This is something I have been learning more and more about as I steer away from my own personal projects and begin directing for companies and brands. It’s a continuous game of push and pull, and I would have liked to read this article a few years ago. Here are some things I have learned:
Do your research.
Both before and after you get the job, go to the website and watch past commercials or advertisements of any kind to see if they have a common theme. For example, if you were submitting a treatment to Axe, you would quickly discover they have a theme. The product creates a desirable man out of a stereotypically undesirable man, and as the years go on that theme has become more extreme. Maybe you’re about to work with a musician; looking into their work, past music videos or photo shoots will help. When I am putting myself out there to direct a music video, I like to know what the artist’s personal style is; while I also dig to find the history of the track, if possible, before a first meeting.
Keeping an open mind and being flexible with your treatment is key. The treatment was more then likely your idea, but prepare to have the client manipulate it a bit to make it feel like their own. Nothing should be set in your mind, although if you are really passionate about something fight for it and hope the client jumps onboard.
There are lots of questions to ask in your first meeting with a new client assuming you have already done the research and gotten the job. You should ask them to give their description of the company in their own words. For me it makes everything more real than what I get off of their website. I like to ask what they feel the tone, look, and objective of the finished product should be, which will allow you start interpreting those answers for yourself. Something you always need to know is the target audience. This may be something you think you already know, but keep in mind the client could be using this spot to find a new target audience.
The client isn’t a filmmaker, you are. Make them trust you as early in the game as possible; that way when you need to make a change to help with budget, or because you are using a new camera and would like to try something unique, they will more than likely jump onboard. From the moment emails begin or meetings take place, you should be twelve feet tall. Be confident you will make the best product possible.
I have had two extremes. Shoots with clients who never leave video village, and clients who come say hi and take off after the first shot. You should be conscious of both. When a client is on set all day, I like to include them. Sometimes I ask questions that I already know the answers to, but it forces me to include them in my conversations. I usually try to see how they feel about scenes after they’re shot, and if they say, “oh, adding this would be nice,” or “this shot is something I was thinking of” I will do my best to incorporate those shots. Will they make it to the final cut? More than likely not, but your client also won’t notice that it didn’t. When your client isn’t on set all day, you also need to keep in mind that you’re working for the client. Although you may feel free, you need to think about the brand so that you don’t have any inconsistencies with the company in post where you can’t go back and re-shoot something.
Making Changes, Post Client Approval
I have often had script approvals and then when pre-production begins, something in the script will need to be discussed. For instance, I had a character who was supposed to enter on stairs and then realized during a location visit that the stairs were far too narrow to shoot it properly and safely. I had to switch the entrance to a fence where I could rack focus to the subject, and ended up liking it better anyway. The ‘entrance’ feeling to the spot is still the same and I didn’t need to discuss it with the client in this case. You need to think thoroughly on what changes should be addressed with the client. I would say anything that can be seen as a representation of the brand, including wardrobe, character types, lines of dialogue, etc. should be re-approved or addressed on set. Having a character wear the company uniform improperly could make the edit difficult once your client makes the observation.
As clients come and go, I always learn new things that either help or delay the process. Every client will be different, always keep an open mind.