Saturday, January 14, 2012

Caveat Emptor 2: Electric Boogaloo

This one is a little bit more problematic than the last. I purchased a DSLR rig that I really hoped would be useful to me. I spoke with the seller, asked pretty much any questions I might have, and he answered them (though, looking back now, I can see where some of the answers may have been very specifically worded to be somewhat evasive, if not deceptive, but that's beyond the point, I suppose).

The company is called Monaceio. Judging from their Ebay and their website, they've been offering various DSLR rigs for sale for a little over a year. Their price point is right around some of the cheapest Jag35, IndiSystem, and various India-based Ebay rigs and accessories. I know what being a start-up is like, and the seller seemed to be a straight shooter, so I went ahead and purchased it. Here's what I expected to get.

Camera, matte box, Rode mic, LED video light, and girl not included.

They also told me there was a follow focus included with the system, and that I could attach a second party's mattebox and other accessories after market. This is really what interested me; I really wanted to start using a follow focus, and the ability to upgrade is really what sold me. If I decided I needed more stuff in the future, why, I could just add it right on there!

It arrived just in time for my first real DSLR shoot (with the HVX200 as my backup, stationary wide angle camera). I was pretty excited.

The box, however, made me a bit worried... it was a smaller USPS Priority Flat Rate box, which... I've had trouble fitting much of anything into in the past. They couldn't fit much larger than a few t-shirts and several bars of soap.

Or, as USPS promises, 5 apples, a block of cheese, and some honey.

When I took the item out of the box, I noticed it was wrapped in a Target shopping bag... not a good sign. Once I unwrapped it, this is what I found.

Pardon the highly offensive Christmas tablecloth.

The rig is made of tent poles, a few VMS spark plug brackets, two base plates, and fucking LEGOs. I shit you not, the follow focus is made of goddamn LEGOs. The follow focus ring (or whip?) is made from a zip tie.

This is the kind of thing that you might be psyched to build for yourself as a temporary DIY rig for $25, $50 max. This rig? $300 out of my pocket.

He didn't send the User Manual until it was scheduled to arrive. I look a look at it afterwards when it arrived in the mail.

Here's the PDF of their User Manual.

This is the first time the construction of the rig becomes very apparent, and the LEGOs are ever mentioned or pictured. I now understand why they waited until it was going to arrive to send it, and it isn't available on the site. It tries to guide you through how to use this jerryrigged thing. Had I seen ANY of those photos or info prior to ordering, I wouldn't have.

I promptly filed a complaint and they were very willing to accept it back, I'll give them that much. They offered me $100 back to keep it (because they'd still be making $150-$175 profit that way), or a complete refund minus shipping. PayPal ended up giving me a complete refund.

I would give them a little credit for accepting it back so readily, but since posting the photos and user guide on another forum, the owners threatened to sue the forum if they didn't remove the user guide as copyright infringement. Mind you, that guide is the ONLY thing that really details exactly what their rig is made of and how it functions, nothing on their website does. What a bunch of scumbags. They also emailed me asking me to remove the review, most likely because it's the only thing anyone has to go off of aside from their website, as I've since noticed that their Ebay feedback is all entirely private except for the remarks themselves.

Stay clear of these guys. If you'd like to know how to build a rig like theirs for less than $50, I can post the tutorials.

Caveat Emptor, or Why The Internet Is A Little Insane

I don't want to use this fairly specificly-themed blog to fan my consumer issues. However, since these two purchases so directly relate my video work, I figured I'd go ahead and post them.

This first one isn't that consequential, but the level to which it has been taken has went from "silly" to "that kid on the porch in Deliverance."

I bought a SDHC card for my camera (I bought some at BestBuy, but their only offer in Class 10 cards is PNY, and the two I purchased didn't shoot video for more than a few seconds, so I turned to the internets). I could have got them on Amazon for $39.99, but I saw one about to go off on Ebay for a few dollars less and thought, "screw it, that'll pay for a couple cups of coffee."

Let the games begin.

I purchased on the 7th. On the 10th, I got this message.

I'm in the process of connecting with another supplier, so I'm writing to ask if it could wait until Friday before I go through with your order.

I just said, "I suppose." Whatever, no big deal.

The next day, I get this.

My supplier has run out of these cards at this time, but they do have the Kingston Class 6 cards. Would it be ok with you if we replaced the Transcend with the Kingston Card?

I told her no. Class 6 isn't quite fast enough for the larger video files, and really... it's just not what I paid for. It'd be like going in to a coffee shop, ordering a large coffee, paying for it, and being told "we only have small cups, and we only have one, is that cool?" rather than getting your money back for the difference.

I really enjoy coffee.

I found a supplier who had this item. They cost a little more, but the good news is they are in the USA.
If you want the item, I have to ask for an extra $8 in order to cover the extra cost of the item and
shipping. You are still getting a good deal on this item, so please let me know what you want to do.
At least you would be getting your item sooner than if I was to ship from Hong Kong.

Ok... this one I'm not as understanding about. I politely told them that I've been patient and understanding, but they shouldn't list things they aren't certain as to whether they have in stock. And then making me wait an extra week... and then expecting me to pay more... Sorry, but that's not how Ebay works, and that'd put it more than what I'd pay on Amazon (which in all liklihood is probably her "new supplier").

Then they offered a refund. I told them sure.

Then I got them gem:

I had to refund quite a few buyers over the past few days and the fund in my paypal have been exhausted.
I will have them replenished in about business days. I will have to send a refund once that is taken care of. Sorry for the inconvenience. If you have not received your refund in 5 business days, please contact me immediately.
Thank you for your patience.

What this means is... she's sold a BUNCH of these when she didn't have them in stock, and then she
SPENT THE GODDAMN MONEY, and now she can't offer everyone refunds because she doesn't have money to refund to anyone. Not only did she spend that money from the purchases, but she doesn't have any money, anywhere, to refund the $36 purchases.

She has since refunded half of the $36, and told me it'll be a few weeks before she has the money to refund the rest. I guess the important thing for her is that I don't need the $18.50 nearly as desperately as she apparently does. It's such a weird situation that I don't even think I'll bother leaving bad feedback. I'm sure she'll get enough of that from the other people who's money she spent before having anything to give them in return.

However, this isn't the biggest, or weirdest, of my consumer qualms this week. Really, this is just an appetizer compared to one of those big-ass medieval mutton legs.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Child Protective Services Will Pay... In Irony

So, I saw a very plain, very undetailed ad for a videographer. It didn't have an email address, just a phone number. I assumed it was either someone who needed work very desperately, probably last minute, or a prank.

No I'm not giving away free fucking iPhones, who is this?

I gave them a call, and the woman seemed... well, like she needed someone immediately. Since there was no email, she hadn't seen my reel or resume, but had already launched into how to get me to New York so we could start shooting. Then she hoisted the first red flag.

"I don't have a computer."

Turns out, she got a friend to list her ad for her. I get it, some people aren't tech savy, and especially older generations... but's it's 2012. Computers are in approximately 98% of all households, and this woman is in the city that never sleeps.

Because of internet porn.

So, then she wastes no time in making me not only her videographer, but her business partner.

"I need to do some bikini modeling to raise money. To pay you. And for the film."

Mind you, at this point, I didn't even know what the project was. So, I now know it's a film. I also now know that this woman is slightly imbalanced.

...But I'm way too damn nice, and that is quickly exploited.

"I need you to post a listing on Craigslist saying I'm available for modeling."

...First of all, I don't want to make too many assumptions or sound judgmental, but this woman is pretty obviously in her 40s or older. I'm not saying that older women can't be attractive or can't model and do so successfully, but... the fact that that's her go-to way to earn a little extra scrill on the fly, for some reason, not only seems a little batshit, but it also gives me the heebie-jeebs.

So, anyway, I politely agree, mostly so I can get off the phone with this woman and decide how to handle her better later, after some very strong coffee and Wikipedia's entry on delusional disorders.

She then asks me to post a second listing for actors...

For the film she wants me to work on, that I know literally nothing about.

I tell her she could always go to the library to use a computer for free, so she could list the ads as she saw fit.

She quickly dismisses that idea like a used car dealer distracting you from a hanging muffler.

"I don't have time for the library, I'm so busy writing this script."

Wait a second... she's not finished pre-production? I need out.

I tell her she can text me what she wants written in the ad. This is the text I get back 20 minutes later.

That's right.

The name of the film is "CPS Worker Rapes My Child."

I asked her to clarify, and she simply said "I sent you the ad." I said, "yes, but I have no idea what the last part means."

She promptly called me an explained, "CPS Worker Rapes My Child, that's the name of the movie! You have to add that to the listing! An actor just called and said the ad had no mention of CPS Worker Rapes My Child! You've gotta add it, you know, look how interested you are, that'll mean everyone else will be even more interested!"

Please, don't confuse my subtle blend of confusion and pants-shitting horror for interest.

At that point, I played along to see what the hell happens. It's like a ride at this point, like Expedition Everest if every 3rd car decided to go off that fake broken track.

Donner, party of 87?

My only assumption is that this woman is a lunatic and a parent, and those two things didn't settle well together with Child Protective Services. She had her spawn taken from her, and this script is her revenge.

Think of it like The Room and what I assume happened to make Tommy Wiseau create that masterpiece: someone screwed him over, and he made a movie that played out like the story, only dialed to 11. In it, he's the perfect boyfriend and best friend, his best friend and girlfriend who hurt him are all around shitty people, and he kills himself in the end, unlike real life where he lives on to be the director of the shittiest drama ever.

I'll show them by making this movie... then becoming some sort of alien.

Now imagine Tommy Wiseau as a woman in her 40s who still thinks she is a swimsuit model, and can get paid enough for it to fund a feature film, and just had her progeny stolen from her by the diabolical United States government.

Why would you NOT want to be involved in that film?