Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brookfield owner Jason Bowman felt uneasy about his mother going to the funeral of a friend who had just died. The owner of Boxless Media, a digital marketing agency that used to create advertising strategies for politicians and businesses, Bowman warned his mother not to go to the funeral.
He had another idea, an idea that he also put forward to the family of the deceased woman.
“I said I could go in there and shoot it live,” said Bowman, whose services for traditional clients also included videography. “They were shocked that it was just a possibility.”
Far from a one-off service for a family friend, video shooting for a funeral service has turned into an important part of Boxless Media’s business model during the first year of the pandemic.
“It’s definitely not a business I thought I’d be in,” Bowman said.
And after a bit of a slowdown last year, as the state began reopening after vaccines became more widely available, the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant has seen funeral homes and their customers once again request Boxless Media to provide live streaming services to loved ones.
On January 5th, the company broadcast its 250th funeral, a service it has now offered at 30 different funeral homes across the Chicago area “from Edison Park to Tinley Park,” Bowman said.
Fittingly, this service was broadcast live to a client of the Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield, which was Bowman’s most stable home—and the first funeral home to use the Boxless Media video platform.
The relationship was a coincidence. Baumann was looking to commercialize the idea early in the pandemic when Hitzmann needed someone with the technical knowledge to ensure he could provide an interactive funeral service that would include relatives from Europe who at the time were not allowed to travel due to COVID-19.
“They were able to pay homage to Mass,” the funeral home’s owner, Chuck Heitzman, said of the relatives of his European clients.
Hitzman said the service has since been popular, especially among families with relatives abroad.
“Almost every family [in that situation] You choose to have that level of engagement,” Hitzman said.
Funeral videotaping assignments varied widely, from simple single-camera affairs to multi-camera productions at funerals, churches, and the graveside.
“We built the software just for this industry,” said Bowman, who has sharpened the service’s offering after seeing early attempts shared publicly across social media. “We’ve built a custom solution to keep links private.”
Boxless was initially streaming the video live before the videographer later edited the footage, cleaned up the audio and then reposted the link for family members and loved ones who couldn’t watch it live to watch it later. They can also provide DVDs or USB drives for families.
Bowman said Boxless charges $350 to videotape a typical funeral service, a cost that would normally pass through the funeral home to the customer. Bowman said that providing the service was very popular during the first year of the pandemic, and his company was hiring at a time when many companies were laying off employees.
“During COVID, especially during the lockdown, we were the only company hiring people,” Bowman said. “It has slowed down a bit, but is starting to recover again [after Christmas]. We booked all day. “
At the height of the pandemic, Boxless employed four people to video-stream funeral services.
“We had three days a day,” Bowman said.
One of the more elaborate funerals the company has handled was for a 911 dispatcher in Chicago who died of COVID-19, whose funeral was held while his wife lay in hospital battling illness.
Videographers broadcast the man’s entire funeral, including the service and procession to the cemetery, which included a drive through the Chicago Emergency and Communications Administration building.
“His wife was able to watch the entire service on an iPad at the hospital,” Bowman said.
While some families decline streaming services or simply choose to set up an iPad and deliver video over Facebook Live, Hitzeman says Baumann’s videos bring a higher level of quality that those simpler platforms can’t provide.
And with the recent surge in new cases, more and more families are once again choosing to offer their loved ones a remote option.