This week was one of the weirdest and most fulfilling.
We returned from an excellent vacation packed with sights, smells, and intrigue. We saw lots of Northern California in a way that Tina and I do best.
While we were gone, we were approached by several different clients asking for estimates or scheduling us for some amazing work that we want. Our goal lately has been to hone what work we accept and only do the kind of stuff that makes our portfolio shine. And that’s what’s been happening.
We had two inquiries about an editorial shoot and also a catalog.
Ahh, what a dream. We love editorial. It’s our absolute favorite thing to photograph.
Another agency client asked us for a table top shoot as soon as we could get to it upon our return. This agency has locations here and in Los Angeles. We’ve been lucky to photograph interiors and portraits with them, and this was going to be our very first time hosting them in our studio!
We were so excited.
But this is where the week got weird. Really weird.
So we booked our studio with the owner of the space. Let’s call the owner Betty. Many of you are aware of this new space, and how excited we have been to take over the space full time when Betty moves to Europe for a year. Until then, Betty lives in the there.
Because we only book the studio infrequently, we were on an hourly booking basis until Betty leaves for Europe. It just makes more sense for us. If we were paying rent, and she lived there and was there every time we booked, it just gets awkward. That’s how our last studio situation was, and we knew that it wasn’t easy to book a space that someone lived in.
On Monday after the request from our agency client for a quick photo shoot, I sent Betty a message saying we needed to book the space at 10:30 a.m. that Wednesday. I told her I would add it to the calendar. So from our beautiful suite in Napa Valley, I added our job to our group calendar, carefully making sure it was in there for 10:30. I explained that our client would be with us, and we were excited to finally book the space with an agency client whom we could host.
Betty seemed grateful for the booking and asked us to pay cash. She said that the typical way we paid through Chase QuickPay was illegal for some reason.
I found that suspect, but kind of accepted it. It was a short booking for $35. Who cares. I explained that if it were a longer-than-an-hour booking that we should at least be able to pay via check to ascertain a paper trail. She agreed and said, “Maybe PayPal in that instance.”
Now, mind you, I haven’t had the greatest relationship with Betty. Betty has a controlling personality. When I’ve been around her, I walk on egg shells, because you don’t know what you might do that would be unreasonable to her.
She’s vocal about what she finds wrong with the world, and she’s told other renters’ clients that their tardiness wasn’t acceptable in the “real world.”
Betty’s in her mid-30s. Single. Lives with her two dogs, one she brought back from Mexico after a destination wedding she shot. This dog is nothing but a nightmare with four legs. One minute you’re working with a beautiful model, and the next you’re smelling a pile of shit he left at her feet.
Betty complains incessantly about bills and her lack of income. We’ve thrown work at her when we’ve been double booked, because, well, we feel sorry for her. Until what happened this week, we were expecting to throw more work her way. A couple thousand dollars worth. Our May and June are the most booked we’ve ever been.
But we’re not helping her anymore.
Here’s a bit of backstory.
Betty has shown herself to be incapable of understanding that her role during our photo shoots should be one of detachment, but instead she involved herself even imposed when she shouldn’t.
For instance, during our last shoot with a model, I was shooting and giving posing direction. Betty happened to be standing in the sidelines giving her own direction to our model. This was incredibly rude and unacceptable on any set. Even Tina runs direction through me on most instances. Some models get very confused when too many voices are coming from too many directions.
On a photo set, the direction comes primarily through the photographer, not a stranger who happens to be walking through. The model was clearly confused by Betty’s direction and looking between Betty and me. Tina standing closer to Betty shushed her, and asked her to please stop.
Another time, we were photographing a band, and Betty decided to sit down in front of the camera and shoot the band using the modeling lamps as light. We were shocked. Behind the scenes shots are always welcome, but you don’t shoot the client only.
And yet another time Betty told us that the Makeup Artist we were using was inferior and the way she worked with the client wasn’t professional. It was appalling that she would talk that way, not only about a true industry professional, but about a friend of ours.
Most of my interactions with Betty have been her explaining a lot of negatives, like how a wedding client is pissed that she hasn’t delivered images yet from their wedding over five months ago. She incurred $500 of vet bills for giving her puppy two grapes. “Those grapes cost me $250 a piece.”
My laundry list of grievances with Betty has been building.
I’m not entirely innocent here
To be fair, her list of grievances with me has been building as well. I recently rented a light of hers for a video project and when I returned it, I didn’t realize I bent the support wires for the soft box that holds the diffusion.
When she emailed me to ask what happened, I was devastated. One, I wouldn’t want to damage anyone else’s gear. Two, you don’t want to get on Betty’s bad side. And three, I didn’t even know it happened.
I wrote her back, “I didn’t know this happened, but I would be more than happy to fix it, pay for the damages or buy you a new one.”
She kept asking me what happened though. That’s all she claimed she wanted to know. I told her I honestly don’t know. I haven’t seen the damage yet.
When she wouldn’t stop, I flipped my lid. I explained I wanted to make good, and that she wasn’t being reasonable about the whole thing. I keep offering to fix the issue, and she was berating me with questions about what happened. What about “I don’t know” didn’t she understand?
When I lost my cool, she claimed that she was being cool about it. Which she wasn’t. And she wanted only to understand. We smoothed it out after a phone conversation, but that loss of temper gave her a bad taste.
On top of that, I lost my temper another time on a set with a guy I was collaborating with. When we collaborated, we share shooting and lighting decisions. My friend was hogging the camera and instead of just saying, “Hey, man, I think it’s my turn.” I sulked and then I said, “Man, I’m so pissed. This is not cool.” Mind you, this situation worked out and everyone there ironed out the kinks. Except Betty. Betty saw that I was pissed and tried to gossip about it while I was trying to work it out.
Keep in mind, Betty shouldn’t have been on that set, but she was. She told us that she was taking one of her dogs and leaving for the four hours. But she kept coming in and disturbing the set, because she was editing photos at a friend’s studio two doors away.
We’ve since consulted with a professional, and they advised us that when we rented the space, Betty should have been cleared out with both of her two dogs for the duration of the rental agreement.
Let’s get back to this week
On Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., I emailed Betty to let her know that our client decided not to meet us but rather let us do the shoot on our own. As planned, we explained we’d be there at 10 for studio clean up and shoot as scheduled from 10:30 to 11:30.
In the rush of getting all my gear, backdrops and stands that I needed for the shoot, I forgot my phone that morning. Tina had her phone on silent. Between excitement and stress, we weren’t in the right frame of mind to think of anything but getting this important job done, and done well.
On the way to the studio, we picked up the items we were photographing from the client at their offices.
Then we headed for the studio where weekday parking is incredibly difficult. This was a concern of ours that had been building. “If we are there full time, where will our clients park?” we wondered.
We drove around for five or ten minutes and finally found parking at a place about 10 minutes walking away. We ended up ascending in the elevator at 10 a.m. our arms and backs laden with gear and bags full of heavy books to be photographed.
When we got to the door, we knocked. I have a key, but our hands were full. Plus we didn’t want to barge in on Betty depending on what she was up to.
The door eventually opened. She had both dogs. One on leash. She opened the door only part way and she barked, “We’re going to have to reschedule! You guys are late! I’ve been trying to call you! Yeah, you’re late!”
My mouth dropped to the floor. “WHAT!”
Tina almost died.
I was absolutely pissed. I turned on my heal and stormed back to the elevator. Through teary eyes, I heard Tina say, “This is not cool, Betty. We’re likely never coming back here. This is just wrong.”
This was the way she greeted us at the door?! For all she knew, our client was with us, as she obviously didn’t see my email that morning that explained we still planned on being there at 10, corroborating our original notice of booking. So she wouldn’t have known that they weren’t with us.
You see, Betty thought we changed our booking to 9:30, because on her calendar, it read 9:30. Although mine still read 10:30. And it also read that way on our other partner Bill’s computer. We assume that what happened was since we booked it from a different time zone, it read 9:30 to her and 10:30 for us, even though we were two hours different in Pacific time.
She claimed she didn’t see the 9:30 booking until Tuesday at close to midnight. So when she saw the “change” she was able to adjust her schedule for the day (at midnight) to accommodate our abrupt change.
Insert Bull Shit Sneeze.
When we weren’t there at 9:30, she called and texted to inquire of our absence. My phone was at home and Tina likely couldn’t hear hers because we were walking with our hands full of gear and books.
Betty also claimed we didn’t show up until 10:20, which was unreasonable, as we ended up leaving there and calling another client five minutes away from outside their building. Tina’s time stamp read 10:16.
I was convinced at first that Betty changed the booking on her end so that she could get a leg up and piss us off.
After we were argue-mode this week, Betty claimed that this wasn’t the first time we’d been late. And the only instance of being late was that one, and I wasn’t late. She mis-read a text to read 2 instead of 3. At 2:30 she wrote me that she couldn’t wait anymore and she had to run an errand. “You mean 3 as I wrote above?”
She apologized for misreading my text. But I was ON TIME and she was living in her cloud.
After the falling out, Tina ended up calling her. Betty did most of the talking, explaining my temper scared her and that she was all in the right. She didn’t relinquish any of the blame.
Even if we were late, we were there within the hour she thought we booked. So we had the right to shoot for 30 minutes. Which was all I needed.
I can’t know this for sure, but I wonder if Betty’s end goal was to push us out. By not even letting us through the door and discussing the matter before accusing us of tardiness, she should not have been there. When she returned at 10:30 with her two dogs at the time she thought our booking was over, then and only then could she have said said, “Hey. Hope your shoot went well. Pay up and see ya! I’ve got something at 11.”
Our agreement is that we come early and leave late to help with cleaning, she SHOULD have expected us to be there until 11, if our booking was 9:30 to 10:30.
This amounts to a revelation of how fucked up Betty is, has always been and will likely always be.
Thing was the culmination of a long, long laundry list of running grievances that should have told us to pull out long ago. We were biding our time until she left for the year and we could enjoy the space without her mother henning us to death.
On Thursday, we returned our keys to her and passively and awkwardly avoided negativity upon her request to leave amicably.
Said and one, we’re out a studio, but we have our sanity, our integrity, our happiness, and new plans for how we’re going to work with the successes we’ve had lately. We can do all that without an irrational monster who unprofessionally tried to embarrass us yet again in front of our agency client.
Fortunately, that shit doesn’t fly.
It’s all working out for the better. We completed the job at our home, quickly and within 20 minutes.
They were really happy with the images, and hope to schedule us soon for the next shoot.
We’re booking great clients to complete amazing projects. We’re hiring more contractors to offset some of the workload. The adversity of what happened with the studio was, well, a failure.
But without failures, without lost tempers and shattered hopes, growth is impossible. I haven’t been in business for 15 years with some of the same ongoing clients I’ve had since the beginning because I kept my temper, made all the right decisions and landed on the right side of up every day of the year. I’m fortunate to work with rational people who know how to treat others, and understand reality with capable eyes.
I’m here because I’m able to fail, able to own up to mistakes and flexible enough to know how to move forward.
I lost my temper with Betty. But I would do it again. Being treated unfairly isn’t something I stand for.
I lost my temper, because of an ongoing display of unprofessionalism.
I’m not proud of how I handled it, but I’m thrilled that this opens the door to the next possibility for us.
And that makes me happy.