Nelson native Mike Parenteau said growing up in the Heritage City was spent a lot of time with his older brother.
“We lived on the north shore and we were always outside like most Nelson kids," the accomplished film director said after spending the past half dozen years in living in Southern California.
"We had a tree fort that we hung out in. It was special.”
During high school at L.V. Rogers, Parenteau received his first taste of filming by experimenting with film using his dad’s old video camera.
“I started filming local mountain bikers and skiers, friends that were quite good at sports, or local pros, like Mike Hopkins out of Rossland. He was one of my first more polished videos.”
Parenteau, 31, recently returned back to his roots with his wife Chelsea and two young children.
But during the early years, he found early inspiration in the mountains, like many artistic types.
“I was driven by our surroundings here. I shot up at Whitewater and different mountain bike trails. It was what I was passionate about.”
Parenteau comes from a musical family, and his father freelanced doing musical scores before he taught film score in the music program at Selkirk College, so the film industry was something Parenteau understood.
“It was a natural progression from being involved in action sports and having companies like Freeride Entertainment and Sherpas Cinema here; it inspired me. I used to watch mountain bike movies religiously growing up. It sparked my interest.”
Fresh out of high school, Parenteau fell into a gig with Red Bull Media House, which he did for three years.
“I went to Austria to their headquarters, starting in the mountain bike division as an in-house director. I was back and forth between here and Europe quite a bit.”
If it’s hard to imagine a teenager handling that much responsibility, Parenteau says he wore many hats in that first role: directing, shooting, and editing.
“I call those three years my schooling,” says Parenteau.
Today, Parenteau sits on the board at a film school, which he finds ironic.
“It’s funny, I didn’t go to school, but now I’m on the board of a film college out of Toronto, Trebas. It's something that I’m proud of. You get picked to be on that advisory committee which is cool.”
After his time in Austria, Parenteau began filming for luxury real estate, resorts, and bars worldwide. In one job with Audi, he paired cars with professional athletes.
“That was my kickstart into the commercial industry,” he says.
After a couple of years, he was invited to co-edit and co-direct a Universal Pictures feature documentary called The Search for Freedom in Nelson with John Long, along with Laura Zeman, on the evolution of action sports.
Learning from his father Gilles Parenteau, who freelanced doing musical scores before he taught film score in the music program at Selkirk College, Mike said the film industry was something he understood.
Right before the Universal film, he and Chelsea, also from Nelson, were married.
Through all his work, Nelson remained his home base, that is, until 2016.
“After that movie, I tried to make it in Hollywood. My wife and I packed our Subaru full of everything we could fit and drove down. I remember coming down the freeway into LA; it was one of the biggest culture shocks in my life, showing up at our 360-square-foot apartment in the middle of the night. It was pretty exciting.”
It didn’t take long until he signed with Stept Studios, which he is still signed with today. His career took off from there, and he does everything from car to outdoor to technology commercials.
“I hit the ground running. I didn’t know anyone. I just tried to network and meet as many people as I could. Luckily, I met the right people. I was pretty hungry.”
Parenteau says his upbringing in Nelson gave him an edge to succeed in Los Angeles.
“Growing up here gave me an edge, a hunger or a drive," says Parenteau, who spent many hours on the soccer fields growing up in Nelson.
"There’s a lot of inspiration being in Nelson and all the artists and unique individuals.
“When I started here, I’d hike in all my gear up the mountain to get one 3-second shot, and when I got to LA, I didn’t even have to lift a stand or a tripod because everyone does it for you. It was different. I approached my work differently.”
In LA, Chelsea worked as a stylist for commercials and music videos, even doing the wardrobe for a Maroon 5 video.
When Chelsea was pregnant four years ago, things started to change. The family returned to Nelson for most of COVID-19 pandemic and then back to LA, but something had shifted.
“We realized that we want to raise our boys in the Kootenays and give them an upbringing like my brother and I had and my wife and her brother had. So that’s why we came back,” says Parenteau.
“We’ve got all the grandparents in this area, and my brother lives a block away with two kids the same age as our kids, so it’s pretty awesome.”
Parenteau will be on the road a lot.
“I’ll work the majority either in Toronto or LA. I’ll be travelling again, which I’m used to; it’s the sacrifice I’ve got to make to live in this place.”
Parenteau is looking to the future, which will undoubtedly be bright.
“My goal next is to build something bigger than myself, so ideally, I’d like to one day own my agency.”
COVID-19 pandemic shifted Parenteau thinking to wanting to raise his family back in Nelson, so it was time to move back to the Heritage City for good.