I May Have Taken Things To Far This Time...

The stress of tight deadlines got you down? Let's talk about it bruh.

Vic Stah Milien Gets Crazy

Stress is a killer and it affects everyone who is pushing beyond their comfort zone in any area of their life. For some this can be relationships, work, or just dealing with a puppy that keeps crapping all over the new wood floors. Some of these things can be eliminated rather quickly and others, well, it's easier said than done.


I had a project some time ago with the shortest deadline of my career, two weeks. It required the creation of hundreds of video assets using actors, different locations, music licensing, editing, and of course client satisfaction is always on the top of my list.


What made this particular project so bad was nothing had been pre-planned or worked out to the point at which someone could schedule these elements to even have a fighting chance. This was the undoable project from hell, but I am a glutton for punishment so I took it on, hell whats the worst thing that could happen? [Famous last words]


I quickly assembled a crew of 4 and took a day to scout out the theoretical locations that had been designated by the manager of the client. The locations ended up being a total bust as one required permitting for this size of crew to shoot and the other was not even a real place!


I exchanged this with the manager who began the ole game of blame the other guy. I quickly shut that down and said "look man, I am a solutions guy. If we are not discussing what we can do I am not interested in discussing anything. It doesn't matter whos fault it is this is what we have to work with can we make it work?" He shrugged his shoulders and indicated a "do what you want, Vic" look. Not the way you want to start a project off.


Our team made some adjustments to locations as we split up to cover more ground as individuals. Each team member had a very specific list of things to get done in 24-48hrs. Late Saturday evening we all met back up for a bite to eat while we combined our thoughts and finding. It looked doable but we hit yet another issue. Our filmmaker had to leave town as his wife was having his first born child. Then there were three...


We all hit the phones trying to track down a replacement but it looked as if one of us would have to double up on task and that person was none other than me. This was my grand idea to take on the project and everyone was already stretched to the point of walking from the pressure. I had to step up and lead the team. So with a smile on my face I took the filmmaker position in addition to my project manager position.


Six days left and we have not pulled out a single camera. 9AM - It was 200 degrees in the fucking desert and sand was in every crevice of our flesh and mouths. The trailer for our actors had just arrived and actors followed close behind. We began setup and by high noon we were ready to roll. Then the skies began to turn. Off in the distance you could see lightening and downpours of rain. It was heading directly for us. We had no choice but to pack everything back up and all take cover in the trailer/vehicles to ride out an hour long desert thunderstorm.


As soon as the skies cleared we stepped out into the desert mud and quickly realized the entire location was now nothing like what we needed. Should we wait for it to dry up? I mean it is the desert with like 5% humidity so it was plausible. I made the call, hold tight for an hour and we can still get these shots. That was the new plan and the plan worked but not without some serious self talk about how bad this was going. I have never felt like walking away from a project in my over 20 year career but this nagging feeling that I was about to fail and fail big was really stressing me to a level I had never seen before.


Four Days left and about a months worth of work sitting on the table. The client woke me up around 3AM with an urgent message "I want to have my sister in this scene". In a total daze I agreed with the ole "of course bruh" before slamming my head back onto the pillow. I woke up earlier than normal with a pounding headache. The unforgettable smell of this outdated and nasty hotel we were shacked up in was not helping my required smile and get it done attitude today.


I thought about the clients request while going about the morning duties. I shared the information with my sound guy Rick. He went off. "Dude, these people are asking for the impossible and adding on to that with this total bullshit? Let's fucking ditch this project and move on Vic". Rick did have a point and I get it. However, I took on the project even though I shouldn't have and I was going to meet that deadline or die trying. I am just built that way and my main clientele appreciate me for that.


Although this new client was obviously not going to work out long-term I still had an obligation and I am a man of my word, so the work continued.


Filming of the assets was completed two days before project deadline so me and our editor stayed at a Los Angeles Hotel to work day and night to finish up. That was the longest 48hrs of my life. Already drained from the previous twelve days we were running on empty. I could not even hold down food at this point as my stomach was torn up from stress and exhaustion.


The final day we had a late night meeting with the client and his manager. They reviewed the work and said it was ok, but it looked rushed and not very well planned out. The manager continued by saying "you should have put in more time on this" and "we don't feel comfortable paying for this the way it currently sits". Every instinct in my body was to just punch this guy right in the face, but a calm came about.


I looked him in the eyes and said you do what you feel is right and I will do the same. You know how to reach me just let me know. My editors jaw was on the floor and his face red as an apple. We barley got out the front door before he hit me with a hundred questions as I walked silently to the car. I told my editor that the project was done. We took on a project that was just not doable to produce the quality of work we are used to. I should have not taken on the project.


My ego had lead me to believe where there is a will there is a way, and I did complete the project. I did in fact use the clients sister. I did arrange, shoot, edit, and complete this fucking thing within budget and with professional results for what time had been allowed. We did our best. We did better than I believed possible, so I was proud of our team.


That was 6 years ago. The client never paid and I absorbed all the cost. Total expenses were around $35,000 and I never sued the client. I learned my lesson and I have never taken on projects that I knew were ridiculous again. The entire point of taking the project was to get the big client. I was willing to risk a lot for this client even though my gut instinct was telling me to walk.


I heard later on that the manager/client had done the same to a few other creators. The story continued that they were backing a mid-sized operation owned by his brother in our content creation field and were trying to force a few of us larger outfits out of business. Sad part is that one of those people did indeed go out of business from this. They attempted to sue but the clients hot shot lawyers quickly got the cases dismissed. This is a tuff business.


Well, lessons learned and one broken computer screen later life is good. You often hear about the work-life balance and there is some truth to this. However, the balance comes pretty naturally if you follow your intuitions. I never get all that exhausted these days. I make sure I get my rest, plan my days/weeks/months/years, and take time off to hang with family and friends. Without those things the money would have no value in the first place. The money is really only a way to enjoy more quality time with the people you love.


Feel free to reach out if you have questions. I suggest using my reading list to find books that may fit your personal growth efforts. Personal growth is your greatest investment, well, health is first but yeah, then personal growth!



Your friend, Vic