Promising professional contact has turned weird, what next?
August 27, 2018 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm an artist and illustrator who also has years of experience in an unrelated field--let's call it acting for this example. Someone who is a big director of a theater I would love to have something to do with, let's call him Zane, started liking my illustrations on Instagram. Then it started getting weird.

I thought Zane had somehow found out I was an actor, and was perhaps liking so much of my stuff as a way of letting me know this. Sounds like wishful thinking? Yeah, that's what it turned out to be. I started messaging him, and he asked me to call him on the phone. I thought it was strange that he wanted to talk to me on the phone right away, but my fantasies really took hold at this point. Wow! He wants to hire me, right? Why else would he be giving me his number and asking me to phone him?

I call him, and we have a longish chat--like maybe 40 minutes--about this and that. Zane didn't know I'm an actor, but he's impressed with my Instagram art. He's not in the art world, himself, but he enjoys looking at it online. He loves my work and thinks I'm going places. He's in a different business, of course, and can't really help me on my way, but he's eager to give me advice.

Of course what I really wanted was a part in a production, not generic advice, but I listened. "You're in the relationship business," he said. There are certain phrases that send you straight into the past. Suddenly I was in the midst of an episode of Route 66, or in a Thornton Wilder play. He kept unfurling these boostrappy cliches: "I wanna tell you one thing above all others, never work for free." "Okay, great, thank you," I'm saying, wondering where this is all going. But at least I've got Zane KindaSortaFamousTheaterGuy on the phone! Can't hurt to be networking with him, I figured.

Twenty seconds after he tells me I should never work for free, he's commissioning me for a piece. "Have you ever heard of Alex Soandso?" he asks. I haven't. "Alex is a young up-and-coming actor and he's just terrific. I really think he has a bright future. He's worked for me a little bit. Here's what I'd love to have you do. I'd love to have you do a drawing or painting of this guy. I promise to send it to him and his handlers. I can't guarantee they'll want to buy it, but I'll do whatever I can within my abilities to help this along."

I just sort of went, "Oh, great, what a great opportunity, thank you," meanwhile scratching my head. So I'm being tapped to do a portrait on spec of an actor I've never heard of. No money involved. I'm supposed to do this for Zane, who is a relatively famous guy in my world but no George Clooney. And I don't really know him, but he wants me to drop everything and do this for his little actor friend Alex. guarantees at all.

So after that, I got busy and wasn't really working on the Alex portrait. I find that unless I have a definite feeling about my subject, whether I know him or her personally, the result is almost always a disaster. I keep posting other art, and Zane keeps liking my posts. Under one of them he comments, "Have you ever drawn Laurence Olivier?"

I emailed him and said I had tried a couple of times, but didn't have anything good enough to show him. I would come up with something, however. He said, "Great, I want to give you some exposure. If you can get me an Olivier drawing within a couple of days, I will post it on [KindaSortaFamousTheater web site] in time for the celebration of his films we're doing next week."

I got to work and produced one of the best drawings I've done to date. It worked well mostly, I think, because I've always loved Laurence Olivier, and with the added spur of getting hundreds of thousands of views (or whatever number he mentioned), I was pretty pumped.

So I send him the drawing. He says, "I like it a lot. I'd like to post it. Let me know how you want me to credit you."

I did and that was the end of that. The date of the big Olivier celebration came and went, and I didn't see that he posted the drawing anywhere. In the meantime there was a huge thing going on among actors and film people around Olivier, because it was also Olivier's birthday. I went back and forth: should I post this or not? Zane didn't pay for the drawing. It isn't his. When I said I would do a new drawing just for him, he thanked me for the "exclusive." I guess I should have cleared up what that meant, but to me, it would mean he has permission to post my work with my credit, and I still have the ability to post it on my own social media as it's part of my portfolio. And I sure didn't want to sit on my Olivier drawing on his birthday, just because I was confused about what Zane had done or not done with it.

And I'm thinking, WTF is with Zane? No word from him at all, and today is the big day. I don't see my drawing anywhere on his site. Did he post it from his own social media accounts? But I'm not seeing it anywhere.

My husband said, "Post it. The drawing is yours. This guy is a braying jackass." So I posted my drawing, and it turned out to be one of the most-liked posts I've ever done. In my confusion over where things stood with Zane, I decided to credit him on the posts, including the fact that the Olivier drawing was requested by him.

So it's been a few days word from Zane, but I saw on Instagram that he was active on the day of my post. He usually likes EVERYTHING I post, so it kind of stuck out that he ignored the drawing I did at his request.

This is too long by far, so I just want to wrap up with: now I'm feeling weird, like I did something wrong. I'm putting off asking Zane whether or not he's--what, upset with me? I don't even know how to approach it. On the one hand, I am upset with him! I did a high-quality art work for him for no pay, and he didn't post it. So I'm wondering: was I supposed to sit on it, waiting for him to post it later? If so, why didn't he tell me? Does he not get along well with his web guys at work? Was there going to be a delay? If so, why not tell me? But I heard nothing, so I posted my work.

Yet I still feel skeevey about it. But I'm angry at myself, because he's the ass in this scenario. I mean I understand that. I'm disturbed because I thought I had a connection with this guy, and I was going to start sending him my acting resume and audition tapes and such. And now I feel like he's just going to shut me out.

I sent him a brief "whazzup" but haven't heard anything yet. I know rationally that I did nothing wrong, but I still feel weird. It saddens me to see Zane furiously liking the posts of our mutual contacts on Instagram, and ignoring mine now.

Is there some way I could have handled this better?
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (15 answers total)
It sounds like you have been bamboozled.
posted by parmanparman at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

This guy's an asshole. Jettison him from your thoughts. Unfollow.

In terms of what to do differently: a) (almost) never work for free b) if you strategically decide to work for free (for people/orgs you trust), still have a contract that outlines who owns what, who gets to distribute and in what media c) don't hop on calls without projects/agendas (he says, call me. You say sure, we can schedule a call. First, give me a sense of what project we're discussing and I'll followup with availability.)

Congratulations on producing such beautiful work! You were right to post it. Celebrate your creation.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2018 [21 favorites]

Instagram is a great place to make connections, but it’s also full of weirdos. You don’t owe this guy anything. You did nothing wrong! Keep making art.

Seconding what Uncle Glendinning says above re: contracts and rights.
posted by sucre at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Putting the issue of monetary compensation aside: you could DEFINITELY call him about about not sharing your Olivier piece on the website for the birthday celebration.

He specifically asked you to create something in explicit exchange for exposure. And then he didn't do it. That seems like a straight up violation of a verbal promise. He asked you for it; acknowledged receipt; said he'd post it; doesn't post and ignores you?

Call him on it, for sure.
posted by RajahKing at 11:15 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Loving your advice so far, thank you!

I know it's confusing but I have two careers. I had contacted this guy originally because I wanted to work as an actor in his theater. It's a place with a national reputation and I was so happy to have made any connection with anyone there, let alone the guy who runs it.

But I suppose I've completely torpedoed that possibility...What I'm getting from you all is that I need to write this guy off, acting opportunities or that accurate?
posted by cartoonella at 11:55 AM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

He's not offering you acting opportunities in the first place. He's just using you and not even doing a very good job of it. Write it off.

(This seems to be how "entrepreneurs" behave when they're not really good at anything except creating an illusion of hustle and competence. Note it for the future.)
posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on August 27, 2018 [22 favorites]

I can't imagine he'd handle his theater business any better than he (mis)handled the art business.

Don't ask him if he's upset with you! He walked all over your and that would be a huge clue that you're willing to let him do so again.

I'd mentally mute him but if you really think acting for him is an option (you didn't indicate this) then just let him continue liking your stuff. And if a production of his that you're interested in comes up , send him a message saying you're interested. Don't hold your breath for him to return the favor you did him, though. He doesn't seem the type.
posted by kapers at 1:03 PM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

You've been had. He got you to produce and give away to him, for free, one of your best pieces, all after telling you never to work for free. Classic.

In the future, ALWAYS have this response ready: "I'm so glad to hear you'd like to invest in one of my pieces. Art's not my primary focus, so they're priced competitively. The piece you're describing sounds like will be $x + other relevant details (media, size, timing, etc.). If that sounds good, I'll send over a contract."
posted by cocoagirl at 1:06 PM on August 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

It sounds like this dude wanted to bloviate at someone and have his ego stroked. This goes double if you are younger than him and/or a gender he's sexually attracted to (does he know you're married?). He has been testing you to see how much BS you'll tolerate. He is not offering you anything of value.
posted by momus_window at 2:14 PM on August 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I love how his advice was to never work for free, then he pressures you into working for free! What a jackass!

Unfortunately it doesn't sound like this ever had a clear path from IG art to acting roles. Best of luck to you moving forward, too many hucksters like this guy around.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:43 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this dude wanted to bloviate at someone and have his ego stroked. This goes double if you are younger than him and/or a gender he's sexually attracted to (does he know you're married?). He has been testing you to see how much BS you'll tolerate. He is not offering you anything of value.
posted by momus_window at 2:14 PM on August 27

This one strikes a chord. That's the feeling I got too.

THANK YOU ALL so much for your savvy takes on this!
posted by cartoonella at 4:04 PM on August 27, 2018

What I'm getting from you all is that I need to write this guy off, acting opportunities or that accurate?

Yep. Take it as a lesson learned and move on.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:09 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Don't burn the bridge with him- just ghost and if he reaches out, always be gracious and vague.

Bioviating jerks do very well in many fields (and theatre is definitely one of them)... and they hold grudges. Against anyone who makes them feel small. Just let this blow over and away ... but remember it. Don't trust him, but discarding him could cost you later.

Down the line it's entirely possible you'll cross paths with him again in a way that could benefit your acting aspirations, and he might actually have influence in that sphere. So you want to be "my friend the talented illustrator" he can brag about, not "the meanie who called me out on being a flaky exploitative blowhard and embarrassed me" - which in practice would mean you would become "the person he vigorously backstabs and sabotages". I work in arts and media with hundreds of these dudes- ask me how I know.

So yeah he's definitely not your friend. But don't risk making him your enemy!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:52 PM on August 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

I agree with the masses: you are blameless, he's a jerk. However, I'm curious about the drawing. I would like to look at it, and Uncle Glendinning's response seems to indicate he looked at it, but I can't figure out what kind of Internet Clever Boots trick he used to figure out how. Is there some MF jujitsu that I should have deployed?
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:41 PM on August 29, 2018

Just a quick update on this one...I found out a few weeks after my post here, that Zane was no longer with the company I was so eager to work for. So probably he was leaving the place around the time he was supposed to do something with my drawing on their site. If they fired him, I'm sure my drawing was the last thing on his mind. It could be he had already left. Which is why the thing fell through. But it would have been nice to have gotten some kind of communication about it!

To Gilgamesh's Chauffeur (love your handle) -- my drawing isn't really of Olivier, it's a person in a different field altogether (just wanted to keep some anonymity here). I don't think Uncle G. meant that they actually saw it :-))
posted by cartoonella at 12:52 AM on May 3, 2019

« Older Five point something on the Kinsey scale   |   Why do cooktops cost more than ranges? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.