Dr. Fromm leaps from a helicopter in a scene from the film.
Courtesy of Stuart E. Fromm, MD


Published 9/1/2016
Peter Pollack

When Adventure and Safety Collide

Surgeon-made film emphasizes action and culture of safety
"If you tell somebody to quit smoking or to wear a seatbelt, nobody listens to you because it's boring," explained Stuart E. Fromm, MD. "I wanted to do something that was exciting."

Dr. Fromm, an orthopaedic surgeon in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, produced and directed "The Ultimate Adventure—Yin and Yang," a 40-minute action film that emphasizes both the thrills of extreme sports and its safety concerns.

"I've spent 20 years putting people back together, and I was wondering if I could do something more to save lives," he said. "I see the same injuries over and over. It's very predictable and sad. They have severe injuries—or they die—and I know that they could have just walked away from the accident had they been wearing a seatbelt or a helmet."

Jumping in
Dr. Fromm said that he had little experience and no formal training when he decided to make his first film.

"I just jumped in with both feet," he laughed. "I have three boys who are into winter sports, and one of them has actually competed on a national level. In that world, your resume is video, so I started filming them.

"The next step came later. I practice in Rapid City, S.D. When I travel and tell people where I'm from, they either look at me like I'm from Siberia, or they say, 'That's a beautiful area.' At the AAOS Annual Meeting in San Francisco a few years ago, a bartender commented, 'Why would anyone want to live there?' That's when it hit me, and I decided to make a movie about the Black Hills. I entered it in some film festivals and, surprisingly, it did very well. It was a lot of fun making it—a lot of work, but a lot of fun."

A passionate outdoors enthusiast, Dr. Fromm determined that his next film project should incorporate lessons from his work as a physician.

"It's kind of a running joke that I'm an orthopaedic surgeon by day, but by night, I love the mountains, the West, the adventure. I grew up skiing, and I later got into backcountry skiing, heli-skiing [a helicopter transports skiers up mountains], and more recently, backcountry snowmobiling. I started to wonder if I could combine the best of my two worlds and make a film that could actually save lives," he said.

Dr. Fromm's film combines footage of sporting events, athlete interviews, surgical videos, and statistics to emphasize the importance of safety while having fun.

"I show footage of the athletes doing their thing, and then I interview them. They talk about what they do and make a pitch for the importance of protective gear," he explained.

Dr. Fromm interviews a range of athletes in the film, including freestyle skier David Wise, drag race driver Del Worsham, motorcycle stunt riders Scott Caraboolad and Kevin Marino, and backcountry snowmobiler Chris Burandt. A running theme is the number of hours athletes spend practicing behind the scenes to perfect their public performances. Mr. Caraboolad and Mr. Marino, known collectively as the StarBoyz, discuss their choice to heighten the drama by not using helmets while performing, even as they discuss the thousands of hours spent learning their stunts while wearing helmets.

Among other things, the film includes footage from a simulated accident presented as part of a regional program called Freshman Impact. In the program, high school freshman watch a mock trauma event featuring first responders, wrecked vehicles, actors who serve as accident victims, and a helicopter evacuation. The film also includes about 4 minutes of an actual trauma case.

"I wanted to show some real trauma surgery," said Dr. Fromm. "It was very tricky to get, but it's kind of my exclamation point. Without actually saying it, it tells the viewer, 'You don't want to be here; you don't want to end up in this situation. It's very powerful and it definitely grabs your attention. We worked very hard to address HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] concerns and make sure there was nothing that could be linked to a patient. The operating room [OR] footage was shot by my wife, who is an OR nurse, so she knew what to do. And when we were finished, I ran everything past a legal team to make sure we hadn't missed anything."

Dr. Fromm says that from the beginning, his goal was to draw audiences into the film with its adventure aspect, and then subtly insert important safety information and statistics.

"Or maybe it's not so subtle, but it's there," he laughed.

Now that the film is completed, Dr. Fromm is considering his next steps. "The Ultimate Adventure—Yin and Yang" is not yet available to the public. The film contains music licensed from several national acts, but the licenses extend only to film festival use.

"The music is important to me," he said. "One of the songs is by Imagine Dragons. I got lucky because I obtained the rights for it for film fest use just before they got big. So we're still working on the music rights.

"My biggest goal was just to finish the film," he continued. "I've been told by other filmmakers that just finishing it puts me ahead of 99 percent of the crowd. I worked on it for 4 years. Now I'd like to put it in some festivals and see where it goes. I've also started working on getting it into the education arena, because there's been some interest. The perfect age to watch this film is probably teens and 20s—the age where you think you're indestructible."

Regarding future movie projects, Dr. Fromm has a quick response:

"I'm going to catch my breath," he laughed. "I've got too many projects on my plate, so I'm just going to wait and see what this one does."

Peter Pollack is the electronic content specialist for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaos.org