Jeffrey Stillwell was feeling antsy during the last hour of his shift on May 10 as a loss prevention specialist at the Ross Dress for Less near Mall I-205. So he decided to use his phone camera to make a satirical TikTok compilation video about just how seriously he takes his job.
He posted it on TikTok the day after, and within six hours of its posting, Stillwell tells WW, it had gone viral.
On May 12, Stillwell got a call from Ross’ corporate office, asking him to take the video down. He says he declined.
“I was 100% expecting it. I knew my days were numbered once I crossed the 5,000 views mark,” Stillwell tells WW.
He worked another shift at his $15-an-hour job the next day, and made one more loss prevention video for Tik Tok during that shift.
The next day, he was fired by Ross.
Since then, he’s made a series of videos about what happened—and each have taken off on the social media platform.
The original video opens with Stillwell standing in Ross’ dark parking lot, the store’s illuminated sign in the background. His wispy blonde hair gently blowing in the wind and wearing a Ross lanyard, Stillwell introduces himself as Ross loss prevention specialist Patrick Tubbs.
“My name is Patrick Tubbs, I’m a Ross store loss prevention specialist and I will die for this merchandise,” he says in a voiceover.
Next, he launches into the various measures he will take to prevent theft, while pairing it with footage of himself sprinting down aisles, sneaking around shelves, peeking his head above rows of merchandise, and fully launching himself onto the floor in a simulated tackle. Suspense music plays in the background.
“I will guard this merchandise with my life,” he narrates. “If you try to walk out of this store and the security gates start beeping, I will body slam you. I will go to war over a pair of socks.”
This is not how Stillwell envisioned he would be making a living at age 29.
He studied film production in college and moved to Portland four years ago to work as a script supervisor on several shows while also working on his own independent projects.
Despite his goofy personality, Stillwell says the short films he writes are hyper-serious; he looks up to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, and says his films are “incredibly serious. I was really trying to make experimental, thoughtful, thought provoking films.”
But Stillwell says he kept getting rejected from film festivals and producers, and was struggling to stay afloat financially. Though he’d been working at Ross off and on since he was a teenager, he’d picked it up again six months ago to stave off financial woes exacerbated by COVID-19.
And while he says he felt far too old for Tik Tok when he first heard about it—Stillwell turns 30 next year—he joined the app anyway. Stillwell says he brought more of a Youtube-style aesthetic to the app that recalls old-school millennial video-making.
Now his first video from May 11 has over 4 million views, and his subsequent videos about the fallout at Ross have also climbed to the hundreds of thousands of views.
He says his reaction to the viral fame was, like most victories these days, enjoyed and celebrated in the privacy of his apartment: “I was laughing like a movie villain. I was alone chuckling my heart out while I was laying in bed.”
In one following video posted on May 16, Stillwell croons to Ross CEO Barbara Rentler about giving him his job back. He superimposed himself singing in a suit and bowtie in front of a disco background; he’s heavily auto-tuned and has rockstar shades on. Pictures of Rentler occasionally float across the screen.
“Barb, baby I know you’re upset with me, and I may have went rogue and made a couple of Tik Toks while on the clock, but, you know you laughed,” Stilwell sings. “And now I’m here to ask you, please don’t fire me.”
“Just look at all the young people I got to talk about Ross,” he croons.
In all seriousness, it’s a straight-up bop.
In another video posted May 20, Stillwell reenacts his firing. After getting fired and giving back his lanyard to his boss (also played by himself), Stillwell plays Oasis’ melodramatic “Champagne Supernova” over b-roll of himself hovering outside Winco Foods and chasing after people to fill the void that Ross left.
Stillwell says fans of his even launched a change.org petition to get him his job back, and have started a hashtag #justiceforjeff.
Stillwell says he feels vindicated after the surprising success of his videos, and he’s even in talks with two apparel companies about creating marketing content for them: “It feels good. My brother is a lawyer, so it makes me feel like my decision to pursue the arts wasn’t so bad.”
Ross did not respond to a request for comment.