Shakedown in Central America

I had had enough!

The pastor of a huge, growing church in Central America had sat with me personally over 2 separate face-to-face lunches in his dangerous city. It was HIS idea to do the media seminar, charge a low, reasonable price, promote the event heavily, then bring me back to his country later in the year. Exact dates were discussed, key topics considered, this very much seemed like a “done deal.”

CentralAmericaMapOr so I thought.

His son, who I will call “Guillermo”, was a talented preacher’s kid in his mid to late 20s who wanted to be a film director. He’d been part of all the important planning meetings and was an integral part of the excellent dialog of creative ideas and promotion.

Emails were exchanged. February…”we will do this in September. It will be a good seminar. I will check with Dad.” No response. April…”I’m just back from the States. So sorry. I will check again with Dad.” Again, no response. Jump to June…numerous direct emails, phone calls & Facebook messages to Guillermo go completely unanswered.

Finally, mercifully, some return communication via instant messaging…”oh, brother, I am so sorry. I finally checked with Dad. We will be out of the country in September.” I texted back, “how about later this year?” Again, it was – surprise – time to check with Dad. Guillermo would let me know the future plans very soon.

Weeks go by, being persistent I check back again only to receive a terribly frustrating answer, “I just talked with Dad,” Guillermo texted, “and he said, ‘we are too busy this year for the seminar. We’ll do it next year.'” A seminar created by the pastor, his own idea, for this year. I have learned over too many false starts that “next year” usually means never.

Let’s cut to the chase, as they say in Hollywood.

I snapped. Through back & forth instant messaging, I was brutally tough on Guillermo the PK, because 5 long months of his very screwy lack-of-communication and I-will-check-with-Poppa had left me completely frazzled. This repeated disappearing act of “now you see me, now you don’t” that I have witnessed elsewhere many times before across the world had dangerously built up inside me into a fiery, roaring volcano. So I did not suffer this “aspiring filmmaker” gladly or calmly. My volcano was active, spewing lava, ground shaking, run for your lives!

Looking back now, I shouldn’t have done it, been so mad, typed extremely terse words straight to Guillermo’s cell phone in a hot, faraway country, to an innocent who believed and was convinced he had done no harm. After all, he was just the messenger.

Was it a bridge burned? Yes. Do I regret it? Maybe, but not really. Partially because I decided immediately never to do a media seminar with this church group in the future. Too flakey. All power invested in one man. With a son who could not make basic decisions himself or respond in a timely manner. Going further, I called into question the church’s (very troubling) reputation voiced by other Latin American leaders & pastors to Guillermo – strongly.

But there was another, unsettled reason for my raw anger: I knew through conversation that a great friend “David” (who lived in the same city) was owed seminar money by Guillermo and his church from many months back. So I strongly challenged the pastor’s son about his ministry not paying it’s bills. Shocked, he quickly pointed his finger at my friend, David, instead. Blamed him. Backtracked. Refused to take any form of responsibility for his own oversight.

In the end, David got his long awaited funds the very next day…and was incredibly happy with me for standing up and collecting on a bill for him. Our personal and professional relationship between us was now forever strengthened. Nothing would have happened if I had simply remained quiet, gentle & compliant.

Lessons learned?

First, let it go. Kill them with kindness. Choose your fist fights carefully. Walk away 99% of the time. Our world is filled with naive people (of all ages) who are absolutely terrible at decision-making, followthrough and communication. Yet these crucial attributes are essential and vital to any successful filmmaking venture, production plan or media project.

Second, church pastors across the world (especially in Latin America), I love you. But I implore you (please!) not to setup your own little ministry kingdoms where you rule & reign. Jesus is King, not you. Ok? Wisely shift some of the the decision-making to others, those trusted in leadership with a heart like yours. Share the responsibility. Learn to communicate. Don’t push off answers for another month or year. It’s not fair to the many people who are depending on you for guidance, wisdom and decisions. Try not to keep so many people waiting forever. Plus…answer your messages!

Final thought?

Finish what you start, folks.


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