Re-thinking, re-tooling, and re-inventing as a creative company during COVID-19

Input Fort Wayne is launching a weekly blog series by local small business owners as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This is Week One of Derek Devine's blog.

My name is Derek Devine. I own a video production company called PUNCH Films based in Fort Wayne. We’ve been in business for almost 15 years, and until the recent epidemic, we saw consistent incremental growth with our best year being in 2019.

I enjoy the challenges of being a business owner and running a business around an art form that truly fascinates me and enriches my life. I’ve always worked in creative industries. I attended music school through the graduate level and performed professionally as a classical oboist into my 30s. I switched careers 20 years ago to become a film editor. But I quickly realized that there were many aspects of production beyond editing that I enjoyed.

The ensuing years provided ample opportunity for personal and professional growth as I explored cinematography, animation, directing, producing, and ultimately, business ownership. Admittedly, I wear many hats, but as I’ve grown professionally, I’ve been able to hire and mentor others to share those hats.

I am extremely proud of the team we’ve assembled. There are nine of us in total. The PUNCH crew is not only very capable and talented, but also an absolute joy to work with daily. Our clients feel the same way. Creative collaboration is much easier to say than to do, and it takes years to know how best to support our wide variety of clients and their unique needs.

Over the years, PUNCH has produced a very large library of representative works. From TV spots and Public Service Announcements to event films, to explainer animations, to training videos, to short films, and more. Our repertoire is quite diverse.

I tend to think of us more as problem solvers than video makers. It could be a story that needs to be conveyed with just the right tone, or a challenging technical execution that involves significant post-production know-how. We’ve worked with some of our clients for so long that we’ve come to understand their products and needs as if we were one of them.

My goals for PUNCH have always aspired to be the caliber of a production company that you might find in larger markets. And it’s worked. Today, we’ve built our reputation around creativity, quality and reliability in the Fort Wayne market. And, we’re now building that reputation in larger markets as clients discover this gem that has been quietly cultivating in Fort Wayne.

We’re also good at adapting to change. Our industry seems to change the approach and the rules to film production almost yearly. We started out as the first High Def production post house in town in 2005. We moved to 4k when digital overtook film as the new standard for High-end production. Our equipment gets smaller and cheaper and content creation becomes more democratized every year, allowing more people to explore their love for film in more tangible ways that was ever possible when we started.

We’ve survived some tough economic conditions over the years, but the toughest have been industry shakeups around game-changing technologies. Sometimes, we’ve been on the good side of those changes and sometimes not, but we expect them. It’s part of the deal. I’ve often said things like recessions and game-changing industry trends, although stressful, do not scare me. They are necessary. They strength-test our businesses and require us to recalibrate around new opportunities.

But I’ve had a caveat to these types of statements. If people are out there trying to make things happen, there is opportunity to be found. It may take some time and discomfort, but things are happening. I’ve often said jokingly, “I don’t mind a recession, as long as people don’t go home, put a pillow over their heads, and try to sleep it off.” Well, the joke’s on me.
Enter COVID-19, the pandemic that inspired the complete paralysis of our global economy. The event that asked us to go home and stay there for a while, and maybe made us want to put a pillow over our heads.

The question is: What opportunities can be found here unless you are part of the special group of essential businesses? That was my realization as I woke up on Monday, March 16th, when it first dawned on me, and I thought: Oh wow, this one is going to be tough.

So here I am, in the blink of an eye going from the best quarter in my company’s history to the worst. Contracts are getting pulled, re-negotiated and re-negotiated again, and understandably so. My clients are my friends, and they treat us the same way. Clients are tossing us some work, but not on the level we are used to. Every little bit helps.

Our team is cross-training and improving on skills. We're all just trying to make this work and be good to each other at the same time. It’s sort of working. With Federal relief through the PPP grant (many grateful kudos to Luke Squires, my amazing banker at First Source Bank) and some left-over momentum from the first quarter, I feel a little relief. But how many months are we expected to continue in this state? It’s hard to not have a pessimistic outlook. I'm not talking about staying home or not. I’m talking about the state of not doing things. PUNCH is going to continue to do the right thing by our health workers and families. We’re lucky. We have some control over our exposure, unlike many businesses whose livelihood depends on people showing up.

Right now, I’m re-thinking, re-tooling, re-inventing. In a time where everyone is staring at a screen, it would seem like we’re in the right business. But, it’s a vast business with a lot of specialties, and for the last few weeks, people seem more interested in consuming content than creating it. We’re even offering pro-bono work where it seems like the right thing to do, but people are so distracted that it can be hard even to give the services away.

Every week is different, so it’s dangerous to come to big conclusions around the state of things. I’m trying to focus on the near future (July, August, and beyond) instead of the immediate present. What I’m most grateful for right now are conversations: When someone is willing to listen to my thoughts or talk to me about their ideas, it really helps.

I recently had a conversation with an awesome client who prefaced our talk with “You probably won’t be interested in this but...” It turns out I was very interested in her project and had tried to launch a similar capability a few years ago, but in the environment of a busy schedule, we just didn’t have time to explore it. It might just turn into something, who knows?

I hate to get on this blog and complain. I’ve been asked to convey my thoughts and experiences. My attitude changes up and down daily. I know that many have it much harder than I do, and many are dealing directly with the very real and scary shadow behind all this unrest–the virus.

I wish everyone wellness and hope. It's a good time to talk and a good time to listen.

This blog is part of an ongoing, weekly series in Input Fort Wayne, following local small business owners as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. To see Derek's next blog, subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter, or check inputfortwayne.com next week.
 
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