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The Funny Things That Customers Do #3

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!


Tales from the Walt Vault: The Gouger and The Glory:


       Welcome back to Tales from the Walt Vault, stories of the funny-humorous and funny-strange things that customers and clients do. (#1, and #2 in the series appeared in Saipan Tribune April 14, and June 16, 2010)


The Goal

       Once upon a time, several years ago, I ran an independent record label. We had produced singles for our Hip Hop artists, an in order to market them more effectively, I hired a video producer named "Dante" (not his real name) to create a video for one of our artists.      A contract was signed, money was paid, and the process begun.

       Through numerous contacts, and relationships, we reserved a friend's photo studio, recruited dancers and pretty girls, and over the course of a hectic weekend, shot the scenes which were to be used in the video. It was an exciting time. We were all hopeful that this video would be professional enough to be played on BET (Black  Entertainment Television), MTV (Music Television) and Video Music Box (a popular local New York show with tremendous influence in the Hip Hop market).


The Gouge

       As I waited for Dante to call us to view the completed product, I slowly started to realize that something was amiss. I called, and got no reply. I visited his home in Manhattan's upper west side, and that's when he laid the gouge on me.

       Things had been more expensive than he had originally contracted, and so he needed an additional $5,000 in order to complete the project. He wouldn't give us the masters or the raw footage so I could complete the project on my own. It was blackmail. If I didn't pay the additional money, we would have no video, and nothing to show for the investment.

The clock was ticking. The summer was gearing up with new releases from other well-funded artists with whom we would be competing, and, if we didn't have our video in time, we would miss our window of opportunity, the summer would pass, and our

songs would be "old" in a few months. What was I to do?

Well, one thing was sure, I was not going to give in to the extortion.  I wasn't going to cave in to the Dante’s “gimme.” Instead I was going to go for the glory!

(gouge: verb. to extort from, swindle, or overcharge.)



The Gambit

       Through either some person or process I’ve since forgotten, I found a film student named Lance Cain (real name), who had just graduated from New York University’s Film School. As I learned, every new graduate needs to develop a "reel," a collection of work that can be used as a visual resume. So, we agreed that Lance would create not one, but three videos, at cost. In other words, I would pay for the film, developing, and editing (and I think I fed the crew, too!), and everyone would be calling in favors, and working for free, all for the chance to add some accomplishments to their resumes.

       It was a risky option. I had already sunk about $10,000 on one producer, and was about to spend more on one who was fresh-out-of college. The success hinged on getting it all done in one weekend, after which everyone—artists, producers, cameramen—would be scattered all over the country, unreachable and unavailable.

(gambit: noun. any maneuver by which one seeks to gain an advantage.)


The Glory

       The story of that weekend shoot itself, and how it came within a hair’s breadth of being cancelled is worth telling (perhaps another time), but to summarize, it was hectic, ambitious, impossible and a work of sheer genius. We would shoot one group's scene on one side of the street, then while they rested, we would shoot another group's scene on the other side. Cameraman Ian Woolston Smith, co-director Ken Greenblatt and Lance worked tirelessly for the entire weekend to make it happen. In a testament to their planning, coordination and editing genius, the locations were chosen and filmed such that you'd never notice that they were all within a 5-block radius in Harlem.

       We came away with three outstanding videos with entirely unique feels, two of which got aired on BET, one which got aired on Video Music Box, and a host of other shows nationwide. And we did it all for under $7500!  That figure will mean more if you understand that at the time, the lowest cost that most people thought you had to spend for just one music video was between $10,000 and $20,000!

       We went for, and grabbed the glory! Lance has gone on to be an Emmy-award winning producer ( Ian Woolston Smith is a famous steadicam operator (


The Gravy

       A few months later, I found myself in a courtroom in lower Manhattan, sitting next to Dante, facing a small claims court judge.

       I was ready.  I had our original contract. I had my receipts. I had my documentation of the airing on BET and other shows, and I had my testimony.

       Dante was visibly (and satisfyingly) shocked when I told the story of our BET victory, and Video Music Box airing. This was key to my case, because I had to prove I incurred additional expenses as a result of having to hire a new producer to complete the project he had failed to complete. He grabbed the documents to verify that I was telling the truth! He couldn't believe that I had already won!

       Long story short: I won the case. (All the years of watching Felix Unger's courtroom exploits on the Odd Couple sitcom paid off!) Dante was slapped with a $7,000 judgment, and I walked away with the glory. As we passed each other in the hallway, Dante's last words to me were, "You're never going to see any of that money, Walt." I kind of already knew that.

But, that was fine. I had the glory, and my principles in tact. I hadn't given in to his extortion. I hadn't allowed him to block my progress. And he had a permanent judgment on his record to remind him of who he was messing with!


The Good

       My mantra in life is: "The Universe is Perfect." I really only had three choices: 1. pay Dante more money. 2. Find another way to get things done. 3. use a baseball bat.

       Think about all the good that I experienced as a result of making the right choice and responding correctly to what might have been perceived as an obstacle (I didn’t use the bat): I got three videos done for less than the price of one. I worked and helped a future award-winning producer. I got our videos played on national cable networks, and I now have a better story of victory to tell you today!

So, what have we learned from today's tale, boys and girls?

1. People will do what people will do

2. The Universe is Perfect, and what may appear to be disaster might be the catalyst for greater glory!

3. Don't mess with Walt!


       Stay tuned for more exciting gems from the Walt Vault, and, in the meantime, go for the glory!


Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that revealed the best things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to!


Note: Fans and followers of the books, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan ( or Jamaican on Saipan (, or Doing Business on Saipan ( may place orders on those sites, or…..yes, AMAZON.COM!



Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!--Walt

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