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Best practices for receiving feedback

5 minute read

Notes. Comments. “Thoughts?” Whatever you call it, client feedback is part of the journey.

Perhaps you’ve seen some feedback (i.e. studio notes) on some famous films. Some of these notes, if applied, could’ve altered the course of film history forever. No doubt you’ve had your own moments where you’ve said, “Now… what are they trying to say here?”

Is the feedback experience meant to be confrontational or cryptic? How can you help your clients give meaningful feedback so everyone can do their best work? A specific review and approval tool might come to mind (coughframe.iocough). But before you bring in the machines, you have to address the human elements.

Working with People

Manage Expectations

You were hired as a problem solver. You’re not solving The World’s Problems, but you are helping to solve a ten-thousand piece puzzle with shot selection, scene rhythm, pacing, timing, and emotion, to name a few.

With that in mind, manage your client’s expectations right from the start. What do they hope to achieve with this project? Who’s the target audience? What should the audience take away? Information? A feeling? An experience? With the amount of time and money available, how far can you (or will you) take that vision? Confidently asking such questions opens the doors of respectful, candid communication throughout the project.

Build Trust

Do you have access to scripts? Read them. Are there other preproduction assets available, such as storyboards, animatics, or previsualizations? Study them. Show them you can be trusted to ask, “What’s next?” until the project wraps.

Have an idea how to take something in a certain direction? Toss it out to the client. Describe how it would take shape. If you share the client’s vision, and can reach the desired outcome, you’re likely to work together again. The more you work together, the more you’ll be trusted to just take the ball and run with it.

Build Rapport

Sometimes, it’s a bit of conversation with the client. Other times, you’ll have little-to-no pleasantries. How will you know which way to go? Read the room, then build rapport with the client.

Unfortunately, this is an art, not a science. Did the client show up with a smile and some pep in their step? Or are they dragging because of decision number nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine? If the client’s having a bad day, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge it. Listen. Then, figure out a way to bring it back. Maybe it’s a favorite jam. Maybe it’s a classic YouTube clip. Maybe they just need some time alone. If you get it wrong, that’s OK. Read the room. Organically build that rapport. Show the client you’re not just a pixel pusher.

If you’re not great at this skill, the best way to learn is by watching, rather than reading books. Try to find someone who’s a pro and feeling the room and creating a connection with the client/producer/director, and see if you can be an assistant or intern for them.

Own Your Expertise

More than likely, you were hired because… you’re the expert. Own that expertise.

This doesn’t mean being tyrannical. Or belligerent. Or acting with hubris. But if you made a decision, and they want to know why, your decision wasn’t arbitrary. Confidently explain The Why. They may not agree right away. There might be some back and forth. That’s OK. You’re the expert. Be the expert. But…

Be Nice

Be open. Plenty of good ideas start as, or come from, bad ideas.

Be yielding. Try something, show it to the client. If they don’t like it, retreat. If you believe in it, pitch it again at another time. If the client still isn’t feeling it, but you still believe in it, try it one more time, at another time. After that, no more. If you want that client to want to work with you, yield.

Be respectful. If they’re short on time, and they tell you, respect that and think about re-organizing how you run the session in order to take care of the most important questions first.

Be kind. As it’s been said of feature film work, getting the job isn’t about convincing someone you’re the best editor around. It’s about convincing someone that spending nine months locked in a room with you will be enjoyable.

The Feedback Loop

Using Review and Approval Services

The other side to getting meaningful client feedback is having the right toolset in place to do so. Working with the client in the same room at the same time makes this relatively straightforward. But when working across buildings in the same facility, or with team members from around the world, common feedback mechanisms frequently fall apart. Email is often used for project management. Something as simple as hitting Reply instead of Reply All, or having offhand comments misconstrued, could result in disaster.

Consider using a Web-based review and approval service that locks all feedback to the timeline. With it, everyone can have a unified toolset as a means of giving clear, focused feedback. Some can even transform that feedback into a usable component for your NLE. How?

With timecode as the anchor point, you can create a project where members to view a video, stop playback, and submit comments attached to that timecode. Comments usually appear in a chat-style interface, which encourages realtime discussion. These comments could then be exported as markers to import into your NLE, which could checked off in your timeline, one-by-one.

Some services include drawing tools to help you zero in on a particular item. “I don’t like the lady in the yellow hat.” is tough to fulfill if there are several shots featuring ladies in yellow hats. Circling which lady appears at a specific timecode, or even drawing an arrow to her, gives that request some clarity.

But what if, despite best efforts, communication breaks down? Maybe you wrote something that was misunderstood, or you’re not seeing eye-to-eye on a certain item?

Discussing in Realtime

Hop on the phone. FaceTime. Skype. Slack. So much can be cleared up in realtime. With the tone of your voice and your facial expressions, incendiary moments can be diffused, confidence in decisions can be affirmed.

Keep it brief. Or not. Again, read the room.

Once you get the feedback needed, document it, then execute.

“Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.” You and your client are on the same team. Show them you can work with people, not just software. Help your client use the right communication tool at the right time. They’ll deliver clear, meaningful feedback, and you’ll lay the groundwork to be seen as, not another hired gun, but a trusted partner.

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