I’ve read an article like this from NoFilmSchool awhile back but I wanted to give my own personal experience on the subject.
I had to fire my first client the other day. I didn’t feel especially bad about it but it will definitely ruin any working relationship I had with two major companies here in Detroit. Reflecting on the situation, I still believe I made the right choice. Let me explain.
I agreed to some video work for a corporate client that also does work for other corporate companies. I’m not a fan of the contractor for the contractor but that’s how things work more and more nowadays. The work involved shooting an event, shooting interviews, then pairing the two to make a journalistic style set of videos for the end client company. The event went well, and so did the interviews. The guy in charge of the project who contracted me seemed to be very professional but also very down-to-earth, cracking jokes at any opportunity. The shoot wrapped, all felt great, the editing process began.
Fast forward a week later. I had done all of the prep work for the interviews in Premiere, even sent drafts to the hiring client so they could approve every word that was said. This is something that had to be done since the end client was a big corporation. Then my contact goes on vacation. Before he went on vacation nothing was said, and I was left with no materials to move forward on the edits, so I shelved the project until I heard back from him.
Then comes another “small” project request from this hiring company. I ended up finishing this up for them while I was vacationing Up North, which I’m pretty proud of-I hope to one day shoot and edit while traveling. I did, although, stay up until 3am two nights in a row to get this to them by their deadline. I send them an invoice and move back to the original edit having heard from my contact. I ride over to their office, review my rough edits (basically finalized cuts) with my contact while he takes notes. It’s good to note I sent him these drafts and didn’t hear back from him until five or six days later. This viewing was his first look at them, he had not watched any of them before we had this meeting. This is when he decided that he wanted to cut all of the videos in half, to make them shorter. He delivered the idea as though it was a simple task, but for the editors out there, this would mean another 15-20 hours of editing for me. Luckily soundtrack and interviews were already approved or it would have meant even more time. I got this to them in another couple of days.
Then another request from my contact, this time in the form of a “well there’s more to this project then I initially told you so…” Turns out the end client wanted to go back to the original shoot location (hour away) and shoot another interview, exactly how I did the first time, but with the president of the company. Seemed pretty simple, it was all my personal gear so it would only take a half day and then another few hours to edit a 20 second spot. This is where everything fell apart. During this project, yes, the response time of the hiring client was terrible and simply annoying. This will happen, not a big deal. But now, this same man was responsible for scheduling this new video request with a person from the end client that was, when it came to unprofessional and disorganized, worse than he.
This lead to two scheduled and cancelled shoots then another last minute shoot that would be requested changed THE DAY OF. I cancelled a side shoot I had to fit this interview shoot in and then I heard that same day they wanted to change the time to earlier in the day, when I specifically let them know it had to be AFTER a certain time.
I had enough. I was working on two other projects at this time and couldn’t waste my precious editing time on shady dealings like this. So, I told the hiring client just that. It’s good to note, the hiring client expressed, very candidly, his hatred for this end client just a few days before this final mess.
I rode to the hiring client’s office to drop all raw footage after delivering all of the finalized edits to them online the day before. I was brought into the conference room by my contact.
Hostile and passive aggressive are two words that describe this meeting quite perfectly. I was blown away. After he spouted out, “You’ve burned bridges between us and (end client name)” I knew exactly what was going on. He got yelled at by his boss. It was evident, and now he was taking it out on the hard-working, innocent video guy he contracted. All I could do was hold back laughter and apologize for anything I had done in the process to mess up the timeline, something he had expressed he was very angry about. This was coming from the guy that took a week vacation and would take 5-6 days to respond to my emails.
So what did I learn? Well, I already knew working with corporate client can be very messy and unforgiving. I also knew it’s hard to meet everyone’s workflow and communication expectations as a freelancer.
You can fire your client.
When you’re in the right, and have had time to step back and rationally think about the people you’re working for and how it is effecting your time/work-you’re damn well allowed to cut the cord.
Be courteous, be understanding, work hard, and always leave your ego at the door.
Never be afraid to fire someone you’re doing work for if it gets to that point.