Writer/director Elizabeth Rohrbaugh’s short film “Dylan” was released online this month to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. Based on an interview Rohrbaugh conducted almost ten years ago with her transgender friend Dylan Winn Garner, the film recreates the beats of Garner’s story with actor Becca Blackwell while taking the viewer through an empty Coney Island at dawn with the aid of a Steadicam.
We spoke to Rohrbaugh about the making of the short film which blurs the line between fiction and documentary and was, incredibly, shot in just six hours over the course of two mornings.
Why did you choose Coney Island as your location?
Elizabeth Rohrbaugh: I chose Coney Island for the location because I wanted to be able to use an environment where the actor could naturally remove layers of clothing and have a final swimming scene, but I also wanted to incorporate some of NYC into the setting. When I began scouting it was still in the winter and Coney Island was very empty, which was an amazing feeling. Being alone in an area that is usually so densely populated is surreal and almost magical. I wanted to capture the feeling of freedom and anonymity that I had when I was scouting. Dylan (the subject of the film) is also very drawn to water, so I felt that it was appropriate that he end up in the ocean at the end of the film.
What camera did you use and why?
ER: We used the RED Dragon and a Steadicam for nearly all of the filming, with a few inserts here and there. We wanted a beautiful image and cinematic sweeping movements since the film is very simple in concept. I wanted to make the imagery as beautiful as possible while also taking into consideration our major time restraint.
We shot at sunrise and wanted to capture that feeling throughout the film. Since the camera was on the Steadicam rig the entire time, we could quickly move on and off the subway, down the boardwalk and onto the beach.
What was the biggest challenge of the production?
ER: The biggest challenge was definitely the time constraint since at that time of year, the sun rose very quickly. Our call time was 2AM as we needed to be ready to start shooting by 4:15 or so. We began filming in the subway station when it was still dark, and then tried to shoot the film in order so that we could get the natural timing of the sun.
We split up the script, doing alternate setups over two mornings so that we could get the lighting and timing correct. In order to do this, the producer, Melissa Kelly, and DP, Kat Westergaard, our talent, Becca Blackwell and I did several scouts in order to time the sunrise, choreograph all of the camera moves and get the exact performance placement and timing before we shot. This was the only way we could have possibly shot the film in the short time frame that we needed to. We weren’t able to do more than 2-3 takes of any given set-up before we had to move on to catch the light.
How big was your on-set crew?
We had 13 people on set with us. Director, Producer, DP, talent, Steadicam operator, 2 gaffers, 2 grips, 1 makeup, 1 sound, and 2 Pas.
What did you edit with?
I edited on FCP. We did all of the finishing and post at Great City Post.