BARNS is an Emmy award winning documentary that will take you across the windswept fields of Illinois, through American history, and inside the majestic structures that were once the center of American livelihood. What will become of these increasingly anachronistic buildings? We peek into the tenuous future of barns and hear from those who strive to preserve their legacy.

  • Mid-America Regional Emmy Winner - Photographer - Program
  • Mid-America Regional Emmy Winner - Program Promo - Single Spot (Non-News)
  • Mid-America Regional Emmy Nomination - Documentary Cultural
  • 2017 Silver Telly Award - TV Shows: Cinematography
  • 2017 Silver Telly Award - TV Shows: Documentary
  • 2017 Silver Telly Award - Trailer: Cinematography
  • 2017 Silver Telly Award - Trailer: Media Promotion

View Trailer Here

Behind Barns


Most people are surprised when they find out I made a documentary about barns. I’d probably have the same exact reaction. The follow up then is almost always, “was it a... passion project?” although I didn’t think I gave the vibe that I was passionate about barns. As it turns out, I was commissioned to make a film on them!

Having lived in the Midwest for fifteen years, barns were not an uncommon sight. Some days I’d catch them glowing against the backdrop of a sunset and other days I might see them shrouded in a low hanging fog. No matter the setting, there was always a mystique about them. There’s a haunting beauty seeing nature slowly reclaim a decaying barn. I had always been curious to know more.


This documentary was a little different because a typical project would normally have a domain expert on board. If a car company wanted a car commercial, they would know all the relevant information and have access to cars to film. But for this project we had to do all the research and leg work starting from a blank slate.

It was quite honestly a massively daunting endeavor. I didn’t know anything about barns. How do I create a story about them? Who do I talk to? How do I even go about finding barns to feature? Do I drive up and down the backroads of Illinois until I find a barn that I like? Then do I just pull up and hope someone is around to answer questions? Where do I start??

I had a year to figure things out.


Early on I knew I needed help so I recruited my wife Cassie, who I tricked into helping me ;) Right away we hit the library, scoured the internet, and cataloged every morsel of useful information we could find. Cold calls were made, a flurry of emails drafted up and sent, and we met with as many people as were willing.

The thing with documentaries is that you can only plan so much beforehand because you never really know what you’re going to get. Stories heartbreakingly fall through, the script inevitably gets re-written countless times, and the end result always ends up being a bit of a surprise. So after accumulating mountains of notecards and molding the material into some semblance of a plan, it was time to hit the field.


All told, I spent 56 days and 9,000 miles on the road and experienced all sorts of things. There were nights spent outside in the cold capturing the Milky Way. One night standing in the middle of a cornfield, I witnessed the most spectacular firefly light show I’d ever seen! I also learned that storm chasing isn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. And I would probably advise against driving in whiteout conditions through rural Illinois.


Post-production was a frenzy. It was a race against time and I’m not sure how we managed to cook up something air-able a few days before it went live. But we did it! It was an amazing feeling to see the culmination of 14 months of work being broadcasted on TV. I still wanted to put some extra polish into the piece but life picked up and I had to lay BARNS to rest. But as the saying goes, art is never finished, only abandoned.

It didn’t take long though before the itch became too strong to ignore. I wanted to work on a Director’s Cut, the version I would have wanted to create if I had the time and resources. And so I dusted off the project and got to work. One week became two, two became three, and before I knew it, I ended up putting in another solid 5-6 weeks of work. Changes involved everything from editing tweaks, revamped sound design, a complete overhaul of the color grade, and re-scoring a third of the entire documentary.


I’d be remiss to end this without saying that I could not have done this without the constant support and help of my wife Cassie. Creative input from Eddy Herr and Sug Shin helped craft the story into what it is. Many thanks to James McKenney for his incredible patience as we simultaneously recorded and re-wrote the script throughout the final days. Special thanks to Rick Collins for being an invaluable resource for all things barn related. There were more people involved than I can individually name, but my sincere thanks to everyone listed in the credits. Thank you for making this documentary what it is.

Oliver Peng

Additional Media


Illinois Public Media
BARNS [Director's Cut]

  • Director
    Oliver Peng
  • writers
    Oliver Peng, Cassie Peng, Sug Shin, Eddy Herr
  • Executive Producer
    Danda Beard
  • Narrator
    James McKenney
  • cinematographer & Editor
    Oliver Peng
  • Talent
    Ricky Cummings, Keenan Dailey, Thomas Nicol, Mervin Yoder, Saige Sulzberger, Ron Meece, Connie King, Karen Rogers, Ron Ropp
  • Production Coordinator
    Cassie Peng
  • Costume Design
    Malia Andrus