Tolman Media Shutdown Leaves Photographers and Clients Empty-Handed
Tolman Media, one of the nation’s largest wedding photo and video companies, abruptly shut down last month, leaving hundreds of photographers unpaid. Couples who booked through Tolman are suddenly without shooters as well.
Tolman Media was established in 2020 based out of Provo, Utah, and quickly grew to provide photo and video services for weddings in all 50 states. Advertising 56 total physical locations, Tolman Media boasted that it had captured over 10,000 weddings by the end of 2022.
The company’s key to rapid growth and success was its decentralized management system, where the main company would send interested couples to a local branch who would handle the actual arrangements. Those local branches bore the Tolman Media name, but were independently operated, similar to how a franchised restaurant works.
“Tolman Media is a wedding media company working with local teams of talented photographers and videographers to seamlessly capture your candid moments and the authentic joy felt on your wedding day,” the company’s website read in January.
But on February 15, out of the blue, the company shut down.
“This is a formal notice that as of February 15, 2023, Tolman Media LLC, Tolman Media Empire LLC, and Tolman Media Dynasty LLC have officially ceased operations and been dismantled,” the company announced on its website.
“All assets have been sold, there is no cash remaining in the business, and no further employees, members, managers, or officers active. All websites, emails, and contact information has been shut off.”
Tolman’s announcement surprised both shooters and clients, as there are many photographers who have not been paid for weddings for several months and clients who had not received photos or videos. That, unfortunately, doesn’t appear as though it will change.
Employees and Clients Hung Out To Dry
As expected, Tolman’s closure left a large number of clients in the lurch. Weddings are almost always planned months in advance and the company’s solution to this problem felt messy to remaining parties. In short, the company told clients that their weddings would still be covered by a photographer and that any outstanding balance remaining would need to be paid directly to that shooter. The down payment that was paid to Tolman was not being refunded.
“As you know by now Tolman Media has unfortunately closed its doors as of Feb 15th, 2023 and will no longer be booking, managing or overseeing our upcoming weddings,” the company wrote to contractors in an email seen by PetaPixel.
“We have sent out emails directly connecting you to your upcoming booking with the final amount expected to be split directly between the creatives. Tolman Media previously took a management and editing fee off the top of each package; that extra money will now be paid to you directly from the bride as you fulfill the wedding.”
Some clients paid for wedding services in full, which means Tolman’s direction was even more confusing. To that, the company seems to indicate that it expects photographers to fulfill the contracts even if they wouldn’t see any money from it.
“We have a rare situation where a bride/groom paid in full to Tolman Media which is now out of cash and insolvent. It is still our highest priority to make sure that all our brides get the beautiful wedding imagery they paid for. Through you accepting the final half directly on the remainder of your bookings, you will ultimately make more money than if you shot these weddings as a Tolman Media creative.”
Speaking to PetaPixel, one former Tolman contractor said that most of the weddings booked through Tolman were paid in full up front, so Tolman is basically expecting photographers to shoot weddings for free. Even if there was an outstanding balance remaining, it was usually only 50%, which means the photographer would only make half the value of the work. Though, as mentioned, Tolman argues this is more than they would have made if Tolman was still operating.
Even more, with Tolman out of business, photographers wouldn’t be bound to clients by any contracts anymore. If a photographer shot a wedding booked by Tolman, there wouldn’t be any recourse if the client ultimately decided not to pay the remaining outstanding balance.
In an interview with KSLTV, an NBC Affiliate in Utah, one client said she didn’t even realize that Tolman Media shut down until she tried to call the company to ask what the status was for their upcoming wedding.
“I think I like went through the stages of grief,” Lindsey Penn told KSLTV. “Like, I was emotional. And then I was angry.”
A ‘Hot Mess’ From the Very Beginning
PetaPixel spoke with a contractor that worked with Tolman Media since April of 2022. They have asked to remain anonymous, but their identity has been confirmed. Their story mimics multiple others that have been shared with PetaPixel.
“I had heard great things about them and I loved the idea that I could keep my footage that I shot. Also it was a draw that I didn’t have edit if I didn’t want to,” they say. But looking back, they say that it was from the beginning “a complete hot mess.”
After onboarding, which the contractor says went great, they were connected with their state’s area manager. That’s where things started to go downhill.
“My area manager didn’t contact me for three weeks despite my attempts at contact. I did not get added to the company HoneyBook until I was literally at a wedding with a bride. I had no way to get her information other than HoneyBook — I had to beg my manager to send me her information.”
Honeybook is a client workflow management tool that Tolman affiliates used to manage their weddings and photographers.
“My first wedding I took was also not in my area. My area manager was desperately trying to fill some weddings for the New Mexico Area [and] she posted about 10 jobs, five of which were on the same date. I had agreed to take one but I told her some things I would need,” the contractor continues.
“Firstly, Tolman would pay for travel but it was between $0.50 and $0.75 cents per mile driven. I should mention at this point I was about six months pregnant with a slightly higher-risk pregnancy. My doctor had given me to okay to shoot but not to really travel for long periods of time. So after getting corporate to agree to the terms set by my doctor I was told to pick the cheapest flights and the cheapest hotel (basically a sketchy motel). So I did.”
While not the best situation, the contractor took it in stride and successfully shot the wedding. Overall, the costs to shoot that wedding outside of their region combined with the fee for the job was $890.
“I sent in my invoice once the video was delivered per Tolman’s request the same month I shot it — June. I didn’t get paid until about a week before my son was born — the very last week of September,” they explain.
“I had hounded my poor manager countless times and she had blamed it on the fact they had gotten a new accountant. She gave me his number to directly reach out to him and I did and was paid finally.”
The fact they were paid is actually unusual, as countless photographers who worked for Tolman allege they still remain unpaid now months after completing work. According to a private Discord chat that PetaPixel has seen, many photographers are out hundreds or thousands of dollars since the business suddenly closed.
The issue of payments is widespread and had been for some time. Brennan Tolman, the founder and former CEO of Tolman Media, shared a video with contractors explaining the situation from his perspective and promising payments were coming. The video was uploaded in late January, early February and has since been taken down.
In the video, Brennan Tolman says payment delays were caused by previous company decisions and everyone would be paid in 30 to 60 days.
“Please rest assured that you will be taken care of by Tolman Media and we’ll get those invoices paid,” Tolman says.
The company shut down soon after and payments are still outstanding. The mirror below was uploaded by a concerned photographer who didn’t want Tolman’s promise that money was coming to be deleted.
Tolman Gone, Money Missing
Tolman’s centralized media empire is currently in flux. Tolman Media Northwest, for example, has updated its website to explain that it is still operating and “rebranding.” The former Tolman affiliate did not respond to PetaPixel’s repeated requests for comment.
As explained by KSLTV, multiple couples were unable to get their money back from Tolman Media and in order to assure their weddings were photographed were forced to hire new photographers at full price. Clients were not getting refunds, and never would.
At the time of publication, Brennan Tolman is in the wind. All forms of communication are being ignored and the company has not responded to multiple requests for comment. But a source familiar with the situation tells PetaPixel that Tolman has left Utah and is currently living in Nevada where he has purchased a new house.
“Everyone needs to know to never do business with him,” a photographer who is still owed thousands of dollars tells PetaPixel.
A contingent of former contractors is currently investigating the steps they need to take to file a class action lawsuit against Brennan Tolman and the former Tolman Media.