Hubris and the job I almost took. But didn't.

Noellia. ©2015 Kirk Tuck.
Fun but not related to the content below...

In the aftermath of the great recession businesses are having to re-learn some old lessons. One I had to re-learn last week is that it's very possible for a one person business to be too busy. In fact, it's very possible for a whole town to be too busy. Let me explain. 

I am booked on video and photographic projects every week day this month except for a little chunk of time that spans the 19th through the 21st. I try not to book work on the weekends because invariably that becomes the time when we repair stuff that broke the week before, and it's the time that post production always seems to spill over into. But having lived (barely) through the Great Recession I still find it hard to turn down work. Even if I intellectually understand that it would be better to do so. We're always trying to make hay while the sun shines. We're always trying to offset those lean years in the past and put away a bit more for the future lean years that seem to come as regularly as tax season.

On the 22nd of the month I begin a large, corporate project that will occupy my every waking moment until Monday the 26th. The job has lots of moving parts, is partially in conjunction with Formula One, and is a high profile assignment. I need to do pre-production on this one to make sure all the parts work. And, it's been on the books for months.

But, of course, someone called from a production company in the mid-west with a very large project and the shoot dates would be the 19th and the 21st. The project is for a very large technology company and would require me to use a number of assistants and no small inventory of rental gear to do correctly. The creative brief is still in transition, which is also a very scary thing. 

At first I thought I might be able to handle it but before I committed I wanted to walk through all the steps with my video guy because, even though the project is still photo-centric, all the pieces will be edited together as stop frame video. We agreed on a lighting design and the staffing requirements and I got on the phone to check on those resources. Well, my two favorite groups of grips and other crew members are all booked on movies, TV shows and on a giant trade show, that week. I also needed a grip truck and 12 four by four Kino fluorescent lighting units. Only eight of  the lights are available in Austin. We could truck in the rest from Dallas or Houston....

The more I looked at pre-production the more the job seemed to grow in scope. While I would love the prospective client's money, and might have been able to sub out a lot of the moving parts to unknown and unproven contractors I knew in my gut that I just didn't have the bandwidth to do this project justice. And I couldn't think of anything that would be worse than going into a job half-assed and then having to leave the client in strangers' hands as I rushed off to start another tough and lengthy project. Too much to go wrong.

I called back and declined the project. But instead of just walking away I spent some time putting together the information I'd distilled about process and also gave the production company the names of the people (other than me) who are best suited to do work of this scope, here in Austin. I wish them luck but I know they are better off with someone who can focus all their energy on getting the job done. You can't accept everything. You can't do it all. 


  1. Of course, now I'm worried that the fates will see my rejection of the work as a different kind of economic hubris and no one will ever call me with work again. You just can't win...

  2. If ever there was a right decision, this was it. Not only did you protect your existing client -- and your business reputation -- but you gallantly handed over your research and recommendations to the prospect you had to turn down.

    Everybody wins.

  3. Probably one of the toughest lessons to learn in business is when to walk away. There probably is a good chance they will call again but if you took the additional assignment & it impacted your other work you could loose more than their future work.

  4. It is neither your fault nor your problem. The production company called too late and found everyone already booked. In fact you may have been their second or third choice.

    "Poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part."

  5. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I wrote. But since it's a large and well known production company, servicing a client I've worked with for decades, I thought I would be as nice and helpful as possible instead of leaving them to totally crash and burn. And, since the requestor's boss's boss is a VSL blog reader I'm pretty sure I wasn't that far down the line.....

    "Nice" is a good business lubricant.

    In corporate situations the end suppliers, be they photographers or production companies, aren't usually bad planners, they are ambushed by their clients more often than not...

  6. Wow have times changed. It wasn't too long ago that Formula 1 and the track were worse than the plague, a terrible pox of taxes upon Austin. It was suppose to be the end of times.

  7. You did the right thing and some extra besides. It might come back around and it might not.

    Either way, doing the right thing is rewarding in and of itself.

    If everyone gave a little more, paid out a little extra out, went just a step further, imagine the world we could live in!

  8. Jo, let's be clear. F1 sucks and is unfairly subsidized (and car racing is dumb). My client is a software company using F1 as a part of a four day conference event. Yes, F1 is just a lame European version of NASCAR but with faster cars.

  9. Good decision. Been there. It's always best to discover "scope creep" before you commit because after signatures are on paper that "creep" can make for painful production decisions, loss of money on your part later and a po'd client.

  10. Formula One car racing is organized crime. Nothing less. And the fans are the nouveau riche trying to act out their fantasy of what it must be like to be monied aristocracy. It's all very embarrassing.


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