Amber Gibson: Congratulations, Kylie! How does it feel to have finished The Art of Lean Filmmaking and then releasing it during a global pandemic?
Kylie Eddy: Weird, veeeeery weird. Not that I’ve got anything to compare it to – it’s my first book and my first pandemic! Being in Melbourne lockdown for the better part of a year, I was grateful for the distraction of a large creative project. Sometimes it was literally the only reason to get out of bed! I wanted to write this book for the longest time and finally there weren’t any excuses left.
It’s fantastic having it out in the world but honestly it was a little anticlimactic releasing a book from my lounge room. But hopefully soon we’ll have a better-late-than-never, in-person launch at the ACMI Shop.
AG: What makes your book an ‘unconventional’ guide to help practitioners create independent feature films?
KE: We’ve completely re-imagined the development, production and distribution of independent films through years of research, interviews and experimentation. I have a background as a filmmaker and my brother, David, as an agile software developer. We combined our expertise to create Lean Filmmaking. We wanted to turn conventional wisdom upside down to vigorously shake out obsolete ideas revered by the traditional film industry.
Lean Filmmaking takes advantage of surprising – often counterintuitive – strategies to dramatically improve the filmmaking process, including:
- Collaborating in non-hierarchical, cross-functional squads
- Working in ongoing iterative Make-Show-Adjust Cycles
- Validating assumptions with early fan feedback
The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the philosophy and core values of Lean Filmmaking. The second part is a detailed guide to our five-step method, from development to distribution of an independent feature film. It’s practical, realistic and doable.
The Art of Lean Filmmaking gives filmmakers a way to ease into making a feature, without the pressure of raising a big budget or writing a script first.
Lean Filmmaking is an explosion of creativity, turning conventional wisdom upside down to vigorously shake out obsolete ideas revered by the traditional film industry.
AG: The book uses phases such as ‘Lean’ and ‘Agile’ which are generally used in the startup world. How do these words apply to the film industry?
KE: About a decade ago, David was working as an agile software developer and I was producing my first feature film. Through our conversations he recognised that this new methodology could also be a game changer for the film industry. It took me a little more convincing! But ultimately we decided to challenge ourselves to look at every aspect of filmmaking through a different lens.
Not long after that The Lean Startup by Eric Ries was published. This was a huge paradigm shift for us. If you read that book and replace the word “startup” with the word “film” and “entrepreneur” with “filmmaker”, you can see how many similarities there are in these industries. Both industries deal with a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome of projects and are looking for ways to reduce that risk.
There’s a common misconception that lean means cheap or low budget. But when we talk about lean, we’re referring to this broader ideology. In this context, it’s a set of principles that focus on providing high value for customers with the least amount of waste.
Being cost-effective is one way to be lean, although that’s really just the beginning.
A lack of timely communication, an unproductive team structure or a misunderstanding of audience expectations can undermine the success of a film as much as the budget. But inefficiencies in the filmmaking process are rarely interrogated and often even invisible because “that’s how it’s always been done”.
When applying lean principles to filmmaking, we’ve purposely weeded out wasteful practices, focused on providing value to audiences and found unique ways to save money, time and energy.
Lean Filmmaking is different. It celebrates experimentation & inventiveness, while forging a sustainable artistic practice. It saves time, energy and money (but it's not just for low-budget or cheap ideas). It takes advantage of surprising – often counterintuitive – strategies to dramatically improve the filmmaking process.
AG: What are some of the challenges filmmakers face when trying to make their first feature film?
KE: Usually it’s time, money, experience or all three. Lean Filmmaking overcomes these common barriers. You just have to be willing to question everything you know about filmmaking. No biggie, amiright?!
Traditional filmmaking processes are linear and require lots of uninterrupted time. It’s normal to spend years writing a script and raising the finance. Once on set the shoot can be gruelling with brutally long hours. If you’re lucky, it only takes a few more years to do the film festival circuit and find distribution.
Lean Filmmaking is an iterative method that’s done in ongoing Make-Show-Adjust Cycles (MSA Cycles). MSA Cycles are managed around the schedule of a squad. And because cycles include fan discovery, marketing and sales don’t have to wait until after the film is completed.
Traditionally a film’s budget is based on the script. The problem is that scripts are littered with untested assumptions, forcing filmmakers to budget for things that aren’t needed and plan for circumstances that never eventuate. Upfront funding means most people struggle to get their script off the ground.
Lean Filmmaking starts in a different place. Forming a well-balanced, cross-functional squad is more important than a script. You might not even need a script at all(!) – certainly not in the beginning. Squads test their assumptions in MSA Cycles, to make informed financial decisions before investing cold hard cash. You can start small, without any money, and gradually add resources that have the most impact.
Craft skills and training are important but often it’s fear that holds us back, not our experience. If you’ve made a couple of short films, web series or YouTube videos then you probably have enough experience to start making a feature. Unfortunately there’s no magic number of short films that’ll make the transition into features any easier.
Lean Filmmaking is a low-risk way to make a feature because you learn as you go. You don’t need all the answers upfront. In fact, it’s an advantage to be curious and open-minded. You don’t wait for a “perfect” time to be ready... just start where you are now.
AG: What’s the biggest lesson you learnt while writing The Art of Lean Filmmaking?
KE: Often when grappling with a new chapter I was struggling with the same challenges as filmmakers go through when making a film: Is this the right idea? Who is the audience for this? How can I make this better? I applied the principles I was writing about for filmmaking to the process of writing the book. I know, it’s all very meta! The good news is, this method works for all creative projects including writing a book.
The biggest learning was that small and steady actions add up over time. Even when I thought my writing was terrible, it still counted as a good day if I got something down on the page. And it was never as bad as I thought it was with the perspective of time. It’s not sexy, it’s not a hack or trick. It’s the creative practice of showing up to work on your craft every day... even if it’s for ten minutes. Keep going. It all makes a difference.