Interview with Francois, the “Tree Man”

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Francois the Tree Man (center) with documentary directors Jon Reiner (left) and Brad Rothschild. Courtesy of the NY Daily News. 

Every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Francois travels from Quebec to the Upper West Side of Manhattan (specifically 102nd Street and Broadway) where he does what he does best: sell Christmas trees to help his family. He is the subject of the documentary Tree Man, which will be released on Video on Demand platforms and iTunes on December 6th from XLrator Media.

WFG had the chance to speak briefly with François about his journey as one of New York City’s beloved “Tree Man”.

Thank you Francois for taking the time from your very busy schedule.
No problem.

How long have you been a “Tree Man” and what is it that you enjoy about the job?
I’ve been doing it for ten years and the thing I like the most is the human contact mostly. To see these people every year. They are my friends now. There are new people in the area each year and there are people I have known for years and years so it makes for a friendly environment for me to go in there.

That’s what I like and I also like the physical work, you know. I like to see my trees go on their way and get a new batch in. Every tree is different as is every batch, coming for different farms. I like to see how my trees are going to look like before the season starts. It is a lot of organization in a very short time. So you don’t have time for stupid thoughts or unusual thoughts about things, you know? I like nice weather. I like good trees. I want a better atmosphere than what we had in 2008 and 2009, when it was tough selling trees because of the economic crisis, where people weren’t too happy about life. I still find it fascinating when I see people are still buying trees from Michael’s (laughs).

I got to see the documentary and really enjoyed how you bring love and warmth to the locals? Do you have a specific favorite memory of your time there in New York City that would say enjoyed the most?
Ah! Well, I actually have a couple of memories. One is when I met Jill Chase, who lets me use her apartment for showers and takes care of me in New York. She came to me saying I didn’t smell that good and my clothes were kind of dirty and that I should do something about it. And she started helping me from there. And she became a friend since then.

And Jason and Nelson (Francois’s tree deliverers). Both of them in different years would be so annoying at first, asking me different questions and I was telling them to go away, that they were too young to work. But then, they convinced me by coming back and back and back that they really wanted to work in the Christmas tree business. All these memories are wonderful and I still have images of these encounters so that’s something.

There are also stuff like a fatal accident four feet right away from my van. A car accident where someone died. We are in New York eighteen hours a day, on the Upper West Side, so you are going to see a lot of things. It was funny because Nelson looked like one of those most wanted criminals (laughs). We were freaking out because some lady showed us the picture on her phone and told me, “You know you were talking to this guy?” and it looked like him.

I’ve seen everything. People fighting. I mean, how many hours do you have for me to tell you all of the memories? (laughs)

How you were approached to do the documentary?
Jon Reiner, the co-director, I’ve known for eight years and he showed up with Brad Rothschild and that’s an interesting story itself. It was about December 20 or something. I’m tired, the numbers are done. I’m a little grumpy and slowly packing up everything to get ready to go back home to my family. So I’m there and Jon shows up with Brad, who I didn’t know at the time, and Jon said, “I have something very important to talk to you about,” and I was thinking, “Oh my God!” Let’s see what happened. I was thinking the tree got messed, it fell. It’s my responsibility, so I’m thinking why would he want to talk to me seriously. He’s just a client, I didn’t know he was a writer.

He told me that he and Brad are writers, producers, directors, something like that. And they wanted to do a tree documentary and they said, “We want to use you because you’re different than most of the guys around.” And I told Jon that it might be a good idea, but right now the answer is no. I won’t do it because of my business and I refused at least twelve times in the last ten years, or at the time, eight years. No one can convince me that it’s going to work.

So they got back to me around late January 2013 and they had the first wording and I soon found it to be very interesting. And I listened to them carefully and learned that it would be an independent film, so that gave me the possibility to think what can be done, what can’t be done. After all, it was going to be a documentary. And I wasn’t there to rewrite the script or not really a script but the writing of the structure. They were totally free to do whatever they wanted.

My rule was it would have to be very small. No special lighting, it would have be to be very short. I don’t know if you know this, but that is the cradle of direct documentaries. I am here doing my job, the cameraman was also doing the sound, it was a very small crew. It’s something that keeps the genuine aspect of the film. So we finally agreed on everything.

We shot the film with David Leitner as the cameraman. What a great man, a great director of photography. He’s a great cinematographer in general. We worked very well together because you would be shooting in 16mm in the early era and there were things that just matched up in the world of filmmaking and documentaries. So that put us in a very good mood and it captured a very intense moment.

Keep in mind what you saw in the documentary, nothing was staged. Everything you see in there is genuine and I told the guys to never ask me to re-do because the lights were bad, and this and that. You know, I’m here. I’m working. To capture the whole thing and they did a great job of doing that. The directors did a great job of putting that together with the editing. It was just amazing teamwork and I’ve had my share of good projects, bad projects and this was by far, the best thing I have ever done.

I felt it was truly a genuine film. There were definite signs that there was no staging, truly a delightful film.
And you can feel the friendships of the people who didn’t even appear in the film. I mean, all of the interviews I knew these people and it was because I totally believed in it. These are good people who love each other and respect each other. I hope and feel that people will get to feel that seeing the film as well.

Finally, for those who are in New York City, where can we see you doing what you love best?
I am located on 102nd Street and Broadway.

Tree Man comes to VOD and iTunes on December 6. I hope fans will have a chance to see this film about your journey as a Tree Man and the joy you bring to the holidays. And thank you for bringing us a story filled with love and warmth during the holidays.
I have a feeling that this film will be immortal (laughs), but people should come and see this!

Special Thanks goes to Katrina Wan PR and to Francois, the Tree Man, for making this interview happen. If you are in the mood for a modern day holiday film full of love and warmth, this documentary is well worth seeing.

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