plus Germany isn’t exactly the country of great TV series. Consequently, we have been running Lean with our baby. Crowdsourcing help from great artists and constantly testing and verifying our ideas with potential viewers has helped make sure we get help doing what we love and keep on track to produce content that people will love.

Right now, we are working on the series bible, a document that contains the quintessential information about our series. We could have been working on episodes, marketing material, artwork, casting, location scouting, financing and heaps of other things. Yet we decided, to shoot for an MVP: a bible that will grab people’s curiosity with original content to support and illustrate the idea. We are not planning to get a single minute of footage shot within the next year. We don’t gather a production team for a production that isn’t funded. We don’t go write the first four seasons because we don’t even know if the pilot episode will get funded.

This is quintessentially Lean applied to our film production process. We are curious to see how far we can go with it. Where can the project take us, will we attract followers, loyal fans and inspiring collaborators? We hope so! But until then, we will try to fail fast and often, iterate and reiterate through what we think is the best expression of our creative vision. And that is why we call our publication *Lean Film Production*, because that is what we try to do.

How do you feel about the application of Lean to the film business? Are we overstating it? Is this just the wild rambling of an avid youngster?

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