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Runner-turned-filmmaker Romey puts focus on Mount Marathon

Beth Bragg
Max Romey films Mount Marathon winner Holly Brooks during the 2014 race in Seward on July 4, 2014. Romey is a 2012 Service High School graduate who is working on a documentary about this year’s Mount Marathon race. Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News

It’s not that Max Romey is an accidental filmmaker. He’s been a movie buff for as long as he can remember, and as a kid he thought maybe someday he’d be an actor.

For awhile his talents as a runner put his focus elsewhere. As a senior at Service High, Romey won the 3,200 meters and 1,600 meters at the 2012 state track championships, won the boys race at the 2011 Cook Inlet Conference cross country championships and finished second in that year’s state cross country championships. 

All of that earned him a spot on the running teams at Western Washington University, where he promptly became injury prone. Sidelined, he starting filming the team’s practices and competitions in order to stay involved with the team.

The result was a nearly four-minute video called “The Pursuit,” about Western Washington’s preparations for the 2013 national cross country championships. It’s filled with spectacular images, including many aerial views that Romey shot with a drone.

The video was a sneak preview to Romey’s biggest production to date — a 43-minute video about the 2013 Mount Marathon race called “A New Mt. Marathon Record.” It has gotten more than 23,000 views on YouTube, numbers that thrill Romey the way winning a race does.

“That’s like a stadium full of people,” he said.

The video was hit among runners. Along with stunning images, it includes post-race interviews with some of the runners. Colorado’s Rickey Gates, the runner-up in the men’s race that year, likes it because it shows how quickly he popped a dislocated shoulder back into place after he fell near the bottom of the mountain. 

The response spurred Romey to return to Seward earlier this month to shoot footage for a sequel. This time he brought more cameras and grander ambitions — his goal is to produce a 30- to 40-minute documentary worthy of entry in film festivals.

Romey, 20, posted an early trailer of his work last week and plans to begin a Kickstarter campaign to help cover post-production costs and, hopefully, trips to some film festivals. His dream is to show the film at Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Canada, which he thinks would provide a perfect audience for a movie about Mount Marathon.

He’s also thinking closer to home.

“I’m really excited for the premier for this,” said Romey, whose dream premier would happen at the Bear Tooth Theater. “For me that’s going to be the highlight of this, getting everybody in a room to see the final product. That would be like Christmas times 30. That’ll be the best.”

At the 2013 Mount Marathon race, Romey was at the top of the 3,022-foot mountain with a camera and his mom was at the bottom of the mountain with a camera. Their footage, plus some submitted by others who were on the mountain that day with cameras — including the person who filmed Gates fall and pop his shoulder back into place — provide an up-close view of the perilous race up and down Mount Marathon’s steep and unforgiving slopes.

Romey’s biggest regret about that project was a typographical error early in the film. Instead of calling it the 2013 race, he called it the 3013 race.
“That made me feel dumb,” he said. But by the time he caught the error, the video already had 8,000 views and he choose to preserve that tally rather than upload an edited version.

“That taught me a lot,” he said. “This time I’m working with a creative writing major.”

Natalie Fedak, a Colorado woman who was the resident advisor at Romey’s freshman-year dorm at Western Washington, came to Alaska this summer to help Romey with his second Mount Marathon video.

With Fedak helping to produce, Romey had 12 people and 16 cameras covering this year’s race. Romey spent most of the day at the top of the mountain, getting runners as they struggled uphill to the summit and getting them scrambling downhill after rounding the turnaround point.

His plan to use a drone to get aerial footage was shot down by the FAA, but Seward police let him put a Go-Pro in the back of the patrol car that traditionally escorts the race leader from the bottom of the mountain to Fourth Avenue, which leads to the finish line in downtown Seward. 

In the days after the race, Romey and Fedak interviewed several key figures in the men’s and women’s races — Holly Brooks, Christy Marvin, Najeeby Quinn, Denali Foldager, Eric Strabel, Jim Shine, Flip Foldager and Gates. They also interviewed people at the Seward hospital, to see how they prepare for a race that often lands people in the hospital, and race organizers.

“I can’t believe how many people are opening up to us,” Romey said. “Anyone can see how the race finished — Holly won, Christy took second — but how they got there is an amazing journey.”

Romey and Fedak wrapped up their interviews a little more than a week ago.

“We have the stories now,” Romey said. “I can’t wait to start editing this.”

That process could take months — Romey hopes to have the film finished by Christmas. For the rest of the summer, he will edit on a single laptop in a room in his family’s South Anchorage home, the current headquarters for Max Romey Productions. He keeps late hours, because once he gets involved in a project, it consumes him.

“Some people play a lot of video games, I do a lot of editing,” he said.

Fedak said there’s about 400 hours of video to go through. They have 820 gigabytes of footage, she said, and about 30 or 40 will make it into the movie.

Romey hopes his background as a runner, and the time he has spent running and hiking in Alaska, will provide his film with a unique perspective. He also hopes it will help him fill a niche he thinks needs filling.

“There’s not many running movies out there, and the ones that are aren’t very well done because nobody makes money from them and they’re not easy to do,” Romey said.

“Some people don’t realize how exciting life is till they see a video of it. It’s a perspective you didn’t have before. I’m excited to give people that perspective, especially with running. There’s cool football movies and stuff, because somebody felt passionate about it. A lot of people feel passionate about running, but for whatever reason people haven’t made many videos about that. It’s time someone recognized the sport.”

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.