Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brookfield business owner Jason Baumann felt uneasy about his mother going to the funeral of a friend who’d just died. The owner of Boxless Media, a digital marketing agency more accustomed to creating ad strategies for politician and businesses, Baumann cautioned his mom against going to the funeral.
He had another idea, one he also pitched to the deceased woman’s family.
“I said I could go there and video it live,” said Baumann, whose services to traditional clients also included videography. “They were shocked it was even a possibility.”
Far from a one-time favor for a family friend, funeral service videography turned into an important segment of Boxless Media’s business model through the first year of the pandemic.
“It’s definitely not a business I thought I’d be in,” Baumann said.
And after a bit of a slowdown last year as the state began to reopen after vaccines became widely available, the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant has seen funeral homes and their clients once again calling on Boxless Media to livestream services for loved ones.
On Jan. 5, the company livestreamed its 250th funeral, a service it has now provided at 30 different funeral homes all over the Chicago area “from Edison Park to Tinley Park,” said Baumann.
Fittingly, that service was livestreamed for a client of Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield, which has been Baumann’s most consistent – and the first – funeral home to use the Boxless Media video platform.
The relationship was serendipitous. Baumann was looking to market the idea early in the pandemic when Hitzeman needed someone with the technical know-how to ensure he could offer an interactive funeral service involving relatives from Europe who were, at that time, not allowed to travel due to COVID-19.
“They were able to eulogize at the service,” said funeral home owner Chuck Hitzeman of his clients’ European relatives.
Since then, the service has been particularly popular with families who have overseas relatives, said Hitzeman.
“Almost every family [in that situation] elects to have that level of participation,” Hitzeman said.
Funeral videography assignments have varied widely, from simple one-camera affairs to multi-camera productions at funeral homes, churches and graveside.
“We built the program just for this industry,” said Baumann, who honed the delivery of the service after seeing early attempts shared publicly over social media. “We built a custom solution to keep links private.”
Boxless would livestream the video initially before a videographer later edited the footage, cleaned up the audio and then reposted the link for family members and loved ones who could not watch it live to view at a later date. They can also provide families DVDs or USB sticks.
Baumann said Boxless charges $350 for typical funeral service videography, a cost usually passed through by the funeral home to the client. Providing the service was so popular during the first year of the pandemic, Baumann said, his company was hiring at a time many businesses were laying people off.
“During COVID, especially during the shutdown, we were the only business hiring people,” Baumann said. “It slowed down for a bit, but it started picking up again [after Christmas]. We’re booked very day.”
At the height of the pandemic, Boxless employed four people to video-stream funeral services.
“There were days we had three a day,” Baumann said.
One of the more complex funerals the company handled was for a city of Chicago 911 dispatcher who had died from COVID-19, whose funeral was held while his wife lay in the hospital battling the disease.
Videographers livestreamed the man’s entire funeral, including the service and the procession to the cemetery, which included driving past Chicago’s Emergency Management and Communications building.
“His wife was able to watch the whole service on an iPad in the hospital,” Baumann said.
While some families decline to livestream services or simply elect to set up an iPad and deliver the video over Facebook Live, Hitzeman says Baumann’s videos bring a higher level of quality those simpler platforms can’t deliver.
And with the recent surge in new cases, more and more families are again electing to offer loved ones a remote option.