Johnny Decesare and Jeff Thomas are two of the biggest and most influential ski filmmakers today. Johnny owns and operates Poorboyz Productions, which helped give birth to the freeskiing movement nearly 15 years ago when he picked up a camera and began filming the exploits of JP Auclair, JF Cusson, Vinnie Dorian and Mike Douglas. His films are some of the most anticipated each year and have spawned a whole new generation of filmmakers (and continue to do so), including Jeff Thomas of Theory-3 Media, who has risen to fame over the past few years with films such as [photo]play and this year’s unforgettable pow-fest PNW. A few years ago Johnny took Jeff under his wing, helping produce and distribute his films under the Poorboyz Productions umbrella and the two share a strong friendship and business relationship. While staying under the same roof as them in Whistler this past week, I took the opportunity to sit down with them to talk about their upcoming projects, the influx of amateur filmmakers trying to follow in their footsteps, and Johnny becoming a dad. – Jeff Schmuck
So tell everyone about what you’re working on this winter.
Johnny D: Well actually Jeff is going to shoot my movie this year and I’m just going shoot like three shots in his (laughs). Our company is now going to be called Theory Poor-3 Boyz Productions, or maybe Poor Theory Boyz, we’re not sure yet (laughs).
Jeff Thomas: Yeah it’s going to be the full amalgamation (laughs).
JD: Our movie is called Reasons, and I’m still trying to find a reason as to why I’m making it (laughs). No, it’s going to be really cool, because it’s not as much about one guy traveling the world and getting as many rad shots as he can to put in his segment. It’s more about one guy explaining his reasons why he does what he does, and the shots themselves are just going to be more of a background story. The story is about a guy who’s skied all of his life and puts his life on the line every day and then another is about a guy who wants to, or has to, or must win the X-Games and has that mentality. But you always want to know why right? Why would you risk yourself 23 feet off a halfpipe, and the riders are going to explain that.
So is going to be a bit of the old vs the young sort of thing?
JD: No, not so much. It’ll just be about why these kids do what they do.
Is there going to be a little bit of history involved in the film?
JD: Yeah, without a doubt. Douglas is going to explain the history of how it all went down and it’ll lead into some really cool and unique segments with some of the young guys as well.
Who’s going to be in it?
JD: Tanner, Pep, Pollard, Laurent Favre, Sammy, Simon and probably a splattering of TJ and Jossi. Jon is going to have a full big part in it and of course JP and Chris Benchetler. Michelle Parker is going to be in it too and her story is going to be super cool. It’s about how hard it is to be a girl skier. There aren’t that many girl skiers that have rad segments and there’s a reason why…it’s not easy. She’s finding out that even with Poorboyz it’s really hard to make a segment, so as she goes through that we’re going to document her season and see if she can accomplish it (the day after this interview was conducted Johnny spent the day filming Michelle in the Whistler backcountry where she bashed her face on her knees three times and continued skiing).
She was telling me on the hill today that she’s really focused on it and is going to take a step back from competing this year so she can focus on getting a segment.
JD: Yeah. She’s going to go to guide school in Alaska this year and is going to hang out up there for a month afterwards and see what happens and get on some heli rides with us. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.
What are your plans Jeff?
JT: My film is tentatively titled the Journal. It’s different than Johnny’s but similar in the sense that everyday a group of us go out, photographers, filmers and athletes, and we want to document what happens that day. We might do a segment on just one day, or one on a trip, or one on a crew of guys like PY (Leblanc) and his boys doing what they do, which is way different than what anyone else I know is doing with their explorations and whatnot. The film is going to be more about what happens day-to-day and trip-to-trip. It’s not going to be rider-segment style as much as it will be a mish-mash of what goes down throughout the year.
Are you going to stay in PNW like last year or are you planning on going to more diverse locations?
JT: I’m planning on cruising around a bit more. I like the PNW because I know it pretty well, but this year I’m going to try to go to some different places in the Northwest and spend more time in the States and probably go to France and Switzerland.
So you guys both seem like you’re pulling away from the whole rider-rider-rider format. Like, here’s Pete, here’s Simon, here’s Charley, here’s Heim…
JT: Kinda. Some guys may have rider-segments more dedicated to them but it depends on how each day plays out.
JD: There’s going to be an element of that within their segment but it’s not going to be 100% focused on that. It’ll have more of a story to it. It’s cool that Jeff and I are on the same wavelength there. I feel the story needs to be in there and that it’s important.
So how are things going for you now that you’re under Johnny’s umbrealla so-to-speak Jeff?
JT: It’s awesome. He helped me get my foot in the door and helped me get money from companies and of course the Poorboyz name is huge so it’s a big help. I first met him when I was at High North when I was 15. Funny story actually, my mom just found a video of me from that summer when Johnny was filming at camp and he asked me what I wanted to be, and I said I wanted to be him.
JD: No way!
JT: Dude I know, it was crazy. My mom made into a DVD and just showed it to me and said, “did you know you said this,” and I totally didn’t.
JD: That’s awesome (laughs).
How did this all come about from your end Johnny? With regards to approaching Jeff to bring him on board into the Poorboyz family?
JD: Well I don’t want to say it was just random good luck. It was just one of those things with life’s twists and turns. I remembered Jeff from High North and a few years ago I found out he was making videos, and so I contacted him about it to keep in touch and he sent me a video.
JT: Yeah, I had just finished university and had made a couple of videos since I graduated from high school and just finished one I was really stoked on.
Was that Breathe & Stop?
JT: Yeah. And Johnny was really stoked on it so he was like let’s try something out together on a small level and it went alright and it’s just gotten better and better since then.
JD: Yeah, and for us it’s been awesome, because it’s another good offering from Poorboyz and I have confidence that it’s going to be a great video. I’m willing to put my name on it because I know it’s going to be quality. I also have confidence that Jeff is going to continue to grow and be a powerhouse in the ski video world and I’m not going to do it forever so someone’s going to have to take over.
Speaking of which, you stepped out of the spotlight last year and let Tyler (Hamlet) take the reigns and now you’re back in it. Why you’d take a step back?
JD: Well I have 100% confidence in Tyler too and I think he’s a great director and he’s co-directing Reasons with me. But basically the reason I left is because I was making a windsurfing movie, and it went awesome. We were in X-Stance (the action sports video world’s version of Sundance) and we did really well with it. And the reason why I came back this season is because I missed it, and I want to help Tyler. If we combine forces partially of his nature and partially of mine I feel we can make something really special. We’ll also be combining with JP, who puts a lot of input into our movies. I basically called all the guys I’ve worked with in the past and said ‘hey, we're kind of doing this reunion tour sort of thing this year, do you want to be involved?’ I called Jon and he said absolutely, I called Mark Abma and he said he was waiting for a phone call, and obviously Mike Douglas, who I haven’t done a full segment with in a long time, was stoked and totally into it. I even called Tanner, who makes his own movies now and he’s going to put a segment together. So it’s a pretty unique situation for me, and I’m stoked.
Did you also leave for a year because you were burnt on the whole ski video thing? Were you over it?
JD: Well I don’t know if I was over it so much as I had been doing it for so long that it was fun to do something different, and I got to make that windsurfing movie which took two years. I only filmed a little bit on Ski Porn, it was mostly Tyler. He basically made that movie. But this year I want to make a really big statement in skiing.
It seems like now more than ever there’s a huge influx of amateur ski film companies popping up every year. I mean it really is insane how many there are. We get so many videos at the office that people have never even heard of. What do you think about all those kids coming up that are trying to emulate you guys?
JD: It’s the best thing ever!
JT: Yeah, that’s what I was like not that long ago (laughs).
A lot of those kids are on this site and will probably read this, so what sort of advice would you give to them to help them succeed and get to your level?
JD: Do your own thing. Try not to copy too hard. I mean we all have our influences and we end up having that similar style at times. Some people come out of the woodwork and have a completely different style and that’s awesome. But just keep working hard at it, because out of 50 that come up, only a few are going to make it, and that’s the bottom line. That’s why it’s awesome that there’s so many film companies because it means something is going right and something’s interesting in your business.
Jeff, over the last few years it’s really come together for you. So to those kids out there that want to follow in your footsteps, what would you say is most important, just going out and having fun or does the business side of things take precedence?
JT: Well first would be to have fun because you’ve got to have a good movie before you even try to sell it. If you go out and work hard hopefully that’ll come through in the video and kids will watch it. Especially when you’re young, so whether you’re 14 or 25 just get out there and film as much as possible. There really are so many cool new movies coming out. Some are awesome and some aren’t but you have to start somewhere. And with the business side, practice, because it does take time. Talk to as many people as you can, with a good attitude. Approach people, sell yourself, sell your video and send it to guys like Johnny, because that’s what I did.
JD: Yeah, send it to people. If you idolize or look-up to someone, send your video to them and ask them what they think.
JT: Exactly. I’ve gotten so many videos in the last year and I was really flattered to get them. They asked what I thought, and if I needed an intern, and what I thought of certain skiers from their film. It was really cool getting those videos from those kids who are just putting out movies and trying their best.
It’s good for those kids to know that when you get those videos, you rip them right out of the package and pop them in don’t you?
JD: Oh yeah, every time. As a matter of fact, in my bag I just got a video called Moments from Andreas Olofsson in Sweden and it made the whole journey with me (Johnny had just finished a long and brutal 3–day trip from California to Whistler with detours to Utah and Idaho along the way). I got it in the office the day before I left with a note from him asking me to please watch it and let him know what I think. So I’m going to watch it tonight.
Who’s your favorite athlete to film with?
JT: Well straight up the first would be James Heim. Because I’ve been best friends with him since you introduced us eight years ago. He’s by far my favorite, and it’s so awesome to see him huge in MSP now and that he’s still stoked to film with me and get as much done as he can because he sees the value in both. I’d also say Brandon Kelly because he’s such a hard worker, and Joe Schuster for the same reason.
JD: That’s a tough question. I like the person that when I’m out with them they’re having fun and working their butt off at the same time. It doesn’t even matter who it is because some days you can be out there and think, ‘why am I filming with you today,’ even though it’s your favorite person to film with. If they’ve got a bad attitude that day or don’t want to work that’s the day you don’t like to film with the guy who might have been your favorite guy to film with.
I’ve heard from your crew that the hardest working guys are Jon, Tanner, Douglas and JP.
JD: Yeah, there’s no doubt about that. Those guys are gnarly. When we were filming Ski Porn Jon and I spent three weeks building this one feature. One feature!
The step-up near Hood right?
JD: Yeah, and I remember the day we went to finally hit it, my sled broke…the wheels fell off (laughs). I had to drive to Hood River, it took me two and a half hours and then I drove back up to Hood and my snowmobile promptly broke again halfway up the trail, and then I drove there and back again all in one day. It was psycho. And he worked the entire time by himself. He had to be the shovel guy because I was gone. Jon is gnarly, and when he’s on with you he’s on all the way.
What are some things you’re looking forward to this season?
JT: I’m just looking forward to sledding and going on more exploration-style trips like I was talking about earlier with what PY (Leblanc) does. We’ve got a lot of cool, different trips lined up like to the northern tip of Vancouver Island and I’m really stoked to see how they turn out.
What about you Johnny?
JD: The baby.
Yeah, you’re going to be a dad soon. When’s the little one due?
JD: March 17th.
Right on, right when you’re in Austria (laughs).
JD: No no, I’ve got it all figured out. My schedule is super tight this year. I’m going to X-Stance, then X-Games, then a little bit of time in Colorado, then straight to Austria and then I figure I’ve got a two-week window on each side. So I figure, if the baby comes out on time, perfect. I’m back March 1st, and I’ll be ready for it, but then I gotta go to the Jon Olsson Super Sessions, so she’s going to have to squeeze it out before then (laughs), because there’s no two ways about it, I cannot be late for that.
Me neither, and I don’t even have a kid on the way.
JD: (laughs) Yeah, we cannot mess that one up dude.
No we cant (laughs).
JD: Another thing I’ve been looking forward to is being here. I’m in Whistler, and I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time, and the snow is amazing so I can’t wait to get out there.
You didn’t ski one day last year did you?
JD: Nope, not one day. The first time in 30 years, not to say that I’m old or anything, but it was the first year in 30 years I’ve hadn’t skied.
So tomorrow is day one?
Well tomorrow I’ll be on a sled, but it’s not like that’s easy (laughs). It’s a whole different muscle group and I am going to be sore! I haven’t sledded in a year either by the way.
What was your favorite movie from last year…other than your own?
JD: Mine was PNW by Theory-3 (laughs).
JT: Yeah, mine was Yeah Dude, dude (laughs).
Cmon you guys, seriously (laughs). I mean not to say that those aren’t good choices, but everyone has a favorite, mine was Believe.
JT: Well I just saw Charlie Wilson’s War the other day and it was pretty good (laughs).
JD: I dunno, I actually didn’t have a favorite last year. I liked all of em.
JT: Yeah, me too. I honestly liked all of the movies for a lot of different reasons.
JD: Exactly. I really can’t say that I had a favorite movie. I thought Yeah Dude was super fun and there were elements to Believe that I thought were absolutely amazing, and Idea was extremely unique. I think every movie had good elements.
JT: It really is tough to pick one as a fellow filmmaker. I like seeing guys I used to film with in Rage and Level 1, and MSP always has good stuff. I loved Yeah Dude, and I thought Tanner’s movie was really good.
Any last words to say to everyone out there?
JT: Thanks for buying our movies and all your support.
JD: Yeah, thanks for supporting Poorboyz and Theory-3, because if you guys don’t buy movies there wont be any movies out there for you. Don’t steal them, it’ll fuck up everything up (laughs).