Fourteen years ago, Francois Desrosiers was ski touring in Rogers Pass with some friends when they were struck by a massive avalanche. Desrosiers was sent cascading down the mountain into a stand of trees. He was found battered and bruised, with numerous broken bones and injuries. Nearby one of his friends lay dead.
Desrosiers was airlifted off the mountain and taken to a hospital. He spent the next five years recovering.
“In the process I just picked up a camera and started making all sorts of funky videos and expressing myself,” he told me not long ago. “Being cooped up in rehab is an extremely difficult thing. Making videos and creative little mini projects was my way of release and expressing myself.”
Desrosiers is Revelstoke’s video production guy. He runs FD Productions, what is essentially a one-man video production business. He does everything from project proposals to preparing budgets to filming to editing. Over the years he’s become the go-to-guy, producing heli-ski safety videos, Parks Canada movies, and short documentaries.
This year he’s been working on his biggest project yet – Throttle Decisions, a 10-part series created to raise avalanche awareness amongst snowmobilers.
Desrosiers, 37, grew up in the Laurentians, a region of small mountains dotted with small ski hills north of Montreal. His family skied and was musical, and he fell into both passions. When he was 18 he moved out west to Lake Louise. A few years later, in 1998, he took a job as director of the ski school at the Powder Springs ski area in Revelstoke.
“I applied for the job and for art school and said whichever one I hear back from first is the one I’d take,” he said. Clyde Newsome called him back first, and so he came out to Revelstoke.
I met Desrosiers at a studio he shares with his friend Chris Payne in the Selkirk Medical building. The hallways to the studio are lined with photos and paintings by local artist Rob Buchanan. A drum kit sits in the middle of the space and the shelves are lined with various camera equipment old and new, and binders of avalanche education material.
“I’m 700 hours in on my project right now so I’m a little dazed,” he told me as I sat down.
He looked tired, the result of many long days sitting in front of a computer editing Throttle Decisions. He had 14 terabytes of video footage – that’s 14-million megabytes – to go through and piece together and he was nearing the end.
I first met Desrosiers in late 2009 when he wanted to share the story of the Dec. 7, 1999, avalanche that nearly killed him and took the life of his friend Shane Block. Since then I’ve known him as someone who can be really funny and sarcastic, but also very thoughtful and emotional when talking about something he cares deeply about.
After the avalanche, Desrosiers returned to Revelstoke in a wheelchair and picked up a video camera to pass the time. Video, it turns out, gave him an outlet for his creative impulses.
“I knew music and sound was going to be part of my life so when I found video and editing it started meshing all these artistic facets into one,” he said.
Desrosiers learned as he went along, working odd jobs doing carpentry, shovelling roofs, doing sound gigs and DJing to make ends meet.
His first break was in 2002 when Rob Buchanan at Parks Canada got him a job editing a video documenting a forest fire. Desrosiers credited Buchanan for his success. “He gave me my first job, he provoked me, he tested me, he pushed my boundaries to see what kind of projects I could get accomplished,” said Desrosiers. I owe a lot to that guy because he gave me the ability to push myself.”
He started his company FD Productions and from there came more work with Parks, the Canadian Avalanche Centre, and a number of corporate clients. He’s also made a number of videos for friends. Last year, he went to Nashville to record a documentary for Country Music Television.
When the Canadian Avalanche Centre put out the Request for Proposals for an avalanche education video series, Desrosiers saw a huge opportunity for himself. He put together a proposal that would involve showing snowmobiling and avalanche professionals to create a series that would entertain as much as it would educate.
“What I was looking to do was produce a product that was highly engaging, action packed and would catch any viewers attention, whether they be snowmobilers, other action-adventure based sports, or just city folk,” he said. “I thought if we created something engaging enough it would attract any viewers attention.”
He showed me part of the series – the introductory show piece. It starts off with “snowmobile porn” – a series of shots of professional snowmobilers carving turns through endless powder fields set to music by the hard rock band Priestess. Then it shifts and goes into the story of Jeremy Hanke, a professional snowmobiler who was buried in an avalanche in 2005 and has since used his experience to educate others. You hear as people involved recount the story.
“Up to that time, I thought if I die in an avalanche, at least I died doing something I love,” says one person. “When I was rolling around in that thing, I thought, ‘This is a really shitty way to die.’”
The video looks at four major incidents with the goal of learning from them. “It’s a really emotional heavy piece,” said Desrosiers. “We let the viewer come up with their own interpretation of what happened and what could have prevented it.”
To make Throttle Decisions, Desrosiers travelled the province and put thousands of kilometres on his snowmobile with pro sledders like Hanke, avalanche professionals, search and rescue personnel and many others.
There are 10 videos in the series – the show piece, then chapters on forecatsing, safe travel practices, weather, snowpack, terrain, evaluating hazards, companion rescue, and a youth video. Each one is 10–15 minutes
“These videos are teasers for people to get out and get more education,” said Desrosiers. “What do I want people to get out of this? I want to create discussions, get people talking.”
I asked Desrosiers how his own near-death experience impacted him while making these videos.
“It’s definitely heavy. It’s quite difficult at times. At times it’s very inspirational. I have lived through this sort of stuff first hand. I have made mistakes and I have learned from them,” he said. “It’s affected me in a very positive way because I don’t think I would have been able to come up with this content without having the experience I have had.”
Throttle Decisions is set to be released later this year. The 28-minute show piece will be screened in Revelstoke at a date yet to be determined.
Watch some of Frank Desrosiers work at www.francoisproductions.com.