“It’s not an experience everyone has,” explains Elizabeth Rohrbaugh, director of the new short film Dylan. “Dylan is a really nice and positive person who goes through an experience of self-realization, self-actualization.”
An Emmy Award winning director, Rohrbaugh spent much of her career working in mainstream media and popular culture. After attending NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, she made an impact at MTV as a writer, director, and editor. However, Elizabeth Rohrbaugh always had a passion for narrative and documentary work.
“I’m really interested in self-identity,” she explains. “ I wrote Dylan almost ten years ago as part of a theatre writing workshop. I just wanted to start writing more and chose a workshop on documentary theatre. We were asked to do an interview and Dylan was a friend of mine since childhood who had recently come out. It was such a unique experience.”
Satisfied with her writing experience, Rohrbaugh actually put her theatrical script for Dylan aside upon completion of the workshop. The director eventually left a coveted post at MTV to work on other projects, including founding her production company, Outer Borough Pictures. From here, she went on to direct her critically acclaimed documentary The Perfect Victim. Focusing on stories of female prisoners in the Missouri State prison system, The Perfect Victim exposes the tragedies of domestic abuses that, arguably, led to some of the female prisoners’ crimes. The film impressed audiences worldwide.
“After The Perfect Victim I just wanted to do a narrative,” says the director. “ I was sorting through old works and pulled out the script for Dylan and thought to myself, ‘this is still a really good story.’”
After reaching out to the real-life Dylan to get approval to proceed, Rohrbaugh started pulling together a crew and casting for Dylan. Initially planning on a male actor to play the role, Rohrbaugh discovered transgender actor Becca Blackwell, who fit the part perfectly.
Rohrbaugh also enlisted the talented Director of Photography Kat Westergaard to help craft Dylan’s story for film. Working with a RED Dragon, they decided a sequence of shots from the subway and walking along the beach would be perfect. (Rest easy, my fellow camera geeks. Elizabeth assures us she was very careful to keep that incredible camera far from the damaging saltwater!)
“I knew I wanted Dylan to remove clothing and swim,” Rohrbaugh explains. “We went out and walked through Coney Island in March. It was off-season for the beach and it was just freezing and desolate. A really cool experience.”
Shot over two mornings, Dylan came together quickly and naturally.
“It was obvious with the movement of the script that steadicam was the best choice, so Kat brought in Yousheng Tang for camera movement. We had to move so quickly because the sun was rising!”
What Rohrbaugh may not have realized was that rising sun was a perfect metaphor for the work she and her crew were doing. Offering a very positive outlook on the transgender experience, Dylan rises up and shines a light on what individuals like Dylan go through, including finding the support they need in those who love them.
“Knowing it was such a positive message was so nice,” says Rohrbaugh. “You have one life, and you need to live as you need to live it.”
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Elizabeth Rohrbaugh