Doug Armknecht is not your typical video filmmaker.
The Smith County millennial is all about producing agricultural videos showing majestic skylines with picturesque hills and waving wheat.
His company, Kansas Farm Imagery, is based in Smith Center – in north-central Kansas – and uses drones. And he is about to go big time.
On March 17-19, Armknecht’s video “Beauty & Bounty” – which shows his wife’s family’s 2016 wheat harvest – will premiere at the New York City Drone Film Festival. The event is considered the nation’s first and best drone film festival. His film is one of 32 out of nearly 400 entries that have been accepted to be shown, Armknecht said.
For the past five years, Armknecht has been capturing farm life in Kansas.
“I grew up in Cawker City, known for its Ball of Twine,” Armknecht said. “I married my wife, Kelli, in 2011.
“I began shooting video that I intended to share with the family. The response was so big that I realized a lot of people want to see this.”
The LaRosh family farm in Osborne is the subject of “Beauty & Bounty.” A trailer of the movie is filled with stirring music, combines, gray skies, thunder and a race against time as the harvest gets underway.
The LaRosh family traces its roots back to an 1871 homestead in Osborne County. Today’s family patriarch is Jhan LaRosh.
Armknecht’s videos of the farm have been posted on YouTube since 2012.
My wife suggested I film her dad’s wheat harvest. She goes and drives the combine. I go there and do my work and take video and post it. In the past four to five years, I’ve had over 1.5 million views.
Doug Armknecht, Smith County drone video producer
“My wife suggested I film her dad’s wheat harvest,” said Armknecht, 37. “She goes and drives the combine. I go there and do my work and take video and post it.
“In the past four to five years, I’ve had over 1.5 million views.”
Armknecht said drone footage is a major component of his work. He said his father-in-law bought the first drone in 2014 and had Armknecht fly it.
“These give unique views of the farm, and really allow scenery of Kansas to shine,” Armknecht said.
“The stunning aerial shots have been a signature part of the LaRosh harvest videos ever since.”
Armknecht’s background is in computer science and cartography. He uses his drones to do videos for a local Realtor and to create promotional videos showing historical and scenic elements of Smith County.
He’s part of a new genre of Kansans who are promoting their family farms through the internet and have since become international stars.
In 2012, it was siblings Greg, Nathan, Kendal and Laura Peterson from Assaria who did parody videos of hit songs on YouTube such as “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” a take-off from LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.”
And Marion County’s Derek Klingenberg, who has garnered more than 30 million hits off his take on popular songs – mostly parodies with a heavy dose of cow art or farmyard drone antics.
Armknecht’s work and style is more serious.
“Last year I did a special harvest video for the Kansas Wheat Commission which received hundreds of thousands of views and helped promote Kansas Wheat from their Facebook page,” Armknecht wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle. “You can expect another video for Kansas Wheat this year.”
He said he thinks the film he will show in New York will be the first agricultural film in the festival’s history.
“It will be fun to bring a glimpse of farming to the Big Apple!” Armknecht wrote on his Facebook page.
Armknech is a private pilot and is a licensed operator for drones, meaning he can operate drones for profit and do aerial cinematography commercially.
He said he does the videos to promote Kansas farms.
Since most people are so far removed from agriculture now, they are susceptible to hearing phrases like ‘factory farms’ and ‘corporate farms’ and being suspicious of their food source. … My videos help personalize it all and show the faces behind the product.
Doug Armknecht, Smith County drone video producer
“Since most people are so far removed from agriculture now, they are susceptible to hearing phrases like ‘factory farms’ and ‘corporate farms’ and being suspicious of their food source,” Armknecht said. “In reality, the USDA says that 97 percent of farms are family-owned.
“Many of them look similar to the LaRosh farm. My videos help personalize it all and show the faces behind the product.
“It’s really just a simple story of faith, family and farming. That’s why I believe my videos have resonated with people around the world.”
Armknecht said more than half of his video views are from outside the United States.
The truth, Armknecht joked, is that he shoots the videos because of a deal he made with his father-in-law, Jhan LaRosh.
“Six years ago when Kelli and I got engaged, the ‘deal’ was that I could marry her as long as Jhan didn’t lose his combine driver,” he said.
“In addition to inspiring me to start filming, she’s a great combine operator and also helps me pick music for the videos.”