ClientFromHell Feature03

The Client From Hell – Now In Two Delicious Flavors!

So most of the time we try to keep things pretty positive around here. No one likes a whiner.

That said, sometimes it’s fun to let go, vent frustrations and commiserate together on the challenges of working in a creative field.

A few weeks ago, I sent out an email to the FEP community ranting a bit about bad clients and bosses.  One of our readers, Dave Lent, actually emailed me back and had some funny things to say about “Clients from Hell”.

I enjoyed the quick read so I thought I’d pass it along to everyone.

Here’s what he sent me.

Enter Dave Lent

The Client from Hell comes in at least two common varieties:

Variety #1: The Just Plain Incompetent

S/he may be earnest and well-intentioned but is short on experience or simply belongs in a different line of work. The JPI struggles with managing stress and often directs his or her anxiety, impatience or frustration at the nearest, most convenient target.

Variety #2: The Demon-Possessed

Tormented either by unsettled emotional issues or any number of suppressed predicaments, DPs include tyrants, bullies, jerks, chauvinists, micro managers, prima donnas and brats. They are typically pushy, inconsiderate, controlling, confrontational, hard-driving, or uncommunicative. They are not bad people, however, and when the dust settles they can be the sweetest souls you’d ever want to (rarely) meet.

We can’t change the people we work with but we can change the ways we respond to them—which often changes the way they treat us. With lessons from my own experience and feedback of friends and colleagues, I employ two more-or-less effective techniques for getting through the day with a Client from Hell.

1) The Deflector Shield: For the bully, brat, jerk or micro manager, I deploy The Deflector Shield. I imagine wearing an invisible, custom-fitted, plexiglass body suit.

When someone is rude or abusive, I visualize his or her toxic words or negative energy bouncing harmlessly off my shield. Nothing penetrates except the technical or logistical information necessary for the work:

“Where’s the next location?” or “How much time do I have to set up?” No recommendations, jokes or small talk. I like plexiglass because it’s clear, durable and shatterproof. Choose any material you want. Learning to create and use the shield takes practice, but it works – not only for The Client from Hell, but for anyone who doesn’t treat you well.

2) The Tropical Island: For the incompetent or stressed out client, I’ll narrow my focus to only the task at hand, becoming the one person my client can go to for calm and order.

I deflect whatever comes at me by bending like a palm tree in a strong wind. No matter how flustered the client, I’ll be his/her island of tranquility. This mindset, like learning to use the Deflector Shield, takes a lot of reps to master and I still have a long way to go. But after each meltdown I’m a little better prepared for the next one.

In video production, as in life, we encounter people who feel the need to unload their frustration, anger or unhappiness on others. Yet one never fully knows what burdens these people might be carrying, so it’s a good idea to practice patience and compassion in our daily interactions with everyone we meet.

(This excerpt is from Dave’s book: VIDEO RULES…How to think about how to shoot)

Do you have any great war stories about painful projects or bad clients? Anything funny? Infuriating maybe? 

Share your best client story below.

This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. I have some tales to tell! Possibly even a third ‘flavour’, though they can show up in both the varieties described….I name them the ‘directorial debutante’ – never made a film before, don’t have a clue about the processes involved, but this is going to be their great masterpiece and moment to shine! What starts as being a seemingly straight forward video, such as the recording of an event, a presentation to camera, or a short informational video becomes increasingly ambitious effort to create their epic movie, as they start to learn and discover what is and isn’t possible through this medium. And whilst they are basically learning how to make films, you end up doing all the hard graft, editing and re-editing whilst they are still trying to figure out what they are really wanting to say!

    The ‘delights’ that I have experienced have included the client embarking on an inner journey to uncover and express on film their true identity – in what was supposed to be just a short video about an activity they regularly do.

    Then there was the one who decides after several video presentations spoken to camera, that they want to cut out every mention of a particular word, creating endless ‘jump cuts’.

    Not forgetting the client who wanted the background of testimonials spoken to camera to be cropped out in order to make it look as if the event had taken place in a slicker more expensive venue!

    First prize, however, in the client-from-hell stakes goes to the extremely bossy domineering retired school teacher and dog trainer who insisted from the outset that they had experience of producing videos, knew exactly what they wanted, and I was to just be obedient and follow instructions.

    It turned out they had no experience of film making whatsoever, having previously only produced very basic and rather poor quality static Powerpoint Presentations that did not even include any video! But they had managed to put them onto discs and sell them, and believed that this had now transformed them into an experienced movie director!

    Not sure what advice I can even give to deal with these kinds of people, other than not to work with them in the first place. But its not always apparent when you first meet them and they describe what they want, that this is going to be the outcome.

    I’m now shifting more to offering a set format rather than trying to do anything ‘bespoke’ – unless I can be absolutely certain the client really does have some understanding and experience of film making.

    Either that or offering coaching and training so they can learn how to make videos – then at least it’s them doing the hours of editing and re-editing, and not me!

  2. I was working on a winter shoot in northern Idaho. It was very extreme conditions, the air was cold the ground frozen and covered with ice, in fact we wore chains on our boots to keep us from slipping.
    At one point the 1st AD was trying to push the crew to work faster. His frustrated words, “How long is this setup going to take?” I simple smiled and answered, “We’re working as fast as our day rate allows sir.” I really don’t know where that thought came from, but the director heard it and he roared with laughter. After that the director and I were best friends, while the 1st AD had lost his power.

      1. Over the years I’ve learned you can deal with the weather, and long hours. It’s the people that both make it difficult and a pleasure.

  3. A few years ago while working at a film studio in London, I had a coporate client who used to put his feet up on my desk! He was really bad tempered too, and would shout ‘no!’ if he didn’t like something despite giving no real guidance on what he wanted. He also fell asleep at one point. After a few days he fired me. He’d spent a load of money on editing, and I was still none the wiser as to what he actually wanted. Clients who don’t know what they want are the biggest problem, and they’re also the ones that don’t pay on time, and ask for discounts promising the world and delivering nothing. If a client starts badly it’s only going to get worse. Experience gives you the confidence to walk away: It took me a long time to learn that.

    1. Great advice about walking away, Dan. Definitely something that’s easier said than done. Kudos to those who have the confidence to do so.

      1. Sometimes you have to learn not to walk away. I was a bit of a hothead in my youth. Twice I reacted disproportionately to some perceived slight. The first time, my boss explained the situation patiently and offered me an opportunity to withdraw my resignation. The second time, the producer and I parted company. It was only much later that I realized I had too much emotional investment in that job and was allowing my stress to get in the way. The producer used my cut of the short film, and we met again to part cordially.

        1. If you walk away it’s because the job and the client are going to cause you more problems than it’s worth, not because they’ve upset you in some way personally or creatively. I don’t care if some of my clients are blunt: sometimes that’s better. You know where you are with them. Only walk away if the job looks dodgy.

  4. Ha!!LOL! We’ve all got one of these in the back of our minds! Mine walked over and exposed her breast within a minute, trying to impress me, for some reason. After giving her my first edit; When I didn’t respond to her advances, she suggested she come over to my studio to work on the edits. There, she attempts to seduce me and finally when she failed she called me unprofessional and said she was going to tell everyone I was the worst producer she’d ever met! I happily gave her back her deposit and asked her to leave.

  5. I like to have a relaxed set.

    I think stress works against a good crew, especially one who’s worked a few times together.

    Once the “helper” from the Client side said to me: “I’ve been watching you, you don’t do much. I reckon your job’s easy – I could do it”

    I said to her: “you’re right, the other guys do most of the work, but I actually have the hardest bit, I have to deal with the Clients”

    She did a double-take and asked “do you mean me?”


    At least she laughed.

    And she WAS sometimes difficult.

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