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  • THE BEST PART

    THE BEST PART

    I took this photo of Kirsten at the Pride Parade in San Francisco in 2015.

    Kirsten and I moved to LA soon after.

    Kirsten worked for Levi's at the time and Levi's was marching in the parade.

    I'd been hired by Levi's to shoot for them for years up to this point.

    I was gonna go just to support gay rights.  I wasn't working at the parade.

    Someone from Levi's asked me last minute if I'd be willing to shoot the parade for them.

    I gave them my rate and they said, "no," and counter-offered me one-tenth.

    I was surprised.  I hadn't had that happen with them before.

    They triggered the dormant punk-rock side of me and I started thinking of Levi's as an evil conglomerate co-opting a grassroots movement, manipulating Pride into an opportunity solely for financial gain to them.

    I never thought this way about Levi's before, with regards to their prior community-activism-cum-marketing opportunities that they'd put together and that I'd been involved with.

    I didn't see this as cognitive dissonance.

    I saw one specific and measurable difference on their part this time.

    The difference was that Levi's never tried low-balling me before.

    It's not like Levi's was strapped for cash all of a sudden.

    Not only did I know that they weren't willing to pay a fair amount for this gig but that accepting the offer anyway would be setting a precedent that it was okay to low-ball every job moving forward.

    It reminded me of a saying,

    "You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics." -Charles Bukowski

    Would it be wrong for me to feel slighted if they weren't willing to save me from missing my rent for the month while working for them?

    Especially when I knew enough of how the sausage was made by then to know that there was literally no reason for them to do that, other than just to be greedy assholes?

    If Levi's, suddenly and out of character, decided that they wanted me at my lowest possible price, such that my fee, prorated over time, would amount to less than minimum wage, while benefitting themselves at an obscene deal greater than that, would it be wrong for me to lose some faith in their motives and intentions across the board?

    Would it follow, then, that if I couldn't trust them to treat me with the respect and dignity I'd earned as a proven colleague, that it might also mean I couldn't believe in the veracity of their performative "cause," as they'd spun it, when it came to Pride?

    I said, "no."

    Then I showed up with my camera and shot photos.

    I was happy to see so many people crowding the streets crying tears of joy.  Gay marriage had just passed.  It was obviously an especially celebratory occasion.

    I got home, edited the photos, and put them on my Flickr account.

    Days later, I heard back from the low-baller at Levi's.

    They thanked me for coming to Pride, as if Levi's were in charge of the invitations.

    They asked if they could see, and possibly share, some of the photos that they saw me taking that day.

    They didn't offer to license the photos from me.

    They didn't offer anything.

    They wanted free work.

    I said, "no."

    Their immediate response was to act like they were doing me a favor by even talking to me at all.

    They blacklisted me quickly afterwards.

    No one at the company would tell me why, even when I broke the passive-aggressive code of corporate conduct and called out the unbecoming gaslighting tactics of middle aged people who should know better.

    I lost a guaranteed 100,000 dollars a year by sticking with my integrity.

    I held onto that and moved to LA.

    I brought the best part of Levi's with me.

    (See above photo.)

  • Levi's® Custom Motorcycle

    In 2014, I'd already made literally hundreds of videos for Levi's®.

    Most of what I did, I didn't like.  Almost none of it was my idea.  Of course, to each their own.  But, as a fan of my employer, I felt like I had something that just so happened to by my idea, and that also was good for their brand, and that I could execute with greater authenticity than if it came from anyone's mind out of the corporate office.

    I became friends with a guy named Ryan, the master tailor appointed by corporate for the brand globally.  He lived in New York for a while, but when he came back to SF, I talked him into getting a motorcycle.

    I wanted more friends to ride with.

    He bought a Harley and became obsessed.

    He started tinkering with parts and customization.

    My other friend, Laif, had already been doing that, when he wasn't going on auditions or riding with me.

    There was a local hangout we used like a coffeeshop.  We would all go there almost every day just to hang out.  Sometimes, we'd decide to go for a ride from there.

    It was a community motorcycle garage called Piston & Chain.

    I had this idea suddenly that I could help Levi's® talk to its audience through films and photos, Laif, Ryan, motorcycles, and Piston & Chain.

    Levi's® was always talking in the office about "authenticity," the "workers," the "builders," the "individual," and "rugged" lifestyle.

    Mind you, most of the people working in the office were the antithesis of all of these things.  They were typically uptight, snobby, self-absorbed, prissy, fearful, insulated people who usually came from money and didn't even need their job to survive.

    But I believed in the marketing.  I was making videos for marketing purposes.  I'm a method actor.  I got into the mindset.

    So I talked to tons of people at the company over a few weeks when I'd pop in for other, more soul-sucking meetings and gigs.  There didn't seem to be much interest.

    I figured it was dead on arrival.  But I wanted to do my best, so I knew it wouldn't be my fault if it didn't go.

    So, instead of continuing to talk, or simply dropping the idea altogether, I made this video on a day off.

    It was a private link, and I emailed it to tons of people, including the President and the CEO of Levi's®, both of whom I'd never spoken to via email but who were cc'ed at various points on emails I was a part of.

    I couldn't try to have my pitch heard any harder than that.

    Nothing ever happened.

    Besides the fact that I now have this video.

    I still like it, even though it feels like a painful reminder of a time when my days, unbeknownst to me, were numbered working for Levi's®.

    And, as a reminder of a certain wide-eyed optimism I had then, it makes my stomach turn a bit now in hindsight. (Not only did the video go nowhere and the gigs dry up, but my two friends in the video aren't really in my life anymore either, and I broke up with San Francisco.  Long story.)

    But none of that matters.

    One of the things I love about filmmaking and taking photos is that the truth in films and photos is captured at a time and place, and exists forever in that form.

    Even if things change, like they always do in life, there exists somewhere an infinite loop where a story plays over and over again.  And nothing can change that.  Not even reality.

    It exists.

    In a film.

    In this film.