Hi Film Folk,
This week’s filmmaking tale isn’t really filmmaking at all… It’s my experiences of buying a film on eBay. I think there’s important lessons to be learned though… about dealing with people over the internet.
I believe that the indie filmmaker’s best friend these days is the internet, but not everybody is who they say they are, or can be trusted. In short, there’s some muppets out there.
A few weeks ago, I bought an out-of-print film from eBay. I’ll not mention which film, because for reasons that will become clear, It wasn’t a good experience and I’ll endeavour to keep the seller anonymous.
It’s a film I’d wanted to see for a while, and I managed to find an “as new” blu-ray on eBay . Great! I ordered it and looked forward to watching it later that week.
The Blu-ray turned up a couple of days later, but it wasn’t as advertised. The card sleeve was totally worn out, corners all completely smashed/torn and it was very used. The plastic case was dirty, broken and looked like it had been involved in some sort of bitter custody battle between Itchy and Scratchy. The disc itself didn’t have major gashes on it, but it was caked in grease, gunge and filth… I cringed at the thought of what sort of disgusting misadventures it had encountered. Seriously, this was repugnant, and not “as new”. This wasn’t cheap either, it had been priced as you’d expect a new, out of print blu-ray to be.
I set about arranging a return on eBay. The seller accepted with a comment of “I’m glad I’m getting it back, it’s worth double what you paid for it”. Interesting, as I bought it at a fixed price, not auction… The seller then refused to arrange postage. This is done via the click of the button and essentially means that the buyer doesn’t have to pay for return postage, and eBay can track the return of the parcel. This is critical, because it’s the sellers responsibility (they listed it incorrectly) but also because without the tracking they could potentially say it just didn’t arrive…
I tried to teach the seller how the process works and he just kept sending relentless messages with his address on and “when do I get my blu-ray back?”. Eventually, after much explanation as to how the process works from me, he responded with “I do not understand, I am in a wheelchair and my Mum just died”. OK, so I offered my condolences, to what I assumed was fiction, and pointed out that neither event had anything to do with the situation in hand. I wasn’t asking him to walk the length of the UK to collect the Blu-ray after all.
In every message, the spelling and grammar was always completely incompetent, which was of no surprise. For the purposes of this blog I’ll endeavour to improve the text, to make it understandable.
After a week of no progress, I contacted eBay and they read the communications. They decided to give the seller the benefit of the doubt, based on his lack of Mum and legs, and refunded me the £18 from their own pocket. I received a refund, and was told to simple keep the (disgusting) Blu-ray. From the seller’s perspective, nothing would have changed from the original sale, they were able to keep that money.
This is where the bizarre messages started… “Where is my Blu-ray?” “When are you sending my Blu-ray back?” This was soon to ramp up to “This is theft” and “I’m going to call the police”. At this point, I’m genuinely not sure if I’m dealing with a moron, a con-man, or both. A con-moron perhaps?
I tried to explain that he had wasn’t out of pocket, eBay was, due to the lines about him being in a wheelchair and having a dead Mum…
The messages became more confusing… “Have you sent my Son’s blu-ray back?” “He’s a disabled kid who’s lost his Mum, you’re sick” and “I’m coming round to your house to take the Blu-ray”. OK Mate… So now, to try and instil threat, it’s supposedly messages from a Dad. If it’s not clear at this point, I’m not buying this fiction. I’m a writer, this guy isn’t, he’s a muppet.
I start getting emails outside of eBay, threatening me with him coming round my house. He googles my address and manages to discover my business address and parent’s names (not difficult as we have a family business). He starts to threaten my parents by name, he’s going to ring them, he’s going to come to their house and “get his Blu-ray back”. Then he starts ringing our various business numbers. This is one muppet on a mission… He asks for my Mother and tells her all about this “theft”. He rings me, and he rings asking for my Dad. Everybody has already been briefed about our dim-witted friend, and nobody is remotely interested.
In all the emails, messages and phone calls, there’s no sense of continuity between stories. Who the son is, who the father is, who is contacting at any one time. It’s poorly done, this guy is not exactly crafting a solid narrative here. I debate offering him some tips, but decide he’s not worth my mirth.
As a recap, this gentleman listed his product incorrectly, refused a return and then (having not lost out financially at all) started on a one-muppet campaign of abuse.
At this point, I have the guy’s home address. I have his email addresses, eBay information and, from his ringing my family repeatedly, his mobile number. This mobile number takes me straight to his business page, a small “mobile disco” company. You know the thing, a guy, a laptop and some flashing lamps. This gives me his full name and leads me to his facebook page. I can see the guy, he looks like a meek version of Silent Bob. He’s got a well kept little beard, which does a successful job of hiding part of his muppety face. I’m over 6ft and well built, the guy didn’t threaten me before, and now I find the whole situation even more pathetic. It’s like being threatened by Elmo, from the muppets, but without the skill, menace or craft.
Elmo’s facebook page leads me to his wife’s (who’s very much alive) and the guy has four kids, all toddlers/babies. So, if it wasn’t obvious before, we’re dealing with a liar here.
Elmo creates a second eBay account, solely to buy something from me and leave negative feedback. Only, Elmo uses his real name, real email address, real payment details, and leaves negative feedback for an item not arriving, ten seconds after ordering it. EBay take several seconds to see through this devious and cleverly crafted masterplan. They cancel the order, close the account and place a warning on his main account. Elmo is basically punching himself in the head over and over again here in muppety anger.
The contact doesn’t stop, and apparently “I’m coming round tomorrow to collect my Blu-ray. I’ll make you record a video apology to my son who’s Mum has died. You’re a sick, sick man. I’m meeting the Police outside of your door”. Another message says he’s going to tell my Father “that I’m a theft”. I think Elmo means “Thief”? At this point, because of the constant harassment of my parents, I have to take action. Luckily for our fluffy, puppety friend, I’m a stable human being and have no intention of going round to his house to see him, or contact his wife and kids. I’ve no desire to start harassing this fool.
I call the Police and tell them about the harassment. They want to take it further, but suggest I give him a last chance to stop the contact. I do, and that’s where we are now. Elmo’s had an eBay message telling him to stop all contact. Since then, a few messages “Please can you tell me when you’re sending my Blu-ray back”…
We’ll see where he takes this, but the next step is going to be a knock on his door from the Police. I will be more than prepared to take him to court if required. I don’t know if Elmo would go to a traditional court or a one precided over by the honourable Ernie and Judge Big Bird…
It was refreshing that the Police took this seriously over here, and are prepared to take it further. I had a lot of respect for them beforehand anyway, but to treat such muppety mania properly was appreciated.
Personally, I just find the whole situation so unbelievably tragic… I wonder what his wife and kids would make of this? I think she’d be very interested in all the chat about the disabled son and the dead wife.
From Facebook, I can see that Elmo and I even share a lot of the same interests. He’s into bands I work with and TV shows/films I’ve friends who are parts of.
It’s just so sad Elmo. So very sad.
So, this week’s blog wasn’t so much a filmmaking aid, but a lesson in being careful online. If someone can go full-muppet over an eBay error they’ve made, where they didn’t even lose out financially, imagine what else goes on. The web is a powerful force for good with indie film production, but be very careful with what you offer, share and make sure people are who they say they are.
If Elmo gets in touch, don’t let him help write your story…
Thanks for reading,
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