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I began the process of making this film nearly ten years ago when I wrote the script as part of a writer's workshop taught by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who were known for creating The Exonerated. The workshop was specifically focused on documentary theater writing, which was a format I knew very little about but immediately fell in love with.
We were tasked to interview someone whose story seemed interesting, and through a very detailed and specific method would eventually edit these interviews into a documentary theater piece. After thinking for a bit, I decided to approach my friend Dylan Winn Garner, a friend whom I had known since childhood. As a child I had known Dylan as Emily, but had little bits of exposure to his transition which had occurred in the not too recent past. I reached out to Dylan who was willing to participate and we did a phone interview.
The interview lasted for over two hours, and we discussed just about every detail of his life from early childhood on. His friendships, his relationships, and his exploration of self-identity. After the interview was over, I transcribed every last detail - every time he cleared his throat or stuttered. This was a key part of the writing process and ultimately what I believe made the final product feel so real. After editing the interview down throughout the workshop, I completed the writing piece but didn't know what to do with it. It wasn't placed in a location of any sort and had no life beyond the words on a page. I put it aside, but never quite forgot about it.
Nearly ten years later I decided I was ready to make something out of it. I pulled out the story and began working it into a script. I gave it a setting that I felt would be appropriate - a trip to Coney Island at dawn. I had always imagined that Dylan would actually be removing layers of clothing throughout the piece to signify the removal of emotional baggage needed in order to go through the process of self-discovery. Swimming was the perfect ending because it represented the freedom that Dylan had finally achieved. I also spoke with Dylan who gave me permission to film the piece and told me that he loved the idea of going swimming at the end because he was always drawn to the water.
Casting Dylan was going to be a challenge and I didn't really know where to begin. My first instinct was to cast a man in the role but was not sure if that was really the correct choice. Through a friend of a friend I was introduced to Becca Blackwell, an incredible transgender performer out of NYC. When speaking to Becca, we discussed casting the role and they told me that if there was one thing a man could never understand, it was what it was like to want to be a man. That statement resonated with me. Becca is a superb actor who took this role and performance very seriously.
Of course filming at Coney Island at dawn, travelling from the subway to the beach and all on steadycam was not an easy task. It took an amazing DP, steadycam operator, sound mixer and performer all working in sync in order to pull it off. Because the sun rose so quickly we could only get 2-3 takes max before we had to move on to the next set up. We filmed for 3 hours for two mornings in a row to get everything we needed. Everyone was incredible in making it happen and above all, Becca gave an amazing performance.
I hope in watching this film the viewer can feel how real and honest this story is, and I hope that the message of self-discovery and acceptance will be embraced by all different communities.
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