Mount Rainier is visible across Thurston County. It serves as a beacon in our community, the backdrop to our daily lives, and has come to represent the Northwest in so many ways. With that in mind, it made sense to filmmaker and South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) professor, Michael Gray, to feature the prominent mountain in his latest work, Loss of Mount Rainier.
“It’s a lot of work, but we are super excited to make the film,” explains Gray. The short movie is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Loss of Breath” with a modern twist. The plot follows two social media stars vying for success. One star, Justin, attempts to get a photo of Mount Rainier in all its glory and dies in the process. What follows is a winding road through the original version of the story from Poe and the dark humored modern twist from Gray.
Small town roots set Gray on the path of his filmmaking career. Chicken farming was the main industry of the town he grew up in. Both of his parents were teachers and encouraged his interests beyond the small town’s chicken farming. Soon, he began to dabble in film. In high school, he began making movies with friends for fun to pass the time.
He quickly became more serious about the artform when he began attending Albright College. One professor in particular made a lasting impact on his career. “It was an experimental film class and the professor gave me an 8-millimeter camera,” he said. “When I asked how to use it, he just shrugged. I had to figure it out. It was a liberating experience because there was nothing I could do wrong. It was all about exploring and experimenting as a filmmaker. I use that idea now whenever I have a new idea for a film.”
One of those unique ideas that Gray felt needed to be explored was attempting to adapt a classic piece of writing from a famous author. “I am a huge fan of old American literature because I think the stories have a lot of relevance to today. One of my favorite directors is Roger Corman. He took classic Edgar Allan Poe stories and made them kind of campy and fun. Poe is taken so seriously in the literature world, but in reality, there is a lot of parody, pun, and dark humor in his work. I wanted to take on Poe just as Corman did, but in a modern way.”
The process to find the right story to bring to life on film was a tough task. Gray knew Poe was the author he wanted to use for his adaptation so he began reading. “I just started going through my Poe book and started reading through the stories,” explains Gray. “As I read, there was this fantasy of what I could do with the story and then there was the reality of putting the film together on paper. Once I read ‘Loss of Breath’ I knew exactly what to do with it. It has so many layers that can be explored within film.”
One of the layers explored in Loss of Mount Rainier is our changing world. “I’m fascinated with social media stars,” says Gray. “I talk to my students a lot about the impact they have on our society. Everything we do has changed because of it. A large piece of the story from Loss of Mount Rainier deals with specifically how technology mediates our experiences. It’s interesting to reflect on that through the lens of Edgar Allan Poe.”
The support for the film is evident with the Kickstarter fully funded and the team assembled, production has begun on the highly anticipated short. “Olympia really has a sense of self and more recently a sense of pride,” says Gray. “It’s a very open community to film making.”
Many members of the Olympia Film Collective, Gray’s former students from SPSCC, and even friends from his alma mater are getting involved in bringing this story to life. The goal for release of the film is within the next year in time for the film festival circuits. For updates on the project, visit the film’s Facebook page.