Video and Motion • Inspiration A Revolutionary Trans Filmmaker

Brit Fryer’s career is taking off. 

Video and Motion • Inspiration A Revolutionary Trans Filmmaker

Brit Fryer’s career is taking off. 

At 27, filmmaker Brit Fryer is establishing himself as a unique and powerful voice in filmmaking. An alum of the Sundance Ignite Fellowship and the Creative Culture Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center (among many other distinctions), Fryer currently has two short documentary films in festival screenings, Caro Comes Out and Across, Beyond, and Over—although, of course, film festivals are online-only events these days. And from his apartment in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, he’s continuing to work and to plan his next film projects.

Fryer grew up in the Chicago area and studied film at Carleton College in Minnesota before moving to New York. Although he has made some forays into narrative films, most of his work is in the documentary space—and many of his projects explore ideas about gender and sexuality. “A lot of my films are about my own identity as a trans man,” he explains. “And primarily I work on documentaries where I’m working very closely with my subjects to develop their stories.” 

a still from the film Trans-ience, directed by Brit Fryer

A still from trans-ience, the short film that earned Fryer a Sundance Ignite fellowship. Learn more and watch a trailer here

Throughout his life, Fryer has been interested in storytelling—originally finding his voice through slam poetry and participating in Chicago’s vibrant slam poetry scene. When he got to university, he discovered filmmaking and found a new passion. Then in 2016, his senior thesis film, trans-ience, an experimental short that explores his own experiences as a trans man, earned him a Sundance Ignite fellowship—which set him firmly on his career path.

It was during this period that Fryer was quoted in a Buzzfeed article as saying he wanted to “revolutionize trans filmmaking”—and that is still a goal, but the meaning has evolved somewhat. Fryer explains, “At that time, I was thinking about representation—just seeing more people who looked like me both making movies and in movies. But since 2016, we’ve seen a radical shift in representation. We’ve seen more trans characters and more trans folks behind the camera. Now I’m interested in what’s on the horizon of our storytelling, on the stories inside our communities.”

cast and crew of the short film

Fryer is part of a community of filmmakers in Brooklyn, and he highly values opportunities to collaborate with them. Here he is with the cast and crew of Kind Of, a film he produced. (Photo by A. Mert Erdem.)

As an example of that, Fryer points to Kind Of, a short film he produced in collaboration with Noah Schamus, about two trans men who are grappling with their new open relationship. Fryer says, “This was a project I wanted to produce because often when we see trans characters, they’re alone, or the film’s central issue is their transness versus the world…but in the world of this short, everyone is trans. We’re dealing with issues that are in our community, rather than our community versus the rest of the world.”  

Fryer’s Creative Process

During the preproduction stage on his films, Fryer typically develops an outline or script that will form a frame inside of which the documentary will happen. And then, he says, “We let real things happen within the shapes that we’ve made.” Although he begins film projects with clear goals, he believes it’s important to stay open to reimagining those goals.

He explains, “This is sort of the way I look at ‘transing’—if I can use that as a verb—my documentary practice…. How can I take my own positionality as a person who has transgressed certain binaries and boundaries, and put that into my filmmaking? No matter if I’m making stories directly about trans people or not.”

This was certainly the case with Fryer’s film Across, Beyond, and Over, which had its premiere in 2019. The film is ostensibly about Fryer and the first person he ever dated, as they reconnect to craft a narrative film about their lives. They had planned on writing something together and decided that it would also be interesting to document the process. But in the course of making the film, they discovered that they had many other issues to explore.

The same thing happened in his film Caro Comes Out. Fryer explains, “In that short, we have Caro, a Cuban-American writer, who came to me and said, ‘I want to go to Miami and come out to all my family members, like all thirty of them, just in one go.’ But when we got to Miami, that goal quickly fell away, and the film became more of an exploration of life among these multiple generations of Cuban Americans…. I’m really interested in that—in what happens to people as they are on a path: how do they divert, what do they learn in these diversions, and what do we learn from their changes?”

Filmmaker Brit Fryer. 

Still from the movie
Still from the movie

Scenes from the short documentary Across, Beyond, and Over, which is currently screening at festivals. About the film, Fryer says, “We set out to make a documentary about crafting trans representation in film, but then we realized that we—me and the first person I ever dated, who’s also trans—had a lot of other stuff to work out…. So the film starts as this exploration of trans identity, and then we allow it to organically unfold into this conversation about memory, middle school romance, breakups, and how we remember those breakups.”  

“I think that once we move beyond just having to make movies about what being trans is, then we’ll ultimately see some true diversity in our stories and the way that our own lived experiences can influence how we tell stories as a whole.”  

 

The short film Botanical Black is unique in Fryer’s portfolio, as it’s a narrative work. (Click to watch the entire film.) Fryer made the film when he first moved to New York. He explains, “I didn’t have a filmmaking community, but I had met a few people and I wanted to make something very low stakes—no dialogue, one person, very limited locations…. Honestly, I made it because I was just looking to figure out how to make movies in New York without knowing anyone. And at the time I was thinking about what it meant to be black in America, and I had read a poem by Minneapolis poet Danez Smith, ‘The Secret Garden in the Hood (or what happens to dead kids when the dirt does its work),’ that had really inspired me.”

Fryer continues, “I think I’m very much a ‘just do it’ filmmaker—I don’t spend a lot of time in pre-prodution, and I typicaly work with really small crews…. I typically shoot 24-7 and then figure out a lot in postproduction. I always have way too much.” 

When it comes to sorting through his footage, Fryer says he likes to get help from peers he trusts or from his mentor. And he works entirely in Adobe Premiere Pro, which he learned along with Adobe After Effects, in a hands-on way—he’s entirely self-taught (after having used Final Cut in school). For instance, he taught himself how to use After Effects while making Botanical Black, the first film he made after moving to New York. “It’s funny,” Fryer says, “I work for a post-production training program now, and we train in Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere—so now I am training people on how to use these things, and I’m self-taught.” 

Looking to the Future

Fryer’s next project? A documentary about his mother. “My mom was recently laid off from a career of 30 years, and she’s trying to figure out what’s next. What she settled on is she really wants to be a social media star, which I’m all for because she has a big personality—so I think my next project is going to be about her attempting that. So I’m really excited about when I’m able to travel to Chicago and work on that with my mom…I think there are conversations to be had about how we value people over 50. I hope it is light and comical, but I also hope it points to something a little bit larger and universal that people can connect to.” 

As he has become more established, Fryer says he is inspired by a group of Brooklyn-based trans filmmakers he is a part of, who collaborate and share resources and inspire one another. He says, “I’m constantly inspired by my own friends who do amazing things and make things that are different from what I make. I think this is a reason I produce so much, and why I produce things that are not like the things that I make: part of it is that I’m still trying to learn.” And this is one of his primary pieces of advice for young filmmakers: “Say yes to collaboration—what do you have to lose?”

Learn more about Brit Fryer on his portfolio site

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