When we set out to make a movie, we didn’t want just a movie. We wanted a great movie. Great movies start as great scripts, which start as great premises. I’ve talked about this before, the process of validating ideas and moving forward only when you’ve accomplished the thing you’ve set out to do.
There’s a concept of minimum viable product in the business world. Google maps is a great example. From Eric Ries’ website, Startup Lessons Learned:
One such rumor, which I’ve heard from several sources, tells of the launch of Google Maps. The team was demoing their AJAX-powered map solution, the first of its kind, to senior management at Google. They were impressed, even though the team considered it still an early prototype. Larry and Sergey, so the legend goes, simply said: “it is already good enough. Ship it.” The team complied, despite their reservations and fear. And the rest is history: Google Maps was a huge success. This success was aided by the fact that it did just one thing extremely well – its lack of extra features emphasized its differentiation. Shipping sooner accentuated this difference, and it took competitors a long time to catch up.
Films are different. There really isn’t such a thing as a “minimum viable product”, or MVP, in that a film is a singular output that never gets updates, bug fixes, or new versions. It is what it is.
I think this leads to the fact that there are multiple avenues to distribute your film, and many correlate with the quality of the product. You wouldn’t be very excited about going to the movies to spend $10 on a ticket to see the equivalent of a Lifetime movie of the week.
Theaters are reserved for the biggest stories, the biggest visuals, and the biggest stars, which is why you also don’t see Tom Cruise on Lifetime…
The fact that there is no MVP in film means that you’ve got only one chance to get it right. The best way that I’ve found to improve something like a script is to get feedback.
We’ve sent the script out to the industry to get feedback, and were excited by the improvements we’ve made over the last time we sent in a draft. For reference, when I submitted a draft in August, it came back with a 5/10 score. Not great, and certainly not the best we could do.
We took the feedback that we agreed with and moved on to the next draft, and after another three drafts after that had what we felt was a much improved version. I’d probably rank it a 7/10.
But it’s not about what I think, it’s about reality.
We submitted the film to the review site blcklst.com and ordered two more reviews to see if we were on the same page with our assessments of our work.
The two reviews came back a 5/10 and 6/10. Now, for better clarity, the first review, if you total all of the sub scores for Premise, Plot, Character, Dialog, and Setting, we got 5/4/4/5/5, giving us an average score of 4.6. The two new reviews ended up being a 6.4 and a 5.4, so in one review the score went up nearly two points.
The point of this post is to talk about how incredibly hard it is to receive “not great” feedback on your work. Despite the increase in the score, my expectations were (obviously) too high, and therefore I was sad/disappointed/depressed, whatever.
Now, that can lead to one of two outcomes. I give up and write it off as “I’m just not very good at this”, or I can charge forward with a renewed sense of purpose and focus and see it ultimately as an incredible opportunity to make our movie better.
I’m choosing the latter.
Getting honest feedback on your work is incredibly humbling and testing and hard and embarrassing and so many other things. But to me, and to us as a company, it’s essential. Without it, we would’ve greenlit a sub par offering in the world of film, and have been even more disappointed when the reviews came in on the finished project.
It’s frustrating to have such a strong desire to move forward and be “held back” by the work that still remains before you’re ready to move forward, but it’s essential if we’re going to create something of value, something that is good, and something we’re proud of.