The Worst Client Ever

Let’s just call him Fred. I don’t know what happened to Fred after he ran out of our office clutching his DCP drive. I don’t know if he made his flight. I don’t know if the DCP ever played. But I do know Fred had a good heart.

Fred called us two days before his film was due to premiere asking for “an editor to make DCP”.

“Well, we don’t have editors here, we’re not really a post house. But we can make you a DCP, no problem.”

“But I need Editor! You find me editor! My editor has left!”

“Oh, sorry to hear that. Well I don’t know many editors. But there are plenty of post houses around Soho. I can recommend a few.”

“How much how much!?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly what you need, but it will likely be in the thousands…”

“What!? No! No! You find me editor!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know…”

“I’m coming! I come now!” And the phone went dead. It was clearly going to be one of those days.

An hour later, Fred came tearing through the door with an enormous wheelie suitcase. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I don’t know where he was from, I couldn’t place the accent. He was in his 50s, sweaty, and rather stout. He parked his suitcase in the middle of our office and proceeded to unpack. Three of us stood dumbfounded as he removed trousers and shirts and started draping them over our office chairs. Speaking so fast his mouth couldn’t keep up, his story came to us in broken dribs and drabs. His editor had walked out on him right at the end of a project and he was in a massive rush to finish his film, get it converted into a DCP and jump on a plane to Bulgaria where it was due to premiere in two days.

As Fred piled his pants and socks in a heap next to the recycling bin, we gently tried to explain that none of us were editors and we couldn’t help him. This was a lie, because I was a professional film editor for 7 years. I just didn’t want to edit anything for Fred because, as I suspect his previous editor had concluded, Fred was a bloody nightmare.

As we asked him to stop unpacking his clothes in our office, Fred pulled out an entire Apple Mac desktop from his suitcase. “This is my film. Please, help me!”

We did our best to help Fred. We made him a cup of tea, sat down in front of a computer with him and we showed him websites like Shooting People where he might be able to find somebody. Fred, having established his production HQ in our office, spent a good few hours researching and calling people. We went about our usual business as he sweatily tried to rescue his drowning film.

Eventually Fred stood up from his desk and packed his shirts, trousers, pants, socks and Apple Mac back into his huge suitcase. And whilst talking urgently into his phone, he simply left without saying a word to any of us. “It would have been nice to have been acknowledged,” I said as we watched him waddle down Poland Street with his suitcase, still talking hurriedly into his phone. “I guess that’s the last we’ll see of him.”

That was not the last we saw of Fred. To his credit, he managed to finish editing his film. I don’t know where, how or who came to his rescue. But at 7am my mobile started ringing. Somebody, I don’t know who, thought it would be hilarious to give Fred my mobile number. Fred called me having done an all-nighter to say he’d just about finished editing, but, again, the editor had walked out on him. And he didn’t know how to export his film from Adobe Premiere and please could I help. Not being at all familiar with Premiere, all I could tell him was what we needed. Having taken a wild stab that his film was probably HD, I advised him to scale and crop it slightly to 1998×1080 and export ProRes 422 HQ at 24 FPS with the stereo audio embedded. I don’t think Fred knew how to do this. I don’t think Fred fully understood how to operate the mouse. He desperately tried to explain what he was seeing on the screen. “Where should I click? Please! Where?”

“Call your editor,” I pleaded. “He’ll know how to do this better than me.”

“He’s gone! He’s left!”

Knowing that he wasn’t going to go away, I was tempted to jump on a train to wherever he was and see if could export the film for him. But I just knew that his project was going to be an almighty mess and I would only embroil myself into his nightmare. I pictured myself being trapped in his flat all day and all night, desperately fighting software I wasn’t familiar with, making endless changes and exporting version after version from a slow computer that would crash half way through each export. With Fred shouting and pleading at me. Maybe he’d cook for me. Maybe we’d move in together. And soon it would be me traipsing around Soho with a huge suitcase full of all my clothes and a Mac and shouting at strangers “are you editor!? You help me?” No, this was not going to be my day. My plan had been to shower, eat coco pops, listen to my podcast on the tube, get to work and finish the overdue VAT return. I had planned it all the night before and I was sticking to it.

“Fred, I can not help you. I’m sorry. I have given you the specs we need and that is the best I can do for you. I’m sorry, and I wish you the very best of luck with your project.” And I ended the call with him shouting something incomprehensible down the phone at me. “Oh well, I thought, that’s the last we’ll hear of him.”

Fred turned up at 6PM with a hard drive and an envelope stuffed with enough cash to cover an evening’s overtime. He wanted a DCP and he wanted it fast. He was flying out of Heathrow in four hours time. We had to get to work immediately. To our astonishment, he’d completed his export successfully. Not quite to spec but close enough so we could get the thing on Clipster, encoded and QCd that evening by the skin of our teeth.

Fred paced nervously up and down the office as we did our thing. We loaded the DCP into the cinema, sat him down and we started to watch the film back.

I could tell instantly something wasn’t right. And I knew exactly what the issue was. Fred, or Fred’s third editor, had messed up his export big time. The film was dropping a frame every second causing tiny jolting cuts. It looked horrible. Fred had clearly been working at 25fps but had exported to 24fps without doing a standards conversion. To be fair to team Fred, pros make this mistake all the time and it’s one of the more common issues we see. Usually we check for it before the encode. But we had rushed. Even if we had spotted it, nothing could have been done in time to correct it.

I pointed the jump-cuts out to Fred. But he seemed fine with them.

“Ah yes, that is very typical of Cannon XC10” he said in a sagely voice. “XC10, yes, very typical of this camera”.

“No it’s not,” I said in my head. “Whoever has exported this has stuffed it up.”

“Yes, it’s always been like this from the beginning. XC10, very typical.” I realised that he had come to peace with this horrible looking footage some time ago and the problem had likely occurred way upstream from us.

For now, I decided, the customer would be right. Normally we wouldn’t let a film out of our facility looking like this in case somebody attributed the error to us. Our hard drives are emblazoned with our logo and our SDC facility code is in the DCP file name. Who knows where it would end up. But there was no way I was going to fight Fred on this. This DCP would pass QC even if it was 86 minutes of white noise. All problems, from that moment on, would be attributed to the Cannon XC10.

I promised myself that I would take this up with Fred at a later date. And suggest he fix the issue and that we amend the DCP. He’d clearly put a massive amount of time and energy into his documentary, which I won’t tell you anything about so as not to identify it. Other than it wasn’t that bad. And it deserved to be shown without nasty skipping frames every second. I would certainly discuss this with him after things had calmed down. Definitely, without fail. On Monday morning. First thing.

But as Fred left the office late that night in the pouring rain, clumsily getting into an Uber and clutching his precious DCP drive under his arm, I thought to myself “that’s the last we’ll see of him”. And this time, I was right.

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