Lean Filmmaking Glossary

Aug 02, 2022

Traditional film terminology comes with a lot of baggage! We’ve come up with a new lexicon for lean filmmakers.

Here are some helpful definitions... 

Affinity Mapping

A practical and powerful tool that quickly generates ideas, sparks insights and uncovers thematic patterns. It can be used in a variety of circumstances, including creating goals and exploring story concepts.


Important events during the standard MSA Cycle that facilitate the successful delivery of a full film, either a draft or polish. Ceremonies empower the squad by reinforcing collaboration, strengthening communication and continuously improving the squad’s workflow. All squad members participate in these ceremonies. 

There are four ceremonies in each cycle: cycle planning, standups, fan experience improvement review and squad retrospective.

Coffee Convo

A type of tester video that’s an acted scenario where two friends have watched an imaginary film and they’re chatting over coffee about how it made them feel, as if it’s a real film. It needs two actors and a smartphone, and can be shot in one take with the actors improvising the conversation (or performing a script).

Core Value: Collaboration is key 

We prioritize working together in ways that strengthen meaningful collaboration

This is achieved by operating in small squads that are cross-functional, non-hierarchical and self-organizing, with everyone sharing responsibility for delivering the film. 

Core Value: Fan focused first 

We challenge the squad to see their film through the eyes of their fans, from inception to completion, for a compelling fan experience. 

This is achieved by forging enduring connections with fans through ongoing research, interviews and practical tools that make their feedback timely and relevant.

Core Value: Learn by doing

We believe there’s no substitute for hands-on learning experiences. The squad actively gains insights by doing the work, rather than wasting time on excessive documentation and arbitrary planning. 

This is achieved by embedding continuous learning into the process, providing regular opportunities for the squad to adjust their ideas based on outcomes and shifting away from perfection towards experimentation.

Core Value: Story before production values

We believe that powerful storytelling is intrinsic to the merit of films. Our creative effort is focused on validating the story first then enhancing the film by adding production values.

This is achieved by delivering a version of the full film rather than a formal script, testing assumptions through iterative Make-Show-Adjust Cycles and deferring investment in production values until the story has proven its appeal to fans.

Cycle Planning

A ceremony held at the beginning of the Make stage. The squad commits to the amount of work as an achievable goal for the cycle. The squad chooses the appropriate number of fan experience improvements to be executed in the cycle and breaks them into individual tasks.


A person willing to invest their time, attention and money in a film. They’re the ideal customer who will buy, watch and recommend the film. The squad gathers knowledge about these fans: their feelings, motivations and preferred means of communication.

Fan Experience

The emotions people feel while watching the film and how they describe the story after it’s over. The squad’s aim is to learn, validate and improve the viewing experience until it connects deeply with the intended fans.

Fan Experience Improvement

Incremental changes, executed in MSA Cycles, to test if the fan experience can be improved by their inclusion. They are self-contained, verifiable and small enough to be completed in one cycle.

Each individual improvement is written on an index card in a standard way: Improve the film by [insert fan experience improvement] so fans feel [insert emotion].

Fan Experience Improvement Review

A ceremony that happens at the start of the Adjust stage. The squad decides which fan experience improvements succeeded or failed, based on feedback gathered in the cycle. Fan experience improvements are added, removed, adjusted and prioritized on the Story Scaffold backlog.

Fan Review

A type of group feedback session facilitated by the squad after fan screenings. Most commonly, fans answer three questions about the film: what was your favorite part, how did it make you feel, and what was confusing.

Fan Screening: Free

The squad invites fans to a free event, either for an in-person live screening or online viewing experience, then gets feedback through interviews and/or surveys. The goal is for the squad to test that the story is connecting with the intended fan experience.

Fan Screening: Paid

The squad invites fans to purchase tickets, either for an in-person live screening or online viewing experience, then gets feedback through interviews and/or surveys. The goal is for the squad to test the market viability of their film with fans.


A weekend event loosely based on the structure of a tech hackathon, specifically designed for filmmakers to learn and practice the fundamentals of Lean Filmmaking. Over a weekend, participants make short films in four MSA Cycles, from nothing to done, culminating in a reverse screening in front of a live audience.

Full-film Drafts

Lo-fi versions of the entire film created in Make-Show-Adjust Cycles, with the aim of continuously improving the story, exploring the fan experience and ultimately finding Story–Fan Fit.

Full-film Polishes

Hi-fi versions of the entire film made in Make-Show-Adjust Cycles, using technical craft skills to apply appropriate production values that deliver the fan experience, ultimately finding Production–Fan Fit.

Go/No Go Meeting

A predetermined time when the squad can frankly assess the pros and cons of the project and decide whether or not to continue work on the film. It’s an opportunity for every squad member to honestly share their reasons for proceeding or stopping, while evaluating if it’s still worth investing time, energy and resources into the project.

Impact-vs-Difficulty Matrix

A tool to help the squad make informed decisions about prioritizing the impact and difficulty of fan experience improvements. One axis of the matrix represents the level of impact from trivial to essential, and the other axis is the degree of difficulty from moderate to extreme.

Just-in-time Production

Decisions are made as close to the act of doing the work as possible. Instead of making irreversible decisions upfront, planning is purposely kept minimal. Ideally, production decisions are delayed until the last responsible time until the investment has been validated by fans.

Lean Filmmaking

A new way to make films with creativity at its heart that enhances collaboration, uses ongoing iterative cycles and forges a deep connection between filmmakers and their fans.

Lean Filmmaking Coach

A person with experience implementing Lean Filmmaking who models the core values and guides the squad through the five-step method. The coach helps to ensure continuous improvement, provides support to squad members and champions the process.

Lean Filmmaking Core Values

The philosophy of Lean Filmmaking combines Make-Show-Adjust Cycles with four core values: collaboration is key, fan focused first, story before production values and learn by doing.

Lean Filmmaking Independent Feature Film Accelerator

A fifteen-week structured program where squads are coached in developing full-film drafts of independent feature films. Designed for filmmakers who have already produced short-form content and are taking the leap into their first feature film.

Lean Filmmaking Method

A five-step unconventional guide to creating independent feature films from development to distribution, using the Lean Filmmaking philosophy.

  • Step 1: Form Squad – Find creative collaborators with the balanced combination of skills needed to make a film.

  • Step 2: Discover Fans – Find an idea that deeply resonates with fans and the squad.

  • Step 3: Develop Drafts – Find a connection between a story worth telling and the fans who want to see it by running MSA Cycles.

  • Step 4: Produce Polishes – Find the connection between a well-crafted film and the fans who want to buy it by running MSA Cycles.

  • Step 5: Launch Film – Find distribution channels and marketing campaigns that consistently make sales for the squad.

Make-Show-Adjust Cycles

The work of planning, filming and learning is organized into small continuous cycles. Squads use basic cycles to produce tester videos, before moving to standard cycles for full-film drafts and polishes, ultimately converging on the final version of the film.

The main difference (apart from the length) between a basic cycle used to make tester videos and a standard Make-Show-Adjust Cycle is the inclusion of formal ceremonies.

The Make stage includes all the work required to complete a version of a tester video or the full film, the Show stage screens this to fans and the Adjust stage uses fan feedback and squad learnings to decide improvements for the next cycle.

Overlapping Activities

Restructuring the work involved in making a film to overlap, instead of being completed in a linear fashion. This is a collaborative way to improve output and efficiently distribute the workload between squad members. 

Production–Fan Fit

A strong connection between a well-crafted film and the fans who want to purchase it. This is achieved by using Make-Show-Adjust Cycles to produce full-film polishes that validate production values with fans.

Project Success Target

The intersection of the creative ambitions of the squad, their constraints and the interest from fans. The best opportunities for a successful film project target this crossover.

Reaction Interview

In-person conversations with fans conducted by the squad after showing tester videos or the full film, to gauge the fan experience and ascertain if the hypothesis being tested has succeeded or failed.

Research Interview

In-person conversations with fans conducted by the squad before drafting a fan experience, to investigate the spark of an idea and understand the worldview of potential fans.


Selling a film directly to fans, rather than selling it to a distributor. The film’s producers get their revenue from their customers. It’s labor-intensive but there’s a capacity to earn a higher percentage of the profits and retain creative control.


A group of three to nine multi-skilled people with the combined experience to make a film, including writing, directing, acting, editing, shooting, producing and marketing. Everyone is involved for the duration of making the film, from development to distribution. The overarching purpose of each squad member is to successfully deliver a film to fans, not just execute their specific role.

Squad Retrospective

A ceremony held at the end of the Adjust stage. The squad reflects on their workflow, making improvements for future cycles. Most commonly, everyone answers three questions about the cycle: what worked, what didn’t work, and what was confusing.


Ceremonies that happen during the Make stage when the squad meets for quick status updates. They’re short catch-ups to communicate which tasks each squad member is doing and troubleshoot issues that may hinder the completion of the work.

Story–Fan Fit

A strong connection between a story worth telling and the fans who want to see it. This is achieved by using Make-Show-Adjust Cycles to develop full-film drafts that validate the story with fans.

Story Scaffold

An ephemeral physical or digital representation, illustrating the current version of the entire story and assisting the squad in visualizing the film’s structure to achieve the desired fan experience.

Tester Video

Any kind of lo-fi video content used to validate the fan experience. It’s short, easy to produce and has a specific hypothesis to test with fans.

Traditional Distribution

Selling a film to a distributor who releases the film to audiences by licensing it through third-party companies. The film’s producers get their revenue from royalty fees and/or an advance “minimum guarantee” payment from the distributor. Distributors often have worldwide rights and marketing control, but can leverage exclusive sales channels to reach a wide audience.


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