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Thursday, December 24, 2009

••◊ When to step away from a client

I'm currently stuck in my man cave with a severe case of film editor's block, so my blog seemed like a reasonable excuse to slack off for an hour. For those who observed it yesterday, happy Festivus. I hope your family members provided plenty of disappointment fodder throughout the year.

On a totally different topic, I had to step away from a project with a photo client yesterday. It was a decision that I personally struggled with because it always seems like a personal failure. However, I thought it might be good to write about my experience such that others can, at least, get a sense of when they should consider the same.

My decision was based on a couple factors; one of which is my adopted working philosophy. I used to hang out in the creativecow.net forums, listening to others talk about the trials of being a video and production professional. One person pointed out that you really shouldn't accept work that you would be ashamed to show to future clients. The entertainment industry is often so flooded with qualified individuals that you are only as good as your last job. Anything you do should represent your best work. When you know the circumstances of the job won't allow that, it's best to step away. I took this advice to heart and follow it to this day.

Some of the other common warning signs are scheduling changes, changes in art direction after it's been agreed to, and sudden non-cooperation when the client is asked to spend reasonable sums of money for common, known items. I have also heard of cases where clients expect the first job to be free or discounted with a promise of future work. Some clients go so far as to expect deliverables that weren't in the initial statement of work for free (not in my current case).

A film maker acquaintance of mine, Robert, once mentioned that a he felt a professional can work with anybody. I believe that's true. He worked with many A-list Hollywood producers on big budget films as an art designer, a subset of whom were known to be quite unreasonable. In Hollywood he was able to build a successful career out of the movie industry based on this philosophy, as well as a few others not highlighted here. The difference for me here was that I finally concluded the other party wasn't interested in producing high quality work, so it wasn't a matter of working relationship. I didn't have a personal or relationship issue with this client. In fact, I believe the client relationship ended quite amicably by me explaining that given the specific circumstances involved that I didn't feel I could produce my best work for them. I even offered to help them find another photographer.

The real trick here it to find out about these issues as early as possible so you don't waste time on a project that won't come to fruition. My photo colleagues recommended using non-refundable deposits and hourly rates as a client motivation factor, however that's a fall back plan rather than a detection method. Business is business, but given the choice I would rather not have to say that I made money on my last few clients by them defaulting on their deposits and me not producing any work. It doesn't seem to represent the work ethic and industrious nature that I would ideally like to portray.

Thanks for letting me distracted. Back to the dreaded semi-empty Premier Pro sequence time line.

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