Rediscover The Basics Node Dealing With Helicopter Clients

Dealing With Helicopter Clients

February 2, 2015

Helicopters can hover, so can helicopter clients. Learn how to deal with micro managing clients in your next grading session.

Business & Creative Strategies For Micro-Managing Clients

Over the years I’ve been fortunate (and lucky) to have some really great clients.

Not only have these clients been loyal, but the creative opportunities and the quality of the projects I’m able to work on have been exceptional.

I’ve always felt that the relationships I have with clients are in the general sense top notch – the client trusts me and my company and I trust my clients.

However, this week I had an experience with a new client that had me wondering if I’m destined to have more client experiences like this new one.

What was the problem?

Here are a few good descriptions:

  • Micro-manager
  • Second guessing
  • Obsessive
  • Abusive
  • Threatening
  • Smothering

Getting a good idea of this type of client?

Like I said, I know difficult clients are out there and while I’ve been extremely, lucky it’s not like I’ve been totally immune to the hard to deal with client but this week this client took it to a new level in my 17 years of grading!

In this Insight, I primarily want to help you identify this type of client but also give you a few ways to handle situations with Helicopter Clients.  As always, I’m eager to hear about how you would handle similar types of clients. Please feel free to use the comments at the end of this article.


My awesome wife is always there to listen at the end of a hard day or a hard week.

When it comes to difficult clients she knows exactly what that means in the postproduction industry – she worked as a client services lead for a number of years in a very large, well known post facility in the DC area.

While one could make the argument she was smart enough to get out of post, these days she still works with clients in her role in a fund raising and development department for a prestigious school.

So, when I sat down at the dinner table this week to describe the experiences I was having with this new client she nodded a few times and then said.

“I see this type of person all the time. We call them the helicopter client”.

A bit confused she went on to tell me why helicopter was a good fit for a overwhelming, micro-managing client.

“What’s one big difference between a plane and a helicopter?  A helicopter can hover, right?”

Ahh!  I quickly started to understand and I think this is a perfect, and quite literal way of describing this type of client.

Characteristics Of A Helicopter Client

I listed some descriptors of the type of client I was dealing and that we’ll now call – the Helicopter client.

By definition the Helicopter Client hovers!

This hovering takes on many forms, but at its root a Helicopter Client doesn’t trust you and doesn’t trust your process.

The Helicopter Client is so anxious about a project and how it should be finished that they feel a compulsive need to manage in a very direct way, every step of that project. Including things like color grading that they’re coming to you for in the first place!

Because they are micro-managers and anxious, they can also project this on you, your team and the whole project.

Here are several examples:

  • Constant communication – even if you’ve told a Helicopter Client when they’ll get something or when the next time you’ll communicate they’ll call, email or show up just to “check in” and do so ALL the time.  The Helicopter Client will often ignore time of day, other commitments you may have or other usual business protocols.
  • Doubt – The Helicopter Client will doubt nearly every part of the process – from how you ask them to prepare a project, to atheistic decisions you make while grading to even doubting and expressing that doubt to you about why they hired you in the first place!
  • Anger – When a Helicopter Client starts to become so anxious they can’t even contain that anxiety they usually lash out.  From simply raising their voice to screaming obscenities and being abusive to you and staff anger is a clear sign that you’re dealing with a client not in control.

Of course people are different and the Helicopter Client will manifest him/herself in different ways but these types of clients in general are difficult, smothering and irritating to the flow both logistically and creatively for any given project.

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Homepage Forums Dealing With Helicopter Clients

  • Thanks Robbie!! Great tips! Nothing to add,but looking forward to hearing more from others.

  • Does anyone ever use a client orientation video to spell out the basic terminology and set the expectations?

  • Steve Sebban

    I had a few of them this last years.

    One of them was an Oscar nominee director. We worked on a documentary that he shot and edited all by himself. It was our first work together. He was second guessing everything, asking and taking advices from almost anyone but me. He refused to accept any input form me on my first try. It always took a few days until he was finally ready to listen and let make me the correct adjustments. I had to make tests for almost everything and show him several options and let him pick the one he preferred. It was very, very though and I never encountered such a control freak! At the end of our work, he even brought its own Dell monitor to replace my FSI monitor to check the grade we did! He also checked a few times the DCP I provided and went to another guy to get another DCP. He came back to me because he said that my picture quality was superior.

    After the premiere of the movie at an international festival and after he won the first price there, he finally understood that I delivered everything I promised to him and he now trust me totally. But geez, it was very hard.

    Surprisedly, on the money side, he was very easy to deal with and paid everything I asked without any question and not too much explanations.

  • Glad it all worked out and you now have a long term client hopefully, but if I may ask: Is allowing a client to dictate so much of the job, ESPECIALLY bringing in a their monitor (which is essentially a black box to you) a positive benefit? The image cant be expected to look the same on his Dell and your FSI unless his is perfectly calibrated, etc. It also seems a bit “crossing the line” to request that when coming to you as a specialized professional, as a color suite and its maintenance is technically part of why you are hiring a colorist who operates his own suite. Bringing an “unknown” variable into your calibrated workflow, like his monitor, would seem like taking my car to a certified pro but requiring him to use my limited & rusted toolbox . What does everyone else do with this level of helicopter client?

    My approach is usually to explain my reference display is “king”, and should be trumped for “accuracy” above anything else. However, I advise them to take h264 screener once we are are about to finish and watch it on numerous displays (as they expect their audience to watch) and notice “consistent” issues across all devices, as it doesnt make sense to me to even try and “adjust” for every display. I’ll fix for those consistent issues, so the “overall” viewing experience is consistent. Thoughts? Feedback? Criticisms or suggestions?

  • Steve Sebban

    It was very tricky to deal with this situation. I did explain it all of the disadvantages of bringing an unknown monitor to the party and I did explained to him that he did crossed a fat line but at the end of the day. It calmed him down a lot and he did liked the grade on both monitors (go figure…).

    The DCP looked as closed as possible as my monitor and it earned my a lot of points for that. (and his trust too)

    Since then, I did a few restoration works for him on his older movies and he recommends me to his other colleges.

  • Robbie Carman

    you know greg this is great concept – I have not done it in a video – but we have prep documents for each major NLE, we have deliverable documents too. I’ve always taken the tact of educating in suite but terminology documents or vids are great idea. We have at my facility the moto -Relate, Educate, Create so the educate part ifits into exactly what you’re saying

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