Former Armstrong Shank executive creates ‘Cowboys’ to show life in the Flint Hills

flint2WICHITA — Since leaving the Wichita advertising community for retirement in the Flint Hills four years ago, a lot of Ed Shank’s behavior has been pretty typical of retirees.

The former co-owner of Armstrong/Shank, which today is Armstrong Chamberlin Strategic Marketing, is an avid birder who is learning to garden vegetables and flowers. He takes long hikes with his Irish terrier, Lili, through big ranch country. Generally, Shank spends time enjoying his surroundings at his home 60 feet above the west fork of the Little Falls River, complete with a dam and waterfall below his house and prairie vistas and hardwood forest trees for his and his wife’s viewing pleasure.

“It’s just a truly wonderful place, and most people in Kansas have no idea … how spectacularly beautiful it is,” Shank says.

That’s why he’s also having what you might call a working retirement. He’s written a book called “Prairie Sparrow” and, while waiting to publish it, is now writing another. Shank also has proof he’s been working in the form of a movie he’s made called “Cowboys.”

“Part of doing the movie was a way of informing people of how beautiful it is and that it’s worth preserving,” Shank says of the Flint Hills.

He says he spent a lot of time watching his neighbors move cattle, and “I just finally became curious enough that I wanted to get on their ranches and film them.”

Shank says prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. He says some people see it strictly for what it can produce, though.

“If it doesn’t generate income, then it doesn’t have any value to them.”

His view is “the beauty itself is enough to justify leaving it alone.”

Or have ranchers work it.

“Thanks to them, we still have a tallgrass prairie,” Shank says.

He chose to spotlight the Perrier family and their Dalebanks Angus Ranch in Greenwood County, though Shank interviews other ranchers in the area as well. Part of the reason he says he selected the Perriers is that they work their cattle by horseback.

“Very few people anymore work cattle by horseback,” Shank says.

Shank says part of the reason he made the film is “in recognition of the intelligence and hard work of my neighbors.”

He learned how they rotate animals on pastures so they don’t overgraze.

“In the process of doing so, they’re actually preserving it,” Shank says. “Their ranch is only as viable as the grass.”

flint1He says he also learned that being a cowboy is “a lifestyle that’s almost as endangered as the prairie itself.”

Shank filmed about 14 hours in a studio in an old bank building in downtown Eureka before going out on the prairie to shoot so he “wouldn’t just be a total newbie and wouldn’t be in the way.”

He used two different Canon cameras to shoot it and then edited on a Macintosh using Final Cut.

“I had to learn how to use that program, which is challenging.”

Shank whittled almost 30 hours of footage into 44 minutes and 36 seconds.

He’s already shown it once in Eureka. Now, it’s been accepted at the Kansas City FilmFest and will be shown there next month. Shank says a lot of people in that area have an influence on what happens in the Flint Hills.

He also has submitted his film to Wichita’s Tallgrass Film Festival, but he doesn’t know if it’s been accepted yet.

Ed Shank

Ed Shank

“I made the movie I wanted to make,” says Shank, who had the idea for it five years before he retired.

“I made the best movie I knew how to make. I think it turned out pretty OK.”

Shank says how good it is will be for others to judge.

Though he enjoyed advertising while he was in it, Shank says he has to be honest.

“I don’t really miss the business that much.”

That said, he says filming took a lot out of him.

Shank says it took two years to shoot as he filmed through all of the seasons, and he says movie making is not inexpensive.

“I still haven’t quite recovered from this one.”

So will Shank make another film?

“Perhaps,” he says tentatively. “My wife would not be happy to hear me say that.”