October 24, 2015 at 10:24AM

0

"That's a great idea, but...." (working with art directors)

I work with a lot of art directors, creative directors, and corporate clients for commercials and editorials. One of my friends who is a art director at Goodby told me a neat workaround for dealing with egos and also still possibly being able to execute your visions as well.

There are always so much egos in play, everybody needs to say something and make themselves purposeful on set. Everybody wants to make a suggestion but no decisions. And most of them are terrible.
Telling them that they are terrible and moving on might be the best and fastest way to finish the job, but that client is not coming back to you. The sad reality is, their "experience" is more important to them then their result. It is true that most of the crap you are being asked to you, somebody else can shoot it. There really are very few jobs and (hate to admit) but very few dp's that can really create and own something original. If you give them a product but a bad time, they'll just move on to the next guy.

My friend at Goodby, one of the higher up art directors there with over 30 years in that position gave me this advice about 10 years ago. "Even if the answer is No, never say No. Say No without saying No"

So, when you are suggested a terrible idea (all the time), a good way to work around it is by praising it but suggesting how their idea can be even better (with yours). Even if your idea is completely opposite. To lead them into it, you make it "their idea" by having them answer the questions.
So if they say "how about a harder light source", i would reply "you know that might be a good idea. It would add more shadow and drama...".BUT" we do also want to see the talent's face right? Do you think that's important?."
So i'll have the gaff move the light in a few feet and go heavier on the diff, and move the talent back. What we essentially did was just move the entire set back. Then the art director complains about something "now showing in frame". so you move the came up to cut it out. And now they're happy. You have just gone right back to where you started. You have now managed their ego, made them happy, and possibly have a repeating client. You made them feel part of the team.

Another case would be. "you know what that's great! Let's do that "BUT" how about we also shoot this coverage for safety (the correct decision) so we'll have alternatives in post.
This one you need to be careful so you won't be shooting alternatives for every goddam shot.
The work around that (if they start to suggest alternatives) is to say, for editorial don't YOU think it would cut better if we had consistency?
remember "YOU" is important. and you let them "make the decisions" and validate your suggestion.

There's probably better and other ways to work around them but this has worked for 10 years for me and 30+ years for a buddy of mine who does SuperBowl commercials, Nike ads and American Express Campaigns.

10 Comments

When I used to shoot table-top large format photography back before the digital revolution when we used to shoot test polaroids before we shot actual sheets of film, it was pretty common to have a client or art-director keep modifying the shot and you would keep shooting polaroids all day, until 8 hours later they would pick up one of the first polaroids and say "hey this looks great, lets go back to this set up". ( in other words they wasted 8 hours of your time screwing-around with the shot, when we should have gone with the first set-up )

Some of the higher budget shooters in town would have very attractive female producers whose main job was to keep crazy clients and art-directors away from the set, so that actual work could get done.

October 24, 2015 at 2:19PM, Edited October 24, 2:21PM

1
Reply
Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31730

i used to work for one of the top still life photographers in the world (no exaggeration) for years, where i learned pre-visualization and lighting.
Apparently from 30+ years ago his rule was always only 2 polaroids and two slides, 4x5 or 8x10 on a sinar/horseman/deardorff. Clients came knowing it and it forced props and the art department to work more carefully and also look from camera angle.

i stopped working for him 3 years ago, where he was now shooting on a 645 digital back but still on a sinar. But he still kept that rule even today. Only 2x digital shots, and two 4x5 negatives.

The younger prop stylists would say "can you shoot one so we can see?" he would say "are you sure? i only shoot 2 digitals. Lighting is good, the styling is on you."
They always went back in to fix it, pulling out levels, static brushes and rulers.
he is also a better stylist himself them most of them.
He still til this day refuses to rotate an image in post, at least on his end.
He'll give them the digitals and negative scans (still drum scanning) and let them do whatever in post. But he tries to give them little as possible to alter his image.
Im sure this isn't possible for every situation nor for everyone, but he kept that ground and the clients still come to him knowing so. Sometimes the new clients freaked out on set.

This gave me a good habit of getting things correct and looking with my eye before starting up the camera. I also try to work with a gaffer who look with their eyes.

For the "dealing with client" part, we hire a producer who's very in control and have a few charming (male and female) PA's that are well liked.

Thanks for always joining the convo Guy.

October 24, 2015 at 9:20PM

6
Reply
Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1284

Sinar Px cameras are still the best large format cameras on the market, and you can find used ones in good shape for 20 percent of what they cost new. Definitely my favorite large format camera to shoot with.

October 25, 2015 at 11:55AM

0
Reply
Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31730

So, are you basically saying: be passive-aggressive?

October 25, 2015 at 10:17PM

8
Reply
avatar
Ryq
171

That's what I got from all of this.
Really should have been included as a tl;dr.

October 26, 2015 at 3:01PM

0
Reply
avatar
Tobias N
1179

It's a little more than that i think. There's definitely a sense of trust and also you need be right about your suggestions. They cannot just be good decisions, they need to be the right ones. Its a business and a lot of capital is behind it and not a short film or experimental you can "let's try" amongst friends. Experimentation is a must, but not on the job. You need to execute. Your confidence is their confidence

October 26, 2015 at 8:10PM

0
Reply
Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1284

and I hope sharing my experiences can help others, just like this site has done for me. Even if you knew it already, it's always a great thing to see that others share the same habits as you do.

October 26, 2015 at 8:10PM

0
Reply
Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1284

There's no need to manipulate people and dance around on set. Just communicate clearly and respectfully then move on.

Your set sounds like a mess to be honest. My experience has not been "everybody needs to say something on set to make themselves purposeful". It's "everybody should be working to elevate the material and solve problems as they come up."

If you have amateurs show-boating and slowing things down, let them go and hire someone else.

October 27, 2015 at 4:50PM, Edited October 27, 4:51PM

8
Reply
LJ
594

The whole conversation is about those "mess" and how i've dealt with them. Im not saying it is the only way nor all sets are of that nature.

Unfortunately many times,bigger sets especially, we've had too many chefs. Client - Creative Agencies - Artist Agencies - and our selves are guilty of it at times.

October 27, 2015 at 8:44PM

0
Reply
Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1284

Fair call, you are right, sometimes you can't control who is in the kitchen. When the egos are within the normal realm it can usually be handled with a little cheerful diplomacy but I have also experienced unreasonably silly egos too.

The only option then was to grin and bear it knowing was unlikely anyone there would work with them again.

Good luck and I hope you get a cooler group for your next project.

October 28, 2015 at 1:55PM, Edited October 28, 1:56PM

2
Reply
LJ
594

Your Comment