Resources for a virtual funeral presence in Wagoner, OK
November 21, 2020 12:08 PM   Subscribe

My mother died in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on Tuesday. I live in Arizona and will not be traveling to her funeral, because of the fucking pandemic. Please help me be as present as possible, through the wonders of modern technology.

The service for my mom is set for Saturday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m. So we’ve got about two weeks, with one major holiday right in the middle, to get things set.

It's is being managed by one of the local funeral homes, and it will take place at my mom’s church. My siblings, stepdad, and other family members are planning to attend in person, and I'd guess that members of the church will be there as well.

I would like to view the service live, while it is actually taking place. My aunt in California, who also cannot travel, has been asked to give the eulogy. She’s planning to pre-record her speech, but she would also like to watch the service as it happens. (If I’m invited to say anything, I’ll also pre-record and send it in advance.) My far-flung in-laws might like to attend virtually, as well, if the option is available.

(Do I want there to be interactivity? Like me being able to talk to people there? Maybe? I'd like the option? I don’t know, and I don’t know if it's technologically feasible.)

I talked to the funeral home staff and the church’s pastor yesterday, and I did not leave those conversations feeling confident that that creating a robust, dependable virtual presence. (The funeral home mentioned previous attempts with Facebook Live, where they encountered an automatic shut-down when any music was played, despite having purchased licensing. The pastor suggested taping the service and posting it to YouTube after. That won't work for me as a primary goal, though I realize that it makes sense as a fallback if tech fails. He also noted a weak network connection at the church.)

I don’t have any idea about the access to cameras or the audio set-up on their end. (Please note: They were all very warm-hearted and genuine and generous. I just dread being in a situation where everything fails despite their best efforts, if there's anything I can do to prevent it.)

I would like to throw some money at this problem, so I can stop freaking out about it and concentrate on grieving. However, thanks to COVID furloughs, I do not have a great deal of money to throw – probably about the amount of a couple plane tickets from Tucson to Tulsa and a week's hotel stay. If necessary, though, my aunt will likely be willing to kick in some money. Same for my in-laws. (I would not expect the family in Oklahoma to contribute. This is the third funeral my step-father has had to help plan this year, including his own father's in late September.)

I have access to an enterprise Zoom through my employer, as does my aunt through hers. My own home network has been pretty reliable, and I have back-up devices and a solid cell signal in the event of a computer or network meltdown.

My questions for the hive mind include:
1. What is the best platform for a virtual presence at a funeral service with a significant in-person presence? Is it Zoom? (I’ve only used Zoom in situations where everyone’s sitting at their computers.)
2. Would it make sense to hire a small A/V crew (maybe from Tulsa) to handle everything? Telepresence app, cameras, sound, coordinating kindly with church and funeral home?
3. If yes on a crew, can you recommend one? If not, what questions should I ask potential vendors?
4. What am I missing? What am I forgetting to ask?
posted by kwaller to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm so sorry. What you need is a crew and equipment that regularly broadcasts on an Internet app - like Facebook. Our church does this. Do you have any affiliation with a church in your mom's town that might regularly broadcast services? If so, maybe one of their crew could set this up for you.
posted by summerstorm at 1:08 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


I’m so sorry for your loss. Would one of your siblings be willing to have you on a video call and hold their phone up so you could see the service? I’m not sure how important to you professional video quality/recording is (my partner is a broadcast engineer so I very much understand if it is) but something like FaceTime might be a good second option if having a crew doesn’t work out.
posted by corey flood at 1:33 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


In case this is a useful data point, I recently watched a family member's memorial service which was streamed live on Boxcast.tv, and everything went smoothly on the viewing end. I don't know how easy it is to use on the broadcasting end, but I can attest that at least one church is using it. No option for interactivity, but the stream was available to view afterwards as well for those who weren't able to watch live.
posted by mekily at 2:12 PM on November 21


I'm very sorry for your loss.

1. What is the best platform for a virtual presence at a funeral service with a significant in-person presence? Is it Zoom? (I’ve only used Zoom in situations where everyone’s sitting at their computers.)

I don't know what platforms people are using for this but I think Zoom probably makes sense. I did not know about the auto-shutdown on Facebook Live: that's awful.

2. Would it make sense to hire a small A/V crew (maybe from Tulsa) to handle everything? Telepresence app, cameras, sound, coordinating kindly with church and funeral home?

Definitely yes.

I think the most important decision you need to make is whether you want broadcast-level production quality (multiple cameras with live switching between shots, nice lighting, broadcast-quality audio of all speakers) versus whether you are okay with lower production values (single static shot, no special lighting, audio understandable but not necessarily awesome quality). If you want the former then you'll need a production company that can assign you a crew of probably 4-5 people (two camera operators, a 'switcher,' an on-site production boss, and maybe somebody doing lighting or audio), and my guess is the whole thing might cost you 10-20K. Other downsides beyond expense: it will require quite a bit of planning and coordination, and some people at the funeral will likely find the crew and their equipment intrusive. If on the other hand you are okay with non-broadcast-level production quality, then you can just have a single person handle everything (or maybe one person + an assistant). My guess is that latter avenue would cost you about 2K total.

3. If yes on a crew, can you recommend one? If not, what questions should I ask potential vendors?

What you're ideally seeking, I think, is a person/people with technical/production experience with live events that have an interactive component. Typically that would be news (e.g., press conferences) or sports, or maybe conference work (like if there was a live remote speaker, or multiple venues interacting). The keywords you need are "technical/production," "live," "event," and "in the field."

Someone with that background, if they are good at their job, will have the skills and basic orientation that you need. They will be courteous with the funeral home and will know what to ask/tell them, they will have gear or know where to get it, they will plan and test in advance, they will have back-up plans if things fail to work, and they will show up on time and do what it takes to get you what you need.

I don't know anybody in Tulsa. But if it were me, I might start with KWGS, your local NPR station, and if that didn't work then I'd try OETA Tulsa, your PBS Tulsa affiliate. (I think you might have better success with NPR because they would have newsroom production staff, whereas I am not sure if PBS in Tulsa actually makes journalism.) I would call and ask to speak to the station's newsroom manager or managing director or operations manager. And then I'd frame it to that person as an unusual request: that you are in need of this service and are wondering if there is an experienced person or production company that they know and could recommend to you. You should definitely mention that you need the person to liaise with the funeral home, because people's ability to do that well varies a lot.

If you end up picking the single-person route, make it clear that you are willing to pay for someone with experience. You could probably get away with paying as little as $200/day, but the chances are pretty high you'd get somebody green who could mess it up. If you're willing to pay roughly $1000/day per person, you will get pros.

Time will almost certainly be the only cost: you should of course check, but normally a day rate will include things like travel expenses or equipment rentals.

Asking for interactivity will require a little extra planning, but should be totally doable if you want it, in either scenario.

4. What am I missing? What am I forgetting to ask?

This is not exactly a question you forgot to ask, but: make sure whoever you hire knows the internet at the church isn't stable. They will need to rent a mi-fi or turbo hub or whatever, and they should test it before the day of the service.

Good luck with this. It really should be pretty straightforward for you: there are lots of people who do 90% of what you're asking, regularly, on short notice, in a wide variety of contexts. I'm sure you'll be able to to get a good recommendation :)
posted by Susan PG at 11:50 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]


I am sorry for your loss.

My friends in Denmark had their American friends and family (and some in Denmark) attend their Daughter's christening via Zoom. It was not perfect, but it worked just fine. It is simple and you can have a device, preferably someone's laptop, aimed at the lectern. My friends also had a separate device (phone) on mute as an attendee to the meeting, which they then used to interface with those of us on zoom (ie, everyone, as they were not allowed more than like five people in the church). Obviously to do this you will need at least one tech-savvy person to set it up, but it can be done without involving or paying for a whole production crew.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:32 AM on November 23


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