There are some clients who are jerks, no matter how much they offer to pay you. No matter how tempting the big money that they offer you, the best thing that you can do is refuse to ever work for a jerk.
I’m Dan Baker, and I teach you how I was able to be so successful in both the photography and video businesses, with what I call the Super-Niche. I was able to earn enough with my cameras to be able to retire at 38, and then spent several years traveling the world, doing everything on my bucket-list.
Some clients are preceded by their reputation. They do great work, in this case a video producer, Pat, with the biggest budgets you have ever worked with. I was a videographer, with a broadcast camera, and many years of experience. I was very familiar with Pat, and admired his work, but had never worked with him. I had heard thru the grapevine though, that he was a jerk to work for.
The new video project that Pat had been hired to produce, for a local public agency, had a budget of around $100,000 (adjusting for inflation in 2021 dollars). It was only supposed to be around four minutes long, which is a very big budget for such a short video. Everybody in the area knew who Pat was, he was sort of a minor celebrity in my community.
Most photographers and videographers are not extremely financially successful. Most of them live job to job, scraping to pay the bills like most people. The thought of a really nice high paying shoot can seem like gift from heaven, and can cause people to relax their normal good judgement.
I had a friend named Mike, who was the chief cameraman for one of the big three networks. He was based in Miami, and I had done a lot of work for his network when they needed an extra shooter occasionally, and Mike was my contact with that network.
Mike told me about a side job he was hired to shoot on his day off, down in the Florida Keys, where I lived. Mike was a fantastic shooter, trained by the networks and he had many years of experience. He had worked his way up the ladder, until he was the chief cameraman for the network in Miami. It seems that Pat had hired Mike for a day, to shoot some scenes for the new video that Pat was producing. Mike was a good shooter, much better than me, and he was definitely the best person for the job.
While they were shooting the scenes for Pat’s new video, Mike set up the shots the way he knew would be best. But Pat didn’t like the way Mike was doing the shots, so he told Mike that he was the producer, he was the boss, and told Mike to do it his way. Mike knew that Pat’s way would not get the best shots, but Pat made it abundantly clear that he was the boss, and that’s how it was gonna be done. After they got back to Pat’s studio and looked at the video on the big monitors, it was clear that the shots didn’t look very good. Pat was displeased, and told Mike so.
I was with Mike a few days after this episode happened, and he told me the whole story. A day or two later I received a call from Pat. He wanted to hire me to shoot some scenes for his new video, which was being funded by a local government agency, and everybody in the area had heard about it. Pat offered me a very good day-rate, and I agreed to meet with him to hear more about the shoot he wanted me to do, but I had my guard up, way up. Pat wanted me to re-shoot the scenes that he had already hired Mike to shoot. Pat didn’t tell me that he had already hired someone to do this shoot, and I didn’t tell Pat that I knew all about this situation already.
When I arrived at Pat’s studio, the first thing he did was start complaining about an incompetent shooter he had hired to do this shoot, but who couldn’t get the shots done right. He proceeded to badmouth that shooter, my friend Mike, and went on and on, about how poor of a cameraman Mike was.
He told me what had happened during the shoot with Mike. His description was exactly the same as Mike had already told me. Except the reason for the screwed up video was Mike’s fault, not his. I was experienced enough to realize that Mike was totally right about how to get the best shot, and Pat was clueless about what it took to do it right. Pat did nothing but badmouth Mike to me, not knowing that Mike and I were friends, and I already knew from Mike what had happened.
The person who had recommended Mike as a shooter for Pat’s video, Andy, was not only overseeing Pat’s video production for the local government agency, but was also my biggest client, and a very good friend.
Mike was the best shooter in the area, and I knew that he was right, and Pat was wrong. But Pat started badmouthing Mike to not only me, but other people in the area too. I told Pat that I would not work for him, no matter how much he offered to pay me. Pat was stunned, thinking nobody would turn down that amount of money for such a “simple” little shoot, and for such a prestigious producer as him.
Pat told Andy that I had refused to shoot for him, even though he offered me a lot of money. Pat couldn’t understand why anybody would refuse that amount of money, especially on such a prestigious project as his, and since he was such a great producer. Andy, who was then very curious about why I had refused to work with Pat, called me to see why I flat out refused to work for Pat, at any price.
Andy had recommended Mike to Pat, but he didn’t know that Mike had already done the shoot for Pat, and that the video wasn’t usable. And he certainly didn’t know that Pat was now going around badmouthing Mike to everybody. Andy was not a video shooter, but he was experienced enough with video production to know that Mike was right, and that Pat was being a total jerk. I told Andy that if Pat was badmouthing the best shooter in the area, Mike, he would be badmouthing me too, no matter what I did. And that was why I flat out refused to work for Pat.
Pat eventually found another shooter to do the shoot, but it was never the way Pat had envisioned it would be, and as he had explained to me how he wanted the scenes to look.
Andy understood why I had flat out refused to work for Pat, to his face, no matter how much he offered to pay me. Andy also thought that the entire episode was humorous, and worthy of telling other people. It wasn’t long before it seemed like everybody in the area knew that I had refused to work for Pat. Other shooters in the area started asking me about why I refused to work for Pat.
I developed a reputation after that, as the shooter who refused to work for jerks, no matter how much they offer to pay. This turned out to be a gift horse to me. I wasn’t known after that for the clients that I had worked for, but for those clients who I refused to work for. I stood out from everybody else, and in this business standing out from the crowd is the best thing a photographer, or in this case a videographer, can accomplish.
That good day-rate that I turned down from Pat, was more than made up many times over, from work that I got in the future, because I was known as the shooter who wouldn’t work for just anybody.
To learn more about Dan Baker, you can read his bio and client list. You can read all of Dan’s articles at his archive. He uses the techniques in the Super-Niche to build the website for Fulltron Aviation, which is an umbrella of several aviation related businesses: Flight School, private airport, a social organization called the Hillbilly Squadron, and How-to GoPro videos.