Most entertainers were forced to step out of the spotlight when COVID-19 appeared. But what happened to those who provide that light? The pandemic jolted the careers of two northern Illinois video professionals, causing them to temporarily go out of focus.
Joseph Piscitelli, the owner of Broadcast Production Services in Lombard, has done video since 1986. This is a journey that began in high school. Most of Piscitelli’s work includes commercial projects for businesses throughout northern Illinois. He said last year’s gross profit was his best to date, but this year’s is his worst. He spoke of the pandemic’s early days.
“It was like, you know, going 150 miles an hour and then hitting a brick wall,” he remembered. “It just literally shook your world. Everything came to a dead stop.”
Piscitelli said the world came crashing down around him. He admitted that April and May were two of the worst months of his life. He was trying to figure out how to make a living after doing the same thing for over 30 years. He got so down that he said he didn’t even touch his video equipment. Instead, he poured all his passion into his family and working out.
Piscitelli shared at one point he questioned if he needed to go back to school. He wondered if he should go and get a regular job at a place like Amazon or FedEx. He held out because he said he had a feeling that things would pick up again. And he wanted to be available if a production opportunity popped up.
But at the same time, he needed money. He didn’t want to depend on anything or anyone else.
“I called my accountant, and we had several conversations, and he's like, ‘Joe, you know, just don't worry about your pride, man, you've earned this, you could take this, just go get the unemployment,’” Piscitelli said his accountant urged. “‘It's going to help you and your family.’”
Piscitelli said the government help, which included a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) payment, was the glue that kept his finances together.
Lonnie Iske is the owner of Vixen Productions in Rockford. Her company offers total production services for live events and some corporate and commercial projects. She said things came to a standstill for her business, too, when COVID-19 showed up.
“We kind of lost all work that we had. Everything got canceled, weddings got postponed and moved. And then about, oh, I'd say May and June, we get a couple things here and there,” she explained.
Iske said regardless of what was going on, she has never once thought about changing careers because production work is her passion. And that passion -- and her tenacity -- are what’s helping her maneuver through the storm.
The pandemic made a lot of people switch gears. Most live events went virtual and some of them needed a production crew to make that happen. Iske was there for the call.
“Trying to get videos out for virtual events," she said. "And anything you can think of really. Every business is freaking out right now. I think it’s just like, ‘We need online content.’”
Iske said her company has been swamped since the beginning of September.
Piscitelli confirmed that things shifted for him in July. He slowly started getting a few jobs here and there.
“And then I had a fantastic opportunity not only financially but also again, one of those other just cool projects. I was able to go on the road for two weeks with the Weather Channel for Storm Stories,” he shared.
He said this is when he was able to stick his chest out and chin up again. Piscitelli mentioned that September almost felt like a regular month -- but it’s too soon to tell what will happen.
He also shared that if needed, he may pivot to virtual work. He admitted that he is still a little nervous but he feels much better than he did a few months ago.
Iske’s sentiments are the same. She shared that she was very concerned at the beginning of the year.
“It's just been a wild ride. And we're all kind of trying to navigate and pivot and learn our new norm,” she said.
Iske wants video production people to stay motivated and not press the pause button. She is suggesting that they work on small personal projects and share them. She said you never know who is watching and that small work could snowball into something bigger.
- Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.