I love my clients. I get a thrill every time I connect with a client, and I love over-delivering to them, exceeding their expectations with the videos we make. But once in a while, this bites me in the ass. It’s why we have good (but simple) contracts. Yes, it’s fair to consider our contract “ass protection”.
Recently, we’d been working on a project for a company that’s a small player but could do great things with their neato tech products. But things started to unravel with their project last fall. First, they told us they would handle some of the production tasks in-house. That ought to have been a red flag, but I liked the people, and they really wanted to save money (that ought to have also been a red flag), so we went with it. Of course, they did not deliver their side of things. At all. And it made for a very, very difficult shoot. We, of course, over-delivered on our side. My team worked their butts off- and so did I- to make up for the client’s fails. Because that’s what you do, you try to make your client look good, and failure doesn’t look good no matter whose fault it is.
Sadly, this client’s fails continued to where we could not film a scene in the script. So, production stopped. We took a breather to reevaluate the project. The client came back, and said, essentially- “Let’s rewrite the whole thing, using the stuff you shot, to make it work”. Red flag, because if you work in production you know that one does not rewrite the story after filming. That’s bananas, even for the most skilled storytellers among us. But I, being a game kind of guy, said “no promises, but yes we’ll work with you to see if we can tell your story without that final scene, and despite all the compromises we had to make due to the things you promised to perform and did not. Sure, let’s try!”.
So, we tried. It was all work that was beyond the scope of the contract, and we did it at no additional cost. I was aware that both of these points were red flags. And, well, going the extra mile for these guys bit me in the ass. Instead of being appreciative, this client started pushing for more, more, more free work. When I delivered a rewritten script to them that expertly avoided that final missing scene yet still told their story, and asked for feedback before we incurred the hard costs of a voiceover artist and re-edit, they essentially told me that they just wanted to see a whole lot of story options as fully-completed videos, and they’d just choose the one they liked best.
I mean, fuck, not even I could ignore that big honking red flag.
So, I sighed a long sigh that you could have heard from a block away in New York, and pulled up the contract. I examined it. I showed the client that we’d exceeded all the parameters including time we’d promised to commit to their video. And as nicely as I could, I explained that we want to help them get out of this mess (which I clearly showed was a mess of their doing, not ours), but that they need to honor their side of the contract, which, after all, they’d signed, too. And that part of this is to not take advantage of my company’s good nature.
I hope the client starts treating their project- and us- with the respect deserved. They do make a cool product, that could be a big deal if they let us do our jobs with the video, and then properly promoted it. No matter what, though, our simple contract served its purpose.
Wrapping up, I don’t usually go around set with a copy of the contract, screaming when we’re asked to do extra stuff. If it’s small, we’ll do it. If our out-of-pocket isn’t large, we’ll do it. If it’ll make the client happy, generally, we’ll do it. But having a great, simple contract has proven to be very, very useful for that small percentage of clients who don’t respect their vendors.
ps: I thought long and hard about posting anything “bad” about a client. But after long and careful deliberation, I noticed that the de-facto way of dealing with the 2-5% of problem clients that agencies have is to pretend they do not exist, that you never have to deal with clients who let you down. I think that’s dishonest. And it’s not how I want to be. The facts are, over 95% of the clients I’ve worked with in my career have been good to great relationships, and I’ve enjoyed them and they’ve enjoyed me. But it’s not all wine and roses, not even for the best vendor-client relationships. Having simple things in place to protect everyone is important even with the best relationships. And when you deal with a not-great client, these things become even more important.