Only the skiers matter: The past, present and future of Poor Boyz Productions

Only the skiers matter: The past, present and future of Poor Boyz Productions

“The reason I started making ski films,” explains Johnny Decesare late on a summer evening, “was because I wanted to portray the riders, not the locations.” Only the skiers matter; that’s both the deepest truth of skiing and its greatest fallacy.

Decesare, who made ski films as the founder of Poor Boyz Productions (PBP) for something near 20 years, is taking a break this year and the toughest question is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for our sport. It is certainly a sign of the changing nature of action sports media. The power appears to be in the hands of the talent rather than those who capture the action. It’s also most likely a sign of the economic realities of our industry. And there’s also just the simple matter of fatigue—do anything for 20 years and it gets repetitive.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in my assigned word count, because just outlining the factors that affect any of those questions would put me over what was requested. Things will be left unsaid.

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(Click to expand) Extended Gallery: Relive 20 years of PBP history through the lens of Nate Abbott.


First off, Johnny is hardly taking a break. PBP is involved in two major ski projects, which, if not as demanding as producing a 60-plus minute ski movie, will keep the company and its principles including Decesare, director Tyler Hamlet, Dylan Malone who deals with business affairs, and intern-turned-employee Griffin Pitcher plenty busy. Hey, I’m over the word count already, so I might as well point out some of the many other contributors: Cody Carter and Pete Alport, (who were my guys) and many more. Athletes and everyone down to the guy sweeping the floors help edit, but the list goes on and on, as do the projects.

[aesop_image img=”https://freeskier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/050331_pep_0047_45.jpg” alt=”Pep Fujas” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”Pep Fujas in Cooke City, MT, March, 2005. Photo by Nate Abbott.” captionposition=”center”]

Just last week, Johnny spent a day hanging from a helicopter following surfing wunderkind Kai Lenny as he kite-boarded from Maui to Oahu. PBP also makes the Red Bull-sponsored Who Is JOB series for the funnest kid in Hawaii, Jamie O’Brien. He has a crew of filmers and editors constantly crossing the globe and producing content. I honestly can’t keep up with it all.

“I should be doing this. And I’m not.” Tyler Hamlet told me last week, with a whiff of sentimentality that tints my conversations with both of these ski industry legends. He’s been the action-man of PBP’s ski films for many years. And this year he’s directing the 30-minute RealSki TV show, to be released in August, that PBP is producing for ESPN and ABC. It must be tough, but laughter is in his voice as Hamlet says, “my day in the sun is passed,” in his typical straight man, the-dude-abides delivery. “I’m interviewing the guys now.”

“I love skiing,” says Decesare, full of passion, as always. “Twenty years of it, and the only reason I [made movies] was for the love. I miss having that annual moment where all the kids get together and watch a movie and you get to show them what you and your crew put their heart and soul into.”

Decesare is married and has a clan more than a family. When we speak he pauses to park the car because he’s taking his wife shopping for vintage clothes. We didn’t connect the day before and I can’t find fault with that after I looked at the 15 or 20 people, including his dad, who he celebrated Father’s Day with.

Hamlet was married to his longtime partner Lisa earlier this summer. While we talk, a dog barks in the background, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s his—a precursor to parenting. Things change; we can’t be young forever.

[aesop_image img=”https://freeskier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/100321_abbott_stanton_118_a.jpg” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”Simon Dumont in St. Anton, Austria. Photo by Nate Abbott.” captionposition=”center”]

Freeskiing has matured by leaps and bounds since I met Decesare and Hamlet 15 or so years ago. The tricks, style and sport have changed. Twin tips are here. Fat skis are here. Doubles, and triples, are here. Film is gone. Travel budgets are gone. Soon too will be feature length ski films.

[aesop_quote type=”block” align=”left” quote=”Film is gone. Travel budgets are gone. Soon too will be feature length ski films.”]

“Our normal model is making an annual movie,” Hamlet explains. “We need to find a way to keep the machine running.” Decesare speaks quickly, as someone who’s clearly spent time considering both the reasons for that model disappearing and the way forward for a company dedicated to telling stories through video. “[It used to be that] you heard about something happening, you saw a photo of it, but you didn’t see the video that went along with it,” he tells me after parking. “[You had] this insane anticipation of what happened during the year.”

Yet there’s no denying the Internet—Facebook, Instagram, iTunes—has changed how fans of skiing access the moments of a seasonal sport. “That anticipation is pretty much gone,” he states without any of the sadness I would’ve expected. “Not that that’s a bad thing. Instant gratification is available. It’s cool.”

[aesop_image img=”https://freeskier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/110428_abbott_keystone_846.jpg” alt=”Bobby Brown” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”Johnny Decesare shoots Bobby Brown at Keystone, Colorado. Photo by Nate Abbott. ” captionposition=”center”]

For PBP, Johnny still sees a future in feature films. “I just think for us, as a company, after 20 years, let’s take a year off and take a step back and take a look at what’s being created, take a look at what’s out there. If we decide to make a ski film, we’re going to take a different approach and try to do something new and special. And until we can see what we want to do to create that, it’s time to take a little break and do ski projects rather than a ski movie.”

[aesop_quote type=”block” align=”right” quote=”When I ask Decesare about the high point through the years, he takes a few seconds. I can almost see him mentally fast-forwarding through all the movies, all the footage unused.”]

PBP has shown a dogged dedication to the tricks and the athletes. When I ask Decesare about the high point through the years, he takes a few seconds. I can almost see him mentally fast-forwarding through all the movies, all the footage unused. His first recollection was of the skiing:

“It was such a struggle to make that loop happen. It was this nightmare, domino effect of hard times. It took over a month. We broke a back doing it, the loop collapsed on Kurt Heine’s wife at the time. JP got hives and had scars. Then when he accomplished it and Anthony got it, it was just, ‘whew, I hope the film came out.’”

His second recollection was something else that is just as important to the sport of skiing—the sharing, and, more importantly, passing on to the fans of a sport that is driven by the skiers. JF Cusson had been collaborating on the final edit of his segment for the year, spending a couple weeks in Decesare’s house, where every member of the PBP team works together on the edits. Johnny tells the story as it should be told:

“[JF] said to me, ‘Dude, you have to get these three other tricks in there.’ I said, ‘there’s no room, I can’t fit any more in your segment.’ And he told me, ‘Johnny, I’m asking you, fit these in. It’s like a puzzle; you just have to figure it out. You can do it.’ I finally had figured it out and got these three shots in, including this roof-to-roof gap he did in Europe. At the premiere, after [the movie played], I was in the bathroom trying to take a pee and he ran up to me like, ‘dude, you did it. That’s the best Johnny.’ Those are extremely cool, personal moments that I’ll never forget.”

[aesop_image img=”https://freeskier.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/110416_abbott_squaw_457.jpg” alt=”Bobby Brown” align=”center” lightbox=”off” caption=”Bobby Brown, Cody Carter, Johnny Decesare and Dylan Malone watch footage of Bob’s first-ever triple 1080. Photo by Nate Abbott.” captionposition=”center”]

At the end of the summer, PBP will take the three winners of their Undiscovered project to Chile. Three wildly divergent styles and three skiers who might not have had a chance without the support of PBP. Owen Leeper, Giray Dadali and Ian Hamilton will ski and Poor Boyz will film them skiing. It will be our sport, it will be shared and that will be enough to make me watch.

PBP has never been afraid to pick up a talented skier who really loves the sport, even if they don’t have the most obvious history. “Sometimes it’s about giving people the chance,” Decesare tells me. “The door gets closed so easy on so many good skiers. I’ve probably been that guy who’s put too many skiers in our films and gotten criticized that the movies are too long.”

Every single time I interact with Decesare, the concept of stoke is illustrated. As much as I hate that word, I love that he now makes me feel that way. Maybe unrestrained optimism isn’t a pathway to concise movies, however, it is the cornerstone of PBP’s longevity—not bored persistence but wild exuberance. And skiing is, and has been, lucky to have more Poor Boyz filming more poor skiers.

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