Color Suite Etiquette

When starting out as a Colorist one thing that is never really discussed is how to handle yourself in front of clients.  It’s easy to color on your own time without supervision.  You can pretty much do whatever you want – try different techniques, listen to your favorite type of music, go at your own pace, etc. etc.  But the second a client enters the door, it’s a whole different ballgame.  You now need to “run the session”.  It’s your responsibility to get the job done in a timely manner, to the best of your abilities, all while making sure the client is getting what they want.  It’s no easy task.

I was lucky enough to work as an assistant and sit in on client supervised sessions since I started working in the color world.  It was a very valuable experience that allowed me to see how things work when a paying client is sitting in the room with you.  At first, it was quite intimidating –  changing lab rolls, queuing up shots, outputting selects – all while people were watching me.  And I was just the assistant!  But as I became more and more confident in my abilities, my interactions with clients felt much more natural and just became part of everyday life.

It may seem simple, but the first thing I do when clients walk into the room is greet them.  I make it a point to address every person and make eye contact.  You want to be welcoming, warm, and friendly.  But at the same time, ready to work.  You know how the saying goes – “You only get one chance to make a good first impression”.  Most of the time, handshakes are in order.  Extended hand, firm grasp, eye contact.  You know the drill.  I always do my best to make sure I get their names if it’s someone I haven’t met before.  But, admittedly, I’m awful with names.  I forget them almost instantly.  So I try to get notes from my producer before-hand on who will be attending the session and keep a small cheat sheet at my desk that only I can see.  You know, in case of emergency.

Another thing that I have learned the hard way, is to never say “nice to meet you”.  I work in a dark room with my back to the client.  And a lot of people come through my doors.  There nothing more awkward than using the aforementioned greeting only to get the response “I worked with you last month”.  Whoops.  Insert foot in mouth.  So I have made my greeting a little more generic.  “Thanks for coming in!”  or “Nice to see you.”  There you go.  No more awkward encounters.  You don’t want your clients first impression to be that you think they’re forgettable.

After pleasantries are exchanged, I find it’s a good idea to have a little color banter once everyone is settled in.  Laptops are out, coats are off, everyone is ready to go.  I do my best to find out what they’re hoping to accomplish and then I start to throw some ideas around.  I normally have a couple of looks ready to show to get the conversation started.  Resolve’s split screen feature is awesome for this.  It’s always a big hit with clients.  It shows that you’ve put thought into the process and that you’re ready to go.  It helps get the session started off on the right foot.

Once a decision is made on the color direction, it’s time to pound the pavement and get to work.  Normally there are one or two creatives who take the lead when offering feedback.  They’re the ones you want to have the most interaction with.  Color sessions can be long, arduous events.  And if you’re not the one doing the coloring, attention can wane.  Clients normally have other work to do and distractions happen.  So once you feel you’re ready to show something, politely try to grab their attention.  If changes are requested – and they will be – the best approach is to collaborate.  That’s what it is after all.  A collaboration.

Never say “No, that won’t work”.  Keep it positive.  “Sure, we can try that”.  Save your grade, address their feedback and see if it works.  If it doesn’t, they’ll quickly see it and revert to where you were.  If it does, then, great!  The client is happy.  Win/win.  If you instantly shoot down their idea, you introduce a negative energy that is not good for anyone.  And even if you don’t like the direction the client has decided upon, remember, it’s the clients’ project.  That doesn’t mean you should be a pushover.  You shouldn’t.  They’re paying you for your professional insight and services after all.  Make your opinion heard, but don’t be pushy.  If you feel a certain way, then offer up a reason why.  “I really like where you brought this shot, but if we go this direction, I’m worried about matching it to the next scene”.  And then show them.  You don’t just want to be a button pusher, but you also don’t want to be known as the confrontational guy that’s hard to work with.

Once the session is about to wrap up, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone that has to get their eyes on the project has seen it.  If the person who makes the final call isn’t there, offer up a posting or stills.  Do your best to make sure that everyone is happy with the product they’re given.  If you feel any hesitancy, call them out.  “Are there some more shots you want to look at?  I don’t mind. Let’s give this one another rundown”.  You always want to be there to help them make the product better.  It’s also might be a good time to take a break yourself.  Go grab a cup of coffee and reset your eyes.  Sometimes a fresh start can do wonders.

All these interactions come with experience.  It can be daunting to have clients sitting behind you watching your every move.  But if you know your stuff, it shouldn’t be an issue.  One thing I did when starting out was to put myself in the clients’ shoes.  If I were a client, what would I want to do?  What would I ask for?  That way, I could anticipate their comments or requests and do them before they ever got the chance to bring them up.  It made me faster, better at my job, and is now just part of my regular routine.  That’s not to say every job is the same.  They’re not.  But if you are aware of your surroundings and paying attention to your clients (in addition to the coloring – don’t forget about that!) then you should be in a good place to run a successful supervised color session.


  1. Drew

    Great post,
    I work freelance and sometimes I find the nicer clients are the harder ones. They seem to like everything so you have to push them a little to get what they really want. Otherwise they’ve said yes to something they weren’t 100% and they walk away unhappy.

  2. David Jahns

    great post, Rob. One thing that I’ve found super helpful to make the client session most productive is to do a LOT of the prep work ahead of time. If possible, and I have any time between conform and client sessions, I’ll go through and pull keys for skin tones, draw product roto masks, etc., so that when clients are on the couch, I can immediately address their comments (which I have a pretty good feel for by now). But I usually work in short form commercials – a different ball game than long form for sure…

    • Rob Bessette

      I’m normally short form too, so if there’s time, I do the same type of prep. It definitely makes the session move along smoothly. In addition, I’ve started using a fixed node structure lately, so I know exactly where all the corrections are.

  3. Laurann Bartlett

    A very helpful article. Thank you for sharing the things you can only learn on the job.

  4. Morgana McKenzie

    What a great read! Very concise. Your pointers on what to say/not say when with a client were particularly acute. Thank you for sharing your experiences.


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