poptent exploits artists

UPDATE – 8/17/11: Mark from poptent just responded in the comment thread and i replied to his response. check it out below.

UPDATE: just found the portion of Poptent’s site where they show their clients how easy it is! i like to refer to this as “How To Rape Our Artist’s In Four Easy Steps!”. click here to see the actual portion of their site in question and click on the thumbnails to see the full actual screenshots – original post continues beneath the thumbnails.


so this is a letter i just sent to Poptent, a Pennsylvania-based company that basically makes their money by getting other businesses to give them money to more-or-less exploit artists. our friend and colleague M. Keegan Uhl made the beautiful commercial above, starring our friends Charlie Capen and Travis Stanberry (you may recognize Charlie from Broken People). for their efforts, Keegan was given $5000 total. that was for everything: the acting, the writing, the cinematography and camera work; it was for the original composition; everything. Keegan knew when he decided to submit his work that if he won, we would be signing worldwide usage rights in perpetuity (in other words: forever and ever, amen!) for the sum of $5000.

… suddenly $5000 doesn’t seem like much, does it? just to put it in perspective, Kendall told me that $1500 is a really decent non-union price for getting worldwide usage rights in perpetuity for a single actor! so Keegan’s been finding out (and telling me) that his commercial is showing all over the world now. on Jumbotrons and at Nascar events in Asia – all over the place. and guess how much Keegan is getting for this … nothing. he already got the $5000.

now Kendall is continually reminding me – and so is Keegan himself – that he knew what he was getting into when he sent in that commercial, but that’s not why i’m getting so angry. what makes me mad is that apparently Poptent is ALSO using Keegan’s commercial to show business clients how amazing the work is they can get from great poorly-paid artists. sure, i’m sure Keegan signed away those rights too, but is that how Poptent SHOULD be playing this? i know they can, but SHOULD they?

what if instead they decided to promote their artists. to release press releases about how amazing their artists are – how incredible their commercials. hell, there’s a lot they can do to help promote their artists, but that’s not how they want to play it.

anyway, here’s the letter:

to whom it may concern,

my name is Chad Kukahiko and i’m a filmmaker and blogger in Los Angeles. i’m also friends with M. Keegan Uhl who won your Zippo contest several months ago. the $5000 he won was appreciated initially, but more recently he’s found that his ad is playing all over the world and that you’re company is using his piece as an example in your B2B ads to get more companies to use your services. BTW, please know that i in no way speak for Keegan. i’m speaking her for myself and for my tiny production company alone.

anyway, i’m sure everything that transpired in this is all fine and good from a business practices standpoint, but you should probably recognize that you’re not likely to ever again get another submission from the very talented and hard-working Keegan, nor are you likely to get submissions from most of the people that know him. you see here in LA, many of us (such as my girlfriend who produces commercials to put food on the table while we work on our labors of love on the weekends) are familiar with industry standards regarding signing away commercial display rights for global usage in perpetuity. we’re familiar about the range of costs for union work and non-union work, and yes Keegan knew what he was getting into when he signed your release and was planning on using it as practice and hell, why not make some dough at the same time. though all this may be true, watching how far and wide his commercial is being played and how your company is using is as an example of the extremely high quality is filling several of his friends (myself amongst the most loud-mouthed of course) with a near-violent resentment.

just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. i understand how difficult it can be to run a business, but i ask you this: why not promote your best artists? why not showcase the talents like Keegan or others that have won your contests and make it seem just a little bit less like you’re exploiting them. you wouldn’t have to pay them a single dime more than you already do, but it might at least help them get a little more of a foothold in their chosen fields and might even make them want to continue to submit work to you and your clients.

i pay my bills with advertising money as well and i know how difficult it can be to get great work for tight budgets. the truth is i generally like your business model, but i’m telling you that the way you currently manage your talent is burning some of the most incredible bridges.

so there you have it: my two cents. do with it what you like.

Chad Kukahiko

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  • Chad, thanks for writing this letter. I understand your frustration. Let me know if there’s anything I or IdeaMensch can do to help. 

    This is a beautiful spot that deserves a bonus at the very least. 

    • Anonymous

      thanks Mario. if you feel like spreading the word at all, that’d be great. these guys need to recognize that their artists need support too.

  • Hi Chad,

    Thanks for your thoughts.  We always appreciate the constructive feedback.  

    We certainly do our very best not only to promote our creative talent, but to foster it and give the best folks more paid opportunities.  We’re bringing them to the table with Fortune 500 companies to do commercial work.  Everyone who submits a video knows what they’ll be purchased for, I’m not sure I understand your frustration here.

    That said, please know that we are continually improving our product to creative talent.  We now pay more – $7500 minimum for a commercial – and while, yes, that may not be as much as you’d typically be paid if you had landed the job yourself and worked directly with the client, but budgets are falling across the board and demand for media is only increasing.  That’s the point of what we’re doing here – connecting you with those brands who need content and getting you paid.  Also, several of our artists have gone one to work directly for our clients in a direct-paid capacity.

    There’s nothing worse to me than being accused that we’re taking advantage of creators.  I take that personally, as I work very hard to protect and serve you.  I would love the opportunity to show you all the ways in which we foster the careers of our creatives and protect and support them (especially compared to our competitors!)

    In any case, thanks for your thoughts.  Please contact me any time if you ever have any additional questions.  Thanks.


    • Anonymous

      mark, glad to hear the reward has been increased and thanks btw for responding. i would absolutely love to hear about all the ways that poptent fosters the careers of artists, but i think “bringing them to the table with Fortune 500 companies” is probably quite a bit over-stated. i’m totally willing to be wrong over-all, but my only personal experience (albeit from a slight distance) is in how my friend Keegan has been treated. i’m fascinated with it all and have been grilling him for him information constantly.

      you see i work 40 hours a week in advertising and know how much a commercial like that gorgeous Zippo piece he did would normally cost. and again, Keegan does not himself share my outrage and yes, he got exactly what he signed up for, but you can’t tell me you don’t realize that he did an amazing piece that in normal circumstances would have cost exponentially more than what he received. i mean you wouldn’t have him on your B2B page if you didn’t!

      i’m not saying you should give him more money – you already gave him what he signed up and that’s done. but my point is he brought an A-game that was unforeseen ahead of time – he went above and beyond, and i just think that before you start to use him as an example of what you guys can do for your businesses, you should reciprocate just a little bit. give a little bit of that extra mile back to him. 

      here are some ways you could do that: really do bring him to the table with the Zippo team maybe. perhaps connect him to some people at a production house or two … hell! i might even settle for a fricking ‘Oh my god, thank you so much. you’re such a bad ass and i’d love to tell more people about you!’ phone call, for chrissakes!

      but don’t take it personally. i don’t think that reads how you think it might. if you want to do the right thing by Keegan, i’d love to hear about it. and as much as i’m bitching and moaning right now, that could just as easily turn into praise. 


      • I’m fairly certain that I offered him a hearty congratulations.  🙂

        But I hear ya – and you’re right.  We can always use more promotion of our best artists.  We’ve been doing more PR around individual creators in their local media markets and doing our best to float stories about their work.  Obviously, that’s a win-win and there’s no reason we wouldn’t do it.  

        • Anonymous

          completely concur. if artists feel like they’re treated right, they’ll continue to submit work! and you’ll want your best artists to submit again and again! that’s completely my point.

  • Keegan Uhl

    Just need to chime in and say while I understand Chad’s viewpoint and emotions, they are not mine, they are his. None of this should be taken as encouraged or supported by me. Chad is acting as an individual; sharing his thoughts and feelings. While I respect and appreciate his perspective, again I state, he is not speaking for me. 

    • Anonymous

      word. can’t state that enough. even the gf disagrees with me, but i definitely do appreciate that Mark gets my point.

      • Anonymous

        i would however like to reiterate that since the gf is a producer, she does tend to be a bit more cut and dry than moi. 

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