Among those affected by the spread of COVID-19 are photographers, videographers, media production companies, and other entities who work closely with the world of sports, news and other topics. All have seen a drastic shift in business this past spring.
Beginning in March, media specialists scrambled to reinvent themselves as any and all major gatherings, sporting events, and celebrations were cancelled or postponed. This was necessary for them to maintain their viability in an industry whose future was uncertain.
Phil Grimpo, Executive Director of Inspirmedia Productions in Lincoln, Neb., is a graduate of Concordia University – Chicago. Grimpo started out doing website development and some video production, and has since shifted his focus to media production of live events.
Due to the closings and cancellations beginning March 2020, Inspirmedia, lost nearly all of the events on its calendar, including their work with University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“On March 12 or 13 we had basically everything for the foreseeable future cancel,” Grimpo said. “I really thought about the events that were in June, like, ‘Well they’re in June; We’ll be fine.’ But now things are canceling through the end of the year, everything’s done.”
Others in the industry, such as Audio Visions, based out of Omaha, Neb, have also been hit hard. Jasper Goforth, General Manager and 16 year veteran at Audio Visions, said the business has seen a significant decrease in workflow since mid-March when things began to shut down.
“We were the first ones out and will be the last ones back and we aren’t expecting anything of normalcy until probably next spring or summer if we’re lucky,” Goforth said.
Photojournalists haven’t had it any easier.
Eric Francis, freelance photographer and staff photographer for Hail Varsity Magazine, discussed the day all sports and work related events were cancelled.
“I remember the date, it was March 12, when I sat in front of my computer and virtually everything on my calendar just disappeared in one day,” he said. “And that, that was hard.”
Insprimedia Productions, a media production company, was founded in 2000 and specializes in lighting and sound for live events for up to 3,000 guests. Additionally, the company offers services such as equipment rentals, video production, AVL installations, projection, as well as consulting, training, and sales.
Up until about five years ago, the majority of Inspirmedia’s clientele were nationwide. Their affluent clientele portfolio includes the LCMS National Youth Gathering, Water for Food, Google, LinkedIn, the Republican Party, and churches coast to coast for special events such as Easter and Christmas services.
“Typically we were traveling,” Grimpo said. “I know a couple years ago, it was mid November before it was my first week where I was actually home all week. So, we would travel quite a bit.”
While serving nationwide, Inspirmedia is also heavily involved in the greater Lincoln-Omaha, Neb. community. Inspirmedia has provided services for events such as the Nebraska governor’s inaugurations in Lincoln, Steve Martin at Pinewood Bowl, Future Farmers of America (FFA), and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), and one of their favorites, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Cornhuskers.
Inspirmedia found it necessary to shift focus to meet needs, which were previously thought of as just the odds and ends of business.
“Churches all wanted to get up and get streaming right away, that was a big thing, so we started putting together packages of cameras for the churches,” Grimpo said. “[Also] one thing we did within the first day or two is we built a studio in our warehouse for being able to record. So if you needed to get a video out, if you needed to do an online seminar, we did that.”
The odds and ends turned out to be the main services Inspirmedia provided during this time. Additionally, they began doing weekly seminars on topics such as streaming, talking with other people, and how to program worship services online.
Inspirmedia also began redesigning their sales systems to have all the most common pieces ready to go to make it easier and to create packages for people. They had a lot of response to both the seminars and streaming equipment packages because of the pandemic.
“It [business] has just kind of accelerated, I’d say we would typically do one major install and a couple small installs per year,” Grimpo said. “But to have done 60 quotes in the last couple of months is a lot.”
LIke Inspirmedia, Audio Visions has worked hard to shift gears, stay busy, and bring in revenue during these unprecedented times.
Audio Visions was started in 1986 and is the largest single source production company in the Midwest. Audio Visions specializes in productions for live events, anywhere from two people to 200,000 people, in addition to retail sales, installations, and repairs.
“We’ve been trying to just approach every angle to see what we can do to pretty much survive this whole thing,” Goforth said. “Things like making cold calls, doing the install work that we don’t generally do a whole lot of. It’s turned from a handful of stuff into a fair amount of stuff now,”
Despite cancellation of his sports photography for Hail Varsity, Francis, an Omaha native, worked hard to create something to do. He looked for a “project” to occupy his time.
He saw some of the work other photographer friends were doing. Keeping appropriate social distancing in mind, they were shooting porch portraits. But it wasn’t the right fit for him.
“I thought, yeah, that’s really just not my style,” Francis said. “But then I saw another photo-journalist friend of mine in Wisconsin…he was doing it a little bit differently.”
Francis contacted friends and set up some shoots, and the work took off. It quickly evolved into something “good”. He created an Instagram page called Isolation 402 and showcases a different kind of porch portrait.
“Even though I usually shoot them from the curb or the sidewalk,” Francis said. “We engaged in a little conversation and got everybody to relax. I started to see the anguish and the anger and the worry on the parents’ faces.”
Francis thought it was important to document the faces of the social isolation brought on by the pandemic. This work kept him busy through the spring.
“And so it started to become a thing, and that’s what I occupied my spring with this year,” he said. “I was probably averaging a dozen a week for a while, for several weeks.”
His regular work and photography projects are slowly returning, though not as quickly as Francis would like.
“I’m a little bit at the mercy of assignment editors and PR people/marketing people getting back to work,” Francis said. “And so, that’s starting to loosen up a little bit now. Like I said, I’ve shot three jobs in the last two weeks. [It was] the first time since March.”
Grimpo looks forward to returning to Memorial Stadium when sports resume in the fall.
“If NCAA football happens, I think that opens up the doors for a lot of other things to happen,” he said. “It’s good to see some sports trying to make things go – like baseball.”
Grimpo said it may look different, but getting back will be reassuring for everyone.
“We talked to them [UNL Athletics] last week. I don’t know if it’s the camera crane or if we’re going to try and do something else different during the tunnel walk. That’s kind of up in the air,” he said. “My hope would be that we’d still be doing something, I think that’d be great.”
The pandemic has certainly taken its toll on the media production industry, but many have shown that with a little creativity and innovation they will weather the storm.
“It’s just a matter of making sure there’s something here whenever the floodgates open because once this is all over, they’re going to open,” Goforth said. “It’s just [takes] looking at the positivity of that.”