In September of 2013 we received an email from filmmaker Adam Carboni. He wanted to do a short film on lift maintenance, featuring a mountain in the Catskills.
NYSkiBlog provided contact information for operations and marketing people at each of the four mountains. After some further back and forth by email we didn’t hear more about it until this spring.
Recently Adam reached out again, providing us a Vimeo link to the results of his effort entitled Snowfarmers. What follows is an interview with Adam and Tansy Michaud, the husband and wife team who worked on film together.
NYSkiBlog: Tell us about your background in film.
Adam: Tansy and I met at Florida State where we both were studying to be “all-around filmmakers.” Once we moved to New York and became immersed in the industry, we found our niches. Tansy works as a graphic and print designer on network television shows (Blindspot, Unforgettable, others), and I’m a full-time cinematographer for commercials and short films.
Tansy: We work together professionally, and we started making short films to generate an outlet for more personal stories. This is the second documentary that Adam and I have co-directed. Our first film focused on the Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre in Coxsackie, and had some similar themes as Snowfarmers.
NYSB: What has influenced your work the most? Are you influenced by artists in other media?
Adam: Since 2010 — when Vimeo really started taking-off — I’ve been influenced by those making movies the same way we do: projects of passion and love. It’s inspiring to see the powerful content that is posted online. I have a queue of so many diverse short films, and I try to watch a few each week.
Music is also a huge driver for me, from a visual perspective. So many of my ideas are born while listening to a certain track and visualizing stories that emerge from the mood and the lyrics.
Tansy: Yeah, we’re both hobbyist musicians, so music is a driving factor in the ideas and tones we create. Both Vimeo and Spotify have had an equal impact on us as artists because it’s so easy to explore and be inspired by different types of film and music.
NYSB: How did you get the idea to contact us for help?
Adam: We had been skiing at Windham for a couple seasons but never had the time to explore the smaller ski areas in the Northeast. I started researching for some information about those areas, and NYSkiBlog appeared like a shining beacon in the distance.
Tansy: Adam was really excited when he connected with Harvey because he immediately started answering questions that we had, not only about the mountains but about the process of running a ski resort. The blog is so relevant to the Catskills, and the forum provided the connections that we needed to start the film.
NYSB: What was your criteria for choosing a mountain?
Adam: With a documentary, your film is only as good as the people and the place that you’re able to capture on camera, so we knew we wanted to find a smaller mountain with a soul, but was still large enough to have great skiing and serious snowmaking.
Tansy: We wanted the film to have personality and heart, it was not intended to be a “how-to guide” on snowmaking. When we first went up to Roxbury and met Laszlo, Danielle, Susan, and Macker, we knew that they were people we wanted to spend time with and Plattekill was a good backdrop for the film.
Adam: Our approach to documentary is to first meet the people, build a rapport and see the place with fresh eyes. We try not to shove a camera in someone’s face and say “Tell us your life story.” That first day at Plattekill, after meeting the team, Laszlo gave us lift tickets and rentals to ride. He said he didn’t want anybody to make a film about his mountain unless they had experienced it from the slopes. That gesture was the first glimpse at the hospitality we came to expect from Plattekill, and it was that moment that solidified our location.
NYSB: How did you become interested in snowmaking?
Tansy: The idea for this film was a long-time in the making. Originally, we were going to focus on lift maintenance workers because Adam has always been obsessed with how the lift stays attached to the cable.
Adam: I still don’t really understand how it doesn’t fall off that tiny clamp.
Tansy: Any way! The snowmaking was always in the back of our mind as a part of our film, but once we started witnessing what went into making the snow and maintaining it, we were drawn to that as our subject matter.
NYSB: Tell us about skiing. Where do you ski?
Tansy: I’m an intermediate. I enjoy being on the mountain and out in nature, but I don’t go on the really steep stuff. I grew up skiing at smaller mountains in Western Pennsylvania, so Plattekill’s steepest trails were pretty intimidating to me. Since we’ve lived in New York, we’ve skied in the Catskills, Stowe and Snowshoe, WV.
Adam: I started snowboarding when I was 12 years old at Sugar Mountain in North Carolina. Since then, I’ve ridden at a handful of resorts around the US: Utah (Park City, Snowbird, Canyons, Brighton), Breckenridge in Colorado, and a couple resorts in Tahoe (Northstar, Mt. Rose). Just this past year, I actually got to ride and film at the Hintertux Glacier at the Austrian/Italian border in the Alps, and that was a stunning experience.
NYSB: How did the project scope evolve from the original concept?
Adam: The project was always meant to be a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse of what it takes to keep a ski area running. Once we decided to focus more on the snow, we realized that we could have made an entire feature film about the intricacies of snowmaking. The power consumption, the cold working conditions, the wear and tear on the equipment, the fickleness of weather, the grooming, the snowcat maintenance, all of it. Every day we filmed was fascinating and dramatic, but ultimately, we cut a lot of the technical specifics in favor of the broader story.
Tansy: The humanity of Plattekill kept rising to the top during the editing process. Our editor, Pedro Vivas Hernandez (also a film school friend from FSU), was constantly finding endearing moments with Laz and Macker, so we ended up using more of those moments than the super-technical ones.
NYSB: What surprised you most about the project?
Tansy: I was surprised by how welcoming Laszlo, Danielle and the whole Plattekill family were. The sense of community was the thing that kept us coming back weekend after weekend.
Adam: Filmmaking, especially documentary, is an art form built on “happy accidents.” Never could we have planned to find a friendship like the one between Laszlo and Macker. We didn’t expect to find such personable people with so much knowledge about their craft. You can’t plan those things, and that’s what I love about making films like this.
Each week we looked forward to going back to Plattekill on the weekend to film. A project like this consumes you because it’s constantly evolving, challenging you to re-think and re-plan and react.
Tansy: Another surprise… for the torchlight parade sequence, we relied on Laszlo to ski with our camera. We suited him up in a support vest so he could carry the camera on a stabilizing gimbal. Then, Adam followed him on his snowboard with a wireless remote control to help aim the camera and focus the lens. Laszlo is in a different league when it comes to skiing, and we trusted him with our equipment more than we trust ourselves. He was amazing; skiing sideways, backward, low-angle, all while weaving among lit flares and skiers, in the dark. It was incredible to watch.
NYSB: What aspect of the film are you most proud of?
Tansy: I’m proud that we were able to capture genuine feeling from Macker and Laszlo. We saved the sit-down interviews for last, so that we would have the most time to develop a relationship with them, and I’m excited that our approach paid-off. I believe we established trust with them, and the emotion they showed us was both honest and eloquent.
Adam: We’ve now spent quite a bit of time at Plattekill, talking with the locals, observing the culture, shooting the beautiful vistas and the hidden power closets. I’m most proud of the fact that the film is true to the spirit of the mountain.
There was a moment near the end of our filming where Macker pulled me aside — and I’ll never forget this — he said: “Adam, this can’t be a commercial… it has to be real.”
I knew immediately what he meant, and I hope that the final film stays on the correct side of that line for Macker, because we never wanted to make a puff-piece. Huge credit to Laszlo, Danielle, and Macker for trusting Tansy and I to go into every nook and cranny of Plattekill to provide an objective view.
NYSB: If you had to do it over again what would you do differently?
Adam: I wish we could have made it longer. Knowing that audiences are mainly watching on the internet, 13 minutes is already pushing the current attention span. I wish we could have made a 30-minute film that incorporated more voices from Plattekill and really delved into some of the drama of the mountain, but we had to commit to a runtime that made sense, and ultimately we feel really good about where it netted out.
Tansy: Yeah, it’s always tough to cut interviews and entire characters from the film, but it’s a necessity in filmmaking. In hindsight, knowing the important players at the mountain and how things get done there, I wish we’d been able to include Danielle, Nick and Matt. The family story of Plattekill is really strong. How she and Laz run the place, how their sons have worked and learned the family business. All that is really heartening and lovely and something we wish could have made the final edit.
NYSB: What do you want people to take away from your work?
Adam: This film is about two people’s commitment to something that is larger than themselves. Macker and Laszlo’s dedication to creating a positive ski experience really goes beyond the money and status. They do it because they enjoy seeing the benefit it provides and the community it builds.
Tansy: That’s what we want viewers to take away from our film: a beautiful story about hard-working people who literally create a skiing experience that we love and thrive on. Without their hands farming that snow, it would be nearly impossible for a family to enjoy that beautiful mountain in the winter, so I think raising awareness of their contribution to the New York ski scene is well-deserved.
NYSB: Where can we see more of your work?
Adam: We’re working on a website for Snowfarmers now, but currently adamcarboni.com is the best place to see more of our film work.
NYSB: Thank you both for your time and effort.
Editor’s Note: This film, embedded below, is just over 13 minutes. That’s 800 seconds boiled down from hundreds of hours of work. Adam and Tansy sincerely hope that a dedicated audience views it in it’s entirety, comments below and shares it with others they think would enjoy it. Please click into full-screen mode and watch Snowfarmers…