People standing at the base of Russian River Falls, with sockeye swirling around in the clear water, are usually equipped with fishing poles. Buck Kunz jumps in with a waterproof camera.
“This place is so big and vast,” Kunz said. “You could do a different trip every weekend, almost on the peninsula alone, and do something new every time. I love Alaska. … It continually amazes me.”
Putting the wildness of Alaska to film is what Kunz returned to the state to do. A co-founder and the video lead at Kenai Creative, a local advertising and media production company, Kunz said he won’t get sick of the scenery and life on the Kenai Peninsula.
Kunz was raised in Sterling and, after finishing film school at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, returned to the central peninsula to live full-time. He started his own production company, originally called Kenai Kid Productions, capturing the world around him on video. Lee Kuepper came across one of his videos online, and after the two met, their shared interest in capturing the imagery of Alaska led them to start Kenai Creative. They picked up another partner, Markie Shiflea, who handles the public relations and marketing for the company.
“It’s just kind of budding right now,” Kuepper said. “We’ve got some really exciting projects, different ideas and how to help businesses in the community, really. It’s fun to put it all together … but it’s really nice to be able to help different people. There’s so many different characters in the community.”
Kuepper and Kunz both have day jobs — Kuepper is a fly-fishing guide and Kunz is a welder — and do the video work as projects when they become available. However, they received a wash of public attention when they made a promotional video for the city of Soldotna called “My Soldotna.” It has been played 23,000 times on Vimeo.
The crisp shots of anglers casting lines on the Kenai River, traffic cruising over the David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge and bears lumbering down to the Kenai River was shot with a small drone that Kunz and Kuepper own, among a set of other audiovisual equipment. Kunz does most of the shooting and editing for the videos and photography, while Kuepper does some of the video and photography shooting as well as the web design, graphic design and marketing.
Kuepper, originally from Wisconsin, adopted the Kenai Peninsula as his home for the natural beauty and the community. The point of Kenai Creative is to bring some professional marketing tools to the businesses on the peninsula and to hopefully draw more young professionals and businesspeople to the peninsula, he said.
The Soldotna video was the biggest project they have taken on so far, Kunz said.
“It started taking off right away,” Kunz said. “That’s exactly what they wanted. They wanted people to see it all over the world, so they’d say, ‘Next time I’m in that neck of the woods, I’m gonna make a trip to Soldotna, Alaska.’”
Part of the work process is finding the story. Even a simple business has an interesting narrative that makes people interested in that business beyond just what it is selling, and telling that story can help set a business apart, Kuepper said.
While word of mouth is still the best advertising a business can get, there are many other outlets that can enhance a company’s image that businesses on the Kenai Peninsula have not made use of yet, he said. Videos attract way more views and can even be seen directly from a Google search, reaching a different audience than may go looking for it specifically, he said.
“The emotions you can pull out in a video through the music and the images — I’ve watched different wedding videos before, and I have no idea who these people are, and you kind of get a little choked up,” Kuepper said. “That’s a cool thing to be able to do.”
For Kunz, running a small business in his hometown has hinged on personal connections. People in the Kenai-Soldotna area have deep connections and do not have to rely on strictly professional relationships, he said. He grew up taking part in a family welding business in Sterling, and watching the way customers interacted with the business informs the way he still works.
“Here we don’t sign contracts or whatever,” Kunz said. “You don’t make business deals. You look someone in the eye and say, ‘This is what we’re going to offer, this is what we’re going to do.’ And afterward, you’re going to get a beer or invite them over for dinner or something.”
Kunz said he will spend hours poring over footage, picking the best shots and setting them to music, and then more hours cutting down the footage to a length that people won’t lose patience watching.
“Sometimes you’ll get done cutting, and you’ve got like 10 minutes of video,” Kunz said. “Nobody’s gonna watch a 10-minute video. You’ve got to get it down to three minutes. Then it’s like, ‘What am I gonna cut?’”
Kunz and Kuepper’s aspirations go beyond marketing videos. Kunz said he has done wedding videos and hopes to work on a full-length documentary about Kenai issues. Even after growing up here, he said he intends to be around for a long time.
“(Living away) really enhanced my love for this place,” Kunz said. “This place is bigger and has way more to offer than any place that I’ve seen.”