• The Power of “No”…

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We’ve all been there…

Your client says:

“I’ve got a great idea for the video. Can you shoot me tossing my bouquet? It will be great!”

“Be sure to get some shots of us cutting the cake and smearing frosting on our noses!”

Your heart wants to say yes, because these are nice people. But your storyteller’s mind wants to say, “Not so fast, remember I’m the filmmaker, you’re the client… and I know the best ways to tell a story through film.”

Harsh!

Seriously, don’t say that. But the point is that it’s what you would like to say…

So what can you actually say to stay on good terms with your client while sticking to your guns and doing what’s best for your film?

How do you harness the power of saying no?

Denying ain’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to make yourself a better nay-sayer.

  • Know what you need (and don’t need) to show.
  • Always have a reason (know the WHY).
  • Be confident in the WHY.

We’ll get into HOW to put those three pointers into action in a bit, but first we’re curious… why is it so hard for people to say no to each other at all?

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Why it’s hard to say no…

There are lots of reasons why it’s hard to say “no” to someone who is offering what they feel is a good idea.

They’re paying YOU, and you want to give them what THEY want — they’re the customer, and you’re supposed to be courteous.

Even just in life we don’t like to say “no” — it feels wrong, it’s awkward, it just feels mean. No is bad, yes is good — it’s the social norm! Even when we do say “no,” it’s relatively easy to get talked in to saying “yes.”

We want to be flexible, we want to be considered “easy going,” and agreeable. The relationship with the client is important, and if we want to keep a good one we feel like we need to please them all the time.

And, above all else — the success of a project is dependent on the way the client feels the about the end result.

So therein lies the opportunity — and the responsibility of you as the filmmaker.

The story your film tells has to be congruent with the story the client wants shared.

You want the client to be happy with the end result, but you also want to ensure that your client is happy with the process as well…

Why it’s important to say no…

Why are we so insistent on saying “no” — does it really hurt so much to just give the client the shots they’re asking about?

A few reasons:

1. Stick with the plan. When approaching a film’s production, we always want to ensure that what we shoot is in line with the story we want to share — the story we feel is most representative of the client, told in the most compelling way. Pre-production is where we find that story. We dig deep and investigate every possible angle, every un-expected event, every character that may be relevant for the story we want to share.

Whether it’s a wedding film, a commercial piece, or something we’re shooting for fun, we make sure we KNOW what we want to say and just as importantly, how we are going to to say it.

2. Story relevant material only.
By sticking with the plan, we don’t leave a lot of room for requests for things that aren’t story relevant. One shot of something that doesn’t line up with the dialogue being spoken or the narrative being shown can actually ruin the experience for the viewer and make the piece feel off.

3. You’re confident, you’re an artist, you’re a badass. If you spin it correctly, saying no can actually often work in your favor. There’s a saying along the lines of “if you never say ‘no’ then your ‘yes’ is meaningless”… and it’s true. Do that enough times and someone really can feel that yes-person coming from you. Saying no is certainly more difficult and scary, but often it’s going to make you appear to be more professional.

Well that’s great, but how do you actually SAY no without making things super weird/awkward/burning them?…

How to say no…

So, to return to the example of a bride asking for a shot of her cutting the cake…

When someone who is not 100% aware of the structure of our narrative and how we plan to shoot it comes in and tells us what they think will add to the story, WE DON’T AUTOMATICALLY dismiss their suggestion.

Instead, we think critically about how their suggested scene fits in with the film.

If the shot is not in our list, does it fit with our keywords? Will it add to our story? Do we have the time to capture it?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then the response to the suggestion will go something like, “Wow, thank you for the suggestion. I think it might be a great fit for the film. We’ll do our best to make it happen.”

If the answer to one of those questions is no, then it’s time to explain why the shot is not the best fit for your production.

So here’s the three major things we always remember (in case we gotta do some nay-saying) when meeting up with a client to talk about the story, show them storyboards, etc.

1. Know the story well.

This is always advice we give, because it’s going to make the whole film better all around. But when it comes to saying yes or no to something that might go IN the film… you better do your homework! Know what you want (and don’t want) going in the film, and prepare for that.

2. Know the WHY.

Why are you saying no? Seriously, why? You have a good reason, and that’s what you need to share with the client. Honesty and reason goes a long way when you’re telling someone no! Your “no” is something that get’s the client to understand your side. In your “no,” address what they suggest, buy you explain why the story will work the way you’ve planned it out.

Here are some common phrases we’ll use when telling someone “no”…

“Thank you, I will consider that, if I can make it happen I will.”

“I have an alternative idea, and here’s why I think it can work…”

“I like that idea, but for this specific project, it doesn’t really work — and here’s why…”

3. Be confident in your “no.”

Gather your courage. Remember your reason. Say “no” like you mean it, because you do. Make eye contact with the person you’re talking to and make it clear that you are listening to them and their thoughts.

Confidence can really go a long way here — in a confident “no” you can find moments to insert humor and lighten the mood, and move on quickly because they’ve seen that you are standing by your ideas.

“Be confident” is of course one of those things that’s easier said than done… but we’ve always found that our most confident moments come from being prepared. Believe in your idea, and examine it from all angles. Do your research. Anticipate the kinds of things a client might ask for, so you’re ready when they do.

You’ve got the power!

We appreciate the power of a good pump-up jam, so feel no shame about blasting this song before or after you meet up with a client that you’ll be saying “no” to.

If it helps, while you’re delivering your “no” imagine you’re standing at a podium with a really killer flattop.

But really…

A lot of people don’t understand how filmmaking actually works.

But you do, it’s a skill you have. Use your knowledge of this art not only to make something awesome, but explain the reason behind your choices. And often you’ve just got to bite the bullet and say “no” — and it might just be awkward.

Once you deliver the final piece and it’s really great, they’ll understand, and they’ll probably forget all about some of those requests — because you’ve got the power!

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What are your go-to phrases for telling someone “no” without being a jerk?

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13 Thoughts on “The Power of “No”…

  1. Hahaha! You are famous! And I’ve atclauly got a draft started for a entry just about you two, since we had quite a few fun adventures together I’ll e-mail ya when I get a chance to post it. And believe it or not I’m almost half-way through the book!! I was a bit nervous at first about having enough time (especially when I saw the size of that thing!), but I think it’s going to work out. Yay!

  2. I have an interesting side to saying NO that should have happened recently. We had a 3 camera, 2 DP shoot in September (1 cam was stationary). Before the wedding started, we had the mother of the bride tell us that there would be a bagpiper that would play during the processional and during the recessional. She said that she wanted one of our cameras dedicated to the bagpiper. So because we are learning to say no still, we agreed to do it because like so many of you out there are saying, it’s their day and who are we to say no? We did still have a cam in the balcony on a wide shot, and a cam at the front of the church shooting the bride walking down the aisle. So last week when I sent the bride the video of the ceremony, she wanted to know why we shot so much of the bagpiper. She requested that we put a shot of her husband in there to see his reaction as she walked down the aisle. (Now looking back to our meeting with the bride and groom prior to the wedding, she never specifically requested a shot of him when she was walking down the aisle). We told her that we did not have that shot of her husband because one of our cams was dedicated to the bagpiper. She asked why we would do that, and we told her it was because her mother had asked for it. She began to cry. I apologized to her that we didn’t have the shot she wanted, but that didn’t fix the problem. Luckily, she was not mad at us, she was mad at her mother for requesting that shot – especially since the bride and groom were actually paying for us to be there, not the mother!

    So looking back, I learned a few things: #1, don’t always assume any of the parents are paying for you to be there, it is your responsibility to the bride and groom to give them what they want, not the parents. (Even if the parents are paying!) and #2, Don’t be afraid to say no, even if it is something that the bride and groom wants, because honestly even if the bride wanted us to shoot the bagpiper, we really can’t sacrifice an angle just to a bagpiper. Lesson learned.

  3. Since the answers here have all hinged on the client being a ‘wedding client’ I will just respond in kind. Perhaps we need to remember that for most, (not all of course), this is a unique day in their lives and one that is not intended to be repeated. Why would they not have simple standard requests such as the bouquet toss? It has been done millions of times but for them it is the only time and one that they would wish to have in their memory loft.

    I have been in the photo business since the mid fifties and I have to remind myself that all my clients are unique even if their requests are not.

    If either of my daughters had been told ‘no’ even in a nice way to a request for some wedding inclusions I would have suggested they get another photographer.

    Both parties have a right. The client to have what they intend to pay for and the photographer the right to turn the job down.

    While it is natural to have pre – meetings to discuss their desires and the photographer’s concerns and/or suggestions, the bottom line is the client is paying.

  4. My question is how do you say NO at the very start before you’ve even booked the client? I’m talking about the very first NO. We are selective with our clients and only choose couples who are the perfect fit for the types of films we make. I’m sure Stillmotion has experienced this. A couple comes to say “We want YOU to film our wedding!!” However, after having that initial meeting with them you guys know that this couple is not the perfect fit and you shouldn’t book them. To borrow a line from this post, how do you say NO without sounding like a jerk? How do you tell that couple that you aren’t going to film their wedding because it’s not a perfect fit all around without them taking it personally and receiving backlash? Anyone else deal with this? Would love any input on this subject as it’s hard to get anyone to answer this without going with a Miss America response of, “Oh but the only people who inquire with us ARE the perfect clients so I don’t know what you are talking about.”

  5. I feel like you guys give really good fundamental advice here on how to handle those cringe worthy requests we’ve all heard clients make before. I do have to say though that putting on your beret and stamping your feet and saying “No, we don’t film cake cuttings because were arteeeestss” is not going to bode well with a bride that cares enough to ask. I would agree that a cake cutting or bouquet toss almost never fits in to the story of the main highlight, but as their wedding videographer I feel it is your duty to cover the things they want for memories’ sake, not for stories’ sake. You can shoot these things and just not include them in their highlight, and instead put it in something like a documentary edit. Obviously if all the couple is getting is a highlight then I see it as more justifiable, but even so – how hard is it to capture something as easy as the garter toss just for the sake of having it. It would seem like you’ve got nothing to gain and possibly something to lose by telling them no.

  6. Well, examples not withstanding, here’s where the rubber meets the road for me…

    If you’ve met with your couple (and the bride) and done your pre-pro right she probably won’t be asking you to capture or insert something that doesn’t fit. She will know where things are headed, what the plan is, have agreed to it before hand, and be in the same groove you are. Setting expectations is the first order of business.

    My general policy is to be sure they understand and sign off on the concept.

    However, if you subscribe to the axiom, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans!” you are likely going to have the camera rolling for any of the standard pre-planned “events” within your event. And, if the girls is wearing white… probably gotta at least capture the standard stuff.

    When it comes to saying “no.” I generally try not to outright say that word. I tend to want to re-direct. And, I think the advice above is good in that it first suggests you try to understand what’s being asked. So, that would be my first move. If it didn’t fit then… “Oh, [bride] are we throwing out the original plan we set?” Of course, you have to say that with sincerity and understanding.

    My second choice would be an either or… would you rather I capture/include that or [the other thing] we talked about in planning your wedding story? Or… Choosing that will mean losing something else — not to mention adding editing time and extra charges. We can stick with the plan we developed and you loved or… (and this intended to be said humorously) remake Gone With The Wind!

    Of course, all of these are situational and have to be said with respect. Again, the power, for me, is not necessarily saying “no” but having set expectations. By the way… it’s been my observation that the toss is not the important thing… it’s about who catches it. If you’re on your game you can make a story of that in and of itself with the added benefit that it might land you more work. I’ve also noticed these things vary regionally… in the South, different than say CA or SFO. Anyway… CUT!!

  7. I agree with David Bialik regarding his statements on collaboration and definitely can relate to the temperamental DP analogy!
    However at some point in the production, it becomes time for someone to run the show or else risk compromising productivity or a coherent vision. I think this blog post was written for those times and how to get through them without feeling like a jerk or pissing off your client. Personally, I found that useful.

  8. I’d like to know how you field these requests after you show them the completed film?

    For instance, the client might say “Hey, where’s the shot of us throwing the bouquet?” I guess if you didn’t film it, that’s an easy answer, but what if the request is more subtle? “I’d like to see more color.” “I don’t like that shot of xyz.” There are probably many more examples that I’m hoping you have come across that you can comment on. I suspect since you’ve delivered them a finished piece that you would prefer to leave the film as is, but sometimes the client’s suggestion is, well, subjective whether it is good or bad to implement.

    Love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

  9. I think this article is a bit ridiculous especially when it’s referring to weddings and using examples like shooting a bride throwing her bouquet or the cake cutting. I would shoot these things regardless if it was going to fit into the main story or not because you can always give them the raw footage. I understand the process of pre production and knowing how and why your telling a specific story but not shooting certain formal events throughout the day sounds like a recipe for disaster especially with a live event or documentary where can never be 100% sure of how things are actually going to play out. What if someone wings a speech after an event that you didn’t film and that speech directly relates to the something you thought wasn’t going to fit into the story? With documentary filmaking it just sounds counterintuitive.

    • We prepare so much because we find that it’s easier to stay open to spontaneity that way. We build out the story, and then if something amazing happens that we didn’t expect, we’re more ready than ever to run over and capture it. But that’s not what this post is really about — it’s about handling requests from a client for things you are NOT planning on putting in the story you’re trying to tell. Whether that’s a wedding client with a bouquet or a small business of some kind — the point is that people are going to request things that don’t fit into your concept for the film and you will have to deal with that. Sometimes it means disagreeing with their idea.

  10. The bride throwing the bouquet at her wedding is such a tradition that saying no to shooting it is scandalous. Perhaps using a more realistic example to what budding wedding video makers might actually say “no”.
    Collaboration is at the top of my “to do” list on every production. I say “yes” to shared ideas and then direct them to maximize production values like angles, lighting and framing. If the suggestion is completely unreasonable, then declining is in order. There are DP’s who are temperamental negative people who get good results. But I’d rather work with someone open to interesting, fresh, new or even crazy ideas who will add to the production value. Saying “no” to the clients’ request is simply hubris.

    • Again, we’re not saying to flat-out say NO to any requests the client has — and of course interesting, fresh, crazy ideas are the ones that we all love to embrace. But fresh and new sort of conflicts with standard and traditional, don’t you think? A shot of someone throwing a bouquet is the example we use because it’s something that is commonly asked for. Sometimes it fits, and sometimes it doesn’t. We have plenty of wedding films that don’t feature this shot, and we’ve had to fight to keep it out. It’s about story, finding keywords and tying every shot of the film into that vision — that’s our method and sometimes it does require saying “no” to the client.

    • Don’t be so scared to say no, we’ve convinced brides they don’t want the bouquet toss in their films in the past. For example, a reception from earlier this year was running late and we would have needed to stay an extra hour in order to capture the bouquet toss. We reminded her that the work we showed her (that she loved) didn’t have any of that traditional stuff, and for us to stay and get this would cost an extra $300 and for what, 10 seconds of video? The best thing you can do to prepare for stuff like that (in my opinion) is to make sure they know your work, & know what to expect. Expectations are everything, don’t leave room for surprises.

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