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fuzzynormal

How Not To Work With A Client

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Well, this is a great topic isn't it. Here are my experiences, but everyone's mileage will differ.

First, I have obtained a great deal of all my work over the years from other filmmakers. I discovered that one of my best sources of opportunities came from other filmmakers who had landed a gig and needed my particular skill set for that particular project. This ends up working out great because they, not me, end up dealing with the client. And when the client changes their mind or whatever and it affects my workload, those filmmakers recognize this (unlike clients) and they compensate me for it. So it's kinda like all the benefits of filmmaking without any of the drawbacks.

Second, I have been fortunate enough to find a very very small handful of clients who bring me nearly all of my income. Though there are still surprises here and there, once you've worked with a good client on more than one project, you develop an understanding. This is another ideal situation. 

Lastly, for the rest of the clients whom I do not know or haven't worked for, my plan is to educate them quickly. I educate them on the filmmaking process and I work that process into the agreement and expectations. This centers around having them sign off on each phase of production as we complete it. If they liked the script, and then changed it drastically later, they know they'll need to pay for that. 

Of course, all and any of the above revolves around a solid agreement that manages expectations and protects you. In other words, what you do before you actually begin to work with a client will most always determine how the project turns out and your relationship with the client once the project is finished.

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I would imagine it is a lot harder these days with everyone with something, even a Smartphone that can record Video. When I was younger it was rare for anyone to have anything even close to professional equipment. But I got into it when Pro Digital cameras were coming out. Ikegami was about the first, then Sony, then Thompson was hot rodding Sony cameras also. Panasonic, JVC was doing the lower end stuff like VHS, SVHS, later on. Prosumer things. I never could afford a integrated ENG rig for years. Had separate recorder setups. Old wooden tripods with fluid heads that would have supported a 70mm Mitchell Studio film camera that weighed 50 pounds LoL :grimace:. Oh it was fun! Lots of people had a cheap 8mm film camera. Other than some Bolex movie stuff, wind up at that, which few could afford, they pretty much sucked. So getting jobs were easier but man the money it cost to move up. 16mm you could not afford the film let alone process it. Anything used was beaten to hell and back, till the end of it's life back then.

So you had to work in the business, or know someone that did, or be rich as heck, and not many people were rich then. Plus camera setups on Digital cameras were a voodoo science back in the days. It was a turd to do well. So if you were skilled wow you were in in a heartbeat. Didn't make much money but was fun just the same. Now editing you Had to work or be in the business, stuff was scary expensive. Later some of the smaller TV stations would let you rent out usage of the machines at the studio for a somewhat reasonable price to help offset their investments which were pretty unbelievably high.

One good thing back then the technology did not change very rapidly so you could somewhat learn it before it was outdated like now! But most people seemed nicer back then. The whole world was nicer, politer back then.

But now you can't wait to get out of bed to see what new technology has bought today. Exciting times to be able to shoot stuff nearlly as good a NBC, CBS, ESPN in the palm of your hand. So don't be too grumpy about your craft, we are a lucky few even now. It is just the beginning for you younger people. :grin:

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What we learnt at school was that whatever small work we did, there should always be a foolproof contract that ensures that both parts understand what's included and what's not, even if it's a project that takes only a few days. A properly written contract can save you a lot of stress by providing you an exit from terrible clients.

A well written contract will also protect the client and make them feel safe about buying services from you. If the client would want to avoid using a contract - that's a warning sign!

 

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1 hour ago, dahlfors said:

there should always be a foolproof contract that ensures that both parts understand what's included and what's not 

A well written contract will also protect the client and make them feel safe about buying services from you.

I admit I failed at this part.  There's a contract.  It is too ambiguous.  I should have known better.  

Funny thing is, we've had a working relationship in the past; very small modest stuff, however.  My expectations were based on that experience.

I completely got caught up her inability to handle this level of storytelling.  I'm really not mad at her, more disappointed in myself, honestly.  Although, it is amazing how she's been completely obtuse through months of this production.  One would figure she'd connect some dots along the way... normally I would attempt to educate the client, and I still kind of try as I can, but she's the "director" on the project so she's not been too keen on too many suggestions.

  

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You learn to say no over time - and to cut out bad relationship like this one. Be honest with her, tell her; except if you really need that income...smooth it out and learn for the next one

Contract first like they said, and it also help if you get ultra specialized is one aspect only of film making (more $$$ x hours can be justified easily for your skills). Offer a unique skill set that make them feel like they NEED YOU and not any others smart ass kid on the block. 

 

ex:  The guy with The steadycam

ex2: The guy that shoot the best wedding video 

ex3: The guy that shoot crazy hyperlapse 

 

Don't even offer cutting the edit if you rather only do camera work. Or vice-versa. Some small market could be hard for that kind of stuff, still doable though if willing to travel. 

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3 hours ago, Jonesy Jones said:

I educate them on the filmmaking process and I work that process into the agreement and expectations. This centers around having them sign off on each phase of production as we complete it. If they liked the script, and then changed it drastically later, they know they'll need to pay for that. 

Good advice. Sounds easy. I recommended this to my best buddy, who meets many video-wise incompetent clients. They are, it seems, the majority. 

2 minutes ago, fuzzynormal said:

I admit I failed at this part.  There's a contract.  It is too ambiguous.  I should have known better.  

Maybe a contract, describing a concept also, needs some ambiguity. To let you stay flexible and to not frighten off the client from the start. 

6 minutes ago, fuzzynormal said:

It is amazing how she's been completely obtuse through months of this production.  One would figure she'd conneect some dots along the way... oh well.

This is asking too much, really. It's a group dynamics, team role, psychological kind of thing. Shaping audiovisual content is not at all like connecting dots. That you have come to choose this profession means your understanding of the processes is immeasurably greater than your client's. The contract must reflect this. The client's only duty has to be to clearly describe his goals. Early on of course. And you have to clear any open questions with him/her. You are in charge, and you must be demanding.

Now my buddy says, lame-brained advice, you can't imagine just how inconsequent those people are. You bet i can! But I also witness how inconsequently you react. The american saying the customer is always right is only right if he is right. First you try to assign the roles, establish your responsibilities and his/hers in the preliminary meetings and the contract. But soon afterwards, see how many compromises you accept, how many failures on the client's side you excuse. Rather sooner than later you have reached the point where the only options are open conflict or self-denying servility.

I don't say I'd do better. But this is what I observe.

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21 minutes ago, Axel said:

This is asking too much, really. It's a group dynamics, team role, psychological kind of thing. Shaping audiovisual content is not at all like connecting dots. That you have come to choose this profession means your understanding of the processes is immeasurably greater than your client's.

Well, FWIW, this particular person has an industry career with more substantial credentials than I have.  This fact says more about the state of the industry than her ability.

23 minutes ago, Axel said:

First you try to assign the roles, establish your responsibilities and his/hers in the preliminary meetings and the contract. But soon afterwards, see how many compromises you accept, how many failures on the client's side you excuse. Rather sooner than later you have reached the point where the only options are open conflict or self-denying servility.

Yes.  I'd say that's on target.  My reality of the craft is most definitely not in sync with hers --and now the compromises of the work are staggering.  It's not quite "Alan Smithee" levels, but I've considered it.

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Everyone makes this mistake and there is no echelon too high for it. “Flat rate” bankrupted Rhythm and Hues. 

Learn that you’re more talented than the upper echelon now. Charge accordingly later. Learn how to charge way, way more so the even higher echelon that awaits won’t screw you over. (They got there by being good at screwing peons over, even screwing over Fincher on Alien 3!) But don’t worry about the credit hurting you. Either the project goes nowhere and no one knows about it or it goes somewhere and it’s a good credit. You’re potentially more fucked, however, if you’re above the line. Drop the directing or producing credit if you have one but don’t want it... but do so carefully. Drop the financial stake immediately.

An artist with a supervising role (one step down from above the line) on a historically top grossing blockbuster and a senior artist on features that have grossed billions told me this about free work (which I don’t do, so I apply this dictum to low rate work, but higher end people often will do free work to curry favor): stipulate a number of revisions and charge way more beyond them, but have that in the contract. If you don't, you'll be working free forever because the contract says you can and you will until you can't unless your client is fucking awesome. I've seen it. At the highest end.

Failing that, if you truly have no leverage, distance yourself and run out the clock. Time is money. If you have a flat rate as regards money, find a way to leverage your time. Don't let others' credits impress you. That's how they know you're a sucker. Deliver slowly. Establish an end date. Then run out the clock.

But also don't let the resentment build up and make things toxic. No, you can't be fully honest, but you need to change the relationship because it's bad to start with. Create a timetable and a reason why you need one (or maybe convince your client to create one around a festival submission or color grading date). Express at least some frustration. Push back. If you don't, your partner will assume you're behind this as much as she is and then you're leading her on in bad faith and that helps no one. It's toxic to you both. Find the leverage you still possess (time and skill are usually it if the contract doesn't specify money per revision or day) and leverage it, but do so honestly. She's not leading you on in bad faith. The real top brass will use the hell out of you, but it sounds like she's merely enthusiastic and naive in this particular capacity. It's not her fault, it's just bad communication.  Make things as good as you can, get what you can out of it, learn, fail, learn more, fail, learn, thrive.

Do so well and in five years you'll be directing Star Wars.

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27 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

But also don't let the resentment build up and make things toxic. No, you can't be fully honest, but you need to change the relationship because it's bad to start with. Create a timetable and a reason why you need one (or maybe convince your client to create one around a festival submission or color grading date). Express at least some frustration. Push back. If you don't, your partner will assume you're behind this as much as she is and then you're leading her on in bad faith and that helps no one. It's toxic to you both.

An understanding how different characters can collaborate successfully in a bloody office was even more helpful to manage conflicts between people who consider themselves creatives. In the modern concept, broken down somewhat for simplicity, conflicts aren't avoided (they are unavoidable anyway), they are exploited for their productive impulses. Psychobabble? Modern platitudes?

Why can't you be fully honest? Assumed that you really want to achieve the best, complete honesty gives you all advantages. Because imo all the deadlocks between him and his clients my friend laments about come from an inappropriate reaction to the conflicts. 

41 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

The real top brass will use the hell out of you, but it sounds like she's merely enthusiastic and naive in this particular capacity. It's not her fault, it's just bad communication.

Yes. It's not so much about being in the right, it's about self-esteem, honesty and soft skills.

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29 minutes ago, Axel said:

An understanding how different characters can collaborate successfully in a bloody office was even more helpful to manage conflicts between people who consider themselves creatives. In the modern concept, broken down somewhat for simplicity, conflicts aren't avoided (they are unavoidable anyway), they are exploited for their productive impulses. Psychobabble? Modern platitudes?

Why can't you be fully honest? Assumed that you really want to achieve the best, complete honesty gives you all advantages. Because imo all the deadlocks between him and his clients my friend laments about come from an inappropriate reaction to the conflicts. 

Yes. It's not so much about being in the right, it's about self-esteem, honesty and soft skills.

Because fully honest is, ultimately, either fully selfless or fully selfish. In retrospect, I'm sure George Lucas wishes he had a guy with the guts to admit the Phantom Menace had a bad script. But he didn't, because the guy who had the intelligence and honesty to admit it he fired years ago for standing up to him or he kept that guy on but he learned better than to voice that opinion.

Honesty is is good... in moderation. Pure unbridled honesty is unfortunately either self-destructive or self-absorbed, at least in this industry. I envy anyone who can have that level of fully honest intimacy in their best romantic relationship for even a moment, but in business... it's impossible imo. But when you can find it, cherish it.

That said, I still agree everything bad is bad communication. An honest relationship is perhaps a platonically ideal one. But it needs to go both ways and that takes time. You need both empathy and sympath and to build both until you have a good relationship.

This relationship ain't good. It's gonna take baby steps, not a sudden slap across the face, to make it better over time.

And it needn't ever be perfect. Perfect is something we strive for, not demand. If you are 100% honest and 100% perfect every day of your life and it suits you well, well more power to you, but if you truly believe it I can assure you others aren't being honest with you. Hello, George Lucas (a brilliant creative led astray by bad faith and poor communication).

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8 hours ago, fuzzynormal said:

 

Never, ever, work with a bad client on a large project for a flat rate. --AND ALWAYS assume first time out of the gate, no matter how sweet they are, that you're getting in bed with a potentially difficult client.  You'll end up being exploited and resentful; resentful to your client and resentful to yourself for agreeing to such ridiculous terms to begin with.

 

Oh hell yeah, this this this. Do it enough and it can run the risk of making you hate your career. I've had a bit of a rough year dealing with difficult clients/jobs, and I swear I was pretty much regretting getting into video production at one point. I was convinced I was going to switch to photography, because video had lost all of its fun.

I think, much like romantic relationships, learning to spot the red flags and avoiding this fuckery is key, because it will eat you up once you are stuck in it. 

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I think as well, like relationships, expecting things to change is a lost cause. It's key to accept that a cheap and difficult client will always be a cheap and difficult client. Time spent trying to shape them otherwise is time *much* better spent by finding better clients. I'm definitely guilty of this trap.

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Of course with complete honesty I didn't mean saying everything that crosses my mind. That was idiotic. Nor a complete confession of all my failures and delusions. Or if I find the other sympathetic at first sight or not. Just in the well-considered personal evaluation of the things behind the current conflict. After I have been honest to myself whether some of it is possibly my fault alone. I'd admit this too. And I won't accuse the other directly, just report my own view, without holding back. If it was too biased, good chance to clarify this.

38 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Are you even serious? Are you suggesting he come clean about how he feels about his client (and it's not nice) before she pays him? Just a sudden slap across the face without warning? And with a contract that stipulates they work together in harmony and she thinks so far it's great? Seems awfully mean to me. 

Not at this stage. My point is that many many false notes accumulated over time and that this caused all this bitterness. In management training courses the outcome is called lose-lose (as opposed to win-win).

43 minutes ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Maybe it is a great idea, but who has the guts? (I know people who do... they will never have another job in this industry because of their reputation for being difficult. Too bad, too, as they are the most talented I've met.)

I recommend Tarkovskys Andrej Rublev. Spoiler: in the last scene the famous bell founder just died. His 12 year old apprentice says the old man has taught him everything to make the giant bell for the newly built cathedral himself. But it's a lie. Because the bell is so big, he has to command the work of the villagers. He has to punish disobedience, he can't tolerate others questioning his authority. Accidents occur due to his inexperience. He hopes (but you can clearly see he doesn't believe) the bell will ring in the right key - and not break apart with the first hit of the clapper. Tradition demands that all workers will be beheaded then. Time is running out, and in the end the boy is full of regret and self-hatred. In literally the last minute, the prince with his entourage and everybody already surrounding them, the heavy bell is lifted and the clapper swings back and forth, slowly building up momentum. The boy runs away in horror. And from a great distance he hears the bell, clear and majestic.

Most likely intended as a parable for creative challenge. All capable people in this field are also impostors. They don't know better, but they may. They have to stay consequent or the outcome will be mediocre at best. If they sense hesitation in others, they take over responsibility. And they are held responsible in the end.

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1 hour ago, dbp said:

I think as well, like relationships, expecting things to change is a lost cause. It's key to accept that a cheap and difficult client will always be a cheap and difficult client. Time spent trying to shape them otherwise is time *much* better spent by finding better clients. I'm definitely guilty of this trap.

The freedom to pick your clients of course comes with your reputation. Your reputation grows by picking the right clients. It's like a level in a PC game. To get there, some spare lives come in handy. A side job to make it through the dry spell?

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On 12/12/2016 at 3:20 AM, Axel said:

Your reputation grows by picking the right clients.

I wish I'd learned that a decade ago.

I agree: it's not the work you're doing that's as important as whom you're doing it for. To that extent, this job could be a big "break."

I am currently working on a similar gig that is far too much work for extremely little pay and a lot of stress. It is also for a first-time director; I'm getting railroaded. But now I can bid on a higher echelon of work. That's the plan, at least. :/

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On 12/12/2016 at 2:23 AM, fuzzynormal said:

The tough situation I'm facing is that my ability to tolerate a difficult client has diminished.  Maybe it's a sign of getting older?

OMG, that is MY life!!! ;-))

When you talk about being honest or a contract, I would invite you to Italy. I have lost clients because in the briefing for the first video I tried to make them understand basics like "you can't put a Michael Jackson song on your video for YouTube"/"you can't ask infinite revisions". A contract is sci-fi and hourly pay hard sci-fi. Here everything is flat-rate which barely covers your expenses. 

Then another thing that irritates me is when the client gives you zero briefing/ideas/support. You came with a nice concept, build the whole video on it. And when you show it to them, they don't like it. And at this point is when they tell you the things they should have told you before. But if you make them questions before they get upset.

I am working on a start-up to try to find a steady flow of work. We are in bad times, the problem is that a lot business with no problem at all are using the "crisis" excuse to treat everyone like dog's poo...  

 

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2 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

I am currently working on a similar gig that is far too much work for extremely little pay and a lot of stress. It is also for a first-time director; I'm getting railroaded. But now I can bid on a higher echelon of work. That's the plan, at least. :/

Mutual interests? Labour of love? I hope this won't go sour. Without a contract, anything could happen as soon as creative conflicts arise. Which is not exactly unheard-of.

12 minutes ago, Xavier Plágaro Mussard said:

I am working on a start-up to try to find a steady flow of work. We are in bad times, the problem is that a lot business with no problem at all are using the "crisis" excuse to treat everyone like dog's poo...  

Not long ago, being a professional meant you weren't cheap. Now all the DSLR rebels have ruined the nimbus. To reinstate it for yourself you have to turn down every client who - directly but in most cases indirectly - treats you like dog's poo. Difficult move if you are starting up. But a defining move.

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