Doug Armknecht is too modest to brag about being a filmmaker. His background is as a computer scientist and software engineer – but when he got into film about 5 years ago he applied the same scientific mindset to his art.
He originally began by filming the wheat harvest at his father-in-law’s farm, where his wife drives a combine during the season. Back in 2014, his father-in-law, Jhan LaRosh bought him a drone; and since then the harvest has never been more beautiful.
“The wheat harvest has always been a focus for me,” says Armknecht. “When you’re in it, it’s hot and sweaty and dirty – but when you are above it, it’s totally different. The aerial perspective adds a whole new dimension.”
As a manned aircraft pilot, Armknecht already understood the airspace and got his Part 107 license easily. He is on his third drone now, upgrading as the technology improves and honing his skills as a pilot. “They’ve all survived,” he laughs. “I ran one into a barn, but other than that I haven’t had any mishaps. I was getting some great beauty shots and I tried to get a little bit closer, but I lost visual distance and heard that awful sound of the blades hitting the side of the barn.”
Filmmaking is “not my day job but something that I do for fun, and do enjoy… I put a lot of time into it,” he says. That time has paid off. He spent two years learning filmmaking before getting a drone. Those years of developing skills are important, says Armknecht: “If you have no background of photography or video or film, it’s much harder,” he says. “At the end of the day the drone is just a video camera that you put up in the air.”
Armknecht has done wheat harvest videos every year on YouTube, but this year decided to take the plunge and enter a film festival. He edited his film and got the farmer, father-in-law Jhan LaRosh, to do the voice over. The film was accepted into the prestigious NYC Drone Film Festival and InterDrone. “I thought that InterDrone would be a good fit because they are focused on the industrial and agricultural use,” he says.
When “Beauty and Bounty” was named a winner in it’s category, Armknecht convinced his family to come with him to Las Vegas to be part of the festival. “It was definitely an honor to be there,” he says.
Jhan LaRosh was there with him to see his farm on screen. When the film took the Grand Prize, Armknecht says, “He was shocked and surprised… I had to convince him to come on stage with me.” While the film skills are Armknecht’s, he gives the credit to father-in-law LaRosh. “He’s the real star of the show, I just document it,” says Armknecht. “It’s great to be part of the family operation. It’s great because we get to show that even though it’s a large operation, it’s really a family coming together to bring in the harvest.”
With his success at drone film festivals, Armknecht’s taken on some more commercial drone work. He recently was asked to do some drone filming for Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: a documentary for Discovery Channel that premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January and showed at the end of August. “It was exciting to be part of a larger film project,” he says. “My wife and I went out to Sundance to see the premier in January… The atmosphere is pretty exciting, and to see your work on the big screen is awesome.”
Asked what aspiring drone filmmakers might do to improve their work, Armknecht has simple advice: “Dedicate yourself to going out and learning,” he says. “If you take some time to find out what the best settings are, how to get the best color profiles, how to I get the best cinematic movements – you can increase your quality ten-fold.”
“Learn everything you can,” he says.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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