“Who Is an Expert”: Brit Fryer Discusses ‘The Script’
Brit Fryer is an award-winning queer and trans filmmaker based in Brooklyn with a creative approach that blurs the lines between fact and fiction. His most recent film, The Script, is co-directed with frequent collaborator Noah Schamus and part of Queer Futures, a Multitude Films series consisting of four short films that celebrate joy and connection while envisioning future possibilities for queer life. The Script moves away from and beyond the prescriptive and descriptive medical language that characterizes the current relationship of the nonbinary and trans community to their medical providers. The film explores the boundaries of language and the role of performance in shaping and imagining a more affirming and gender-expansive healthcare system. Formally, The Script functions as a participatory lab, interweaving interviews with trans and nonbinary participants with collective recreations of their often obstructive interactions with their medical providers. The film ends in an imagined future where—liberated from the rigidity and binaries of the present healthcare system—agency and voice are given back to the trans and nonbinary community.
Beyond the director’s chair, Fryer is also a producer, with projects like Lydia Cornett’s Bug Farm (2020) and Crystal Kayiza’s Rest Stop, which recently screened at TIFF and Sundance. Documentary spoke to Fryer over Zoom to learn more about his trajectory and the process of making The Script, which was recently shortlisted for this year’s IDA Documentary Award for Best Short. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
DOCUMENTARY: When did your collaboration with Noah start, and what was the inspiration for The Script?
BRIT FRYER: Noah and I are friends from college. We had been in the same cinema and media studies program at Carleton College, in the middle of Minnesota. The thing that makes us gravitate towards each other is our shared identity as trans folks who are interested in investigating our own transness through film or other mediums we're working in. Since Noah and I also have very similar approaches to projects, which is to lead with a question, our collaboration started really organically. It has been really helpful to have Noah’s command of narrative and scripted language and to mix that with my interest and background in the creative nonfiction space.
For The Script, we both started with informally having conversations with each other about trans healthcare—about these private experiences we were having in doctor’s offices. We got to this place where we were like, “Oh, you know, the script. The script that you say in the doctor’s office.”
D: How did the transition occur from private discussions between you and Noah to the film becoming a part of Multitude’s Queer Futures series?
BF: When we pitched the idea to Multitude, we were very uncertain as to where it would go. Multitude’s trust in knowing, “Okay, at the end of the day, we want to see films by these directors,” was incredibly helpful. That’s all they needed to know. That just felt incredibly freeing.
We experimented a lot after that. We were like, “Oh, let’s tell people what ‘the script’ is and also try to imagine what’s beyond this thing that it is now and what accessing healthcare for trans folks could look like.” We also gained a lot of insight through interviewing folks. We put out a wide casting call and brought people in to talk generally about their experiences. Then Noah turned those interviews into scripts we staged on a sound stage with actors.
D: As a viewer, it feels like being part of your production is a generative, generous, and nuanced process. How do you choose collaborators?
BF: The only thing I feel I need to articulate before bringing collaborators into projects is my reasoning for doing something. The Script was: “I'm a trans person. I want the future to be better. So here's my question, and this is why this experiment makes sense.” It is all about personality, people being curious, and people wanting to experiment. For example, our DP, Pete Quandt, got to do things he otherwise would not get to do on a documentary or other productions.
D: LA and Yên, the two actors in the film, take on opposing roles as individuals seeking care and as medical providers who gatekeep access to gender-affirming care and have a role in shaping that space. How did you navigate this contrast, and what input did they have into developing their characters and roles in The Script?
BF: I really relied on Noah's expertise with casting to find both LA and Yên. We also interviewed Yên and LA, so their experiences are woven into the scripts like the other interviewees.
We told them, “In this interview space, we just want you to show up as yourself. And then when you show up to the sound stage, you're actors and performers.” We talked a lot with them about the idea of performing in the doctor’s office setting. That was a helpful cue for them because they, in the patient role, understood what it meant to perform these scripts. And then, when they were playing the provider, we let them just play it up as much as they wanted. We said, “Be the embodiment of what you see across the table. Don’t think about realism in any way; think about a subjective experience. If you want to be an interrogator, lean into it. This is your opportunity to do that.” Ultimately, all the film’s participants are making this imagined future with us.
D: In a pivotal moment, Nyss, one of the interviewees, emphasizes, “We are the experts on ourselves.” Could you elaborate on the significance of “the expert” both as it relates to accessing gender-affirming care and its influences on your approach to filmmaking?
BF: Nyss is the youngest person we interviewed. What I really appreciate about their voice is the level of reflection they had on themself to say, “I'm actually the only person who knows best.” The power in that line is also something that other people can relate to outside of accessing gender-affirming care. When my mom watched the film, that line stuck with her. Because she was thinking about being an older Black woman and constantly being told that her pain wasn't real and nothing was wrong, she said, “Yeah, I want to scream that to doctors. I’m the expert. I know myself, too.”
The whole film is about who is an expert. Noah and I made a lot of conscious decisions around that. KJ Rawson, for example, is an academic expert, but we include him as a regular interviewee. It felt essential to ensure that the expert wasn’t just this kind of other voice that is lingering and providing context but a part of the process. KJ’s personal reflections were also fused into the scripts.
By putting ourselves and our process in the film, we made it obvious that our end goal was never to provide an answer. We’re only experts in facilitating these weird experiments. Our role is to craft this world for people to play in. It’s only fair that if we ask our interviewees to put their experiences on display to be examined and analyzed, our process as filmmakers should also be up for that examination.
D: You and Noah have perfected this film language of experimentation, play, and constructed hybridity and are now working on your feature film, which I am incredibly excited about! Tell us about (tentative title) With Time as your documentary feature debut.
BF: We are in development on With Time, which began with a central question of, “What's the future for us as two trans people?” That's where we began, thinking about the processes that might help us find some solace and some answers to these questions. We decided to talk to older trans people. The way that Noah and I think is through film. So we were like, “Okay, let's have the participants make a film recreating a pivotal moment in their life, and we’ll be with them through that process."
I would say With Time is a personal search through a collective experience. Noah and I are looking for visions of ourselves in the future and trying to find them with the people around us. One of the participants in our sample, Kate Bornstein, says, “If there's one thing about life, it’s that it’s going to change. The mistake you make is when you think life is static, that something can be known.”
Throughout the film, we ask ourselves, “What does it look like to grow old? What are we going to be like?” The reality is that we're never going to know. But this personal question is going to be the connective tissue between the moments.
D: How did you come into making hybrid non-fiction? What is the origin story?
BF: I was working on my senior thesis, a fictional coming-of-age film about a young boy who goes to the airport after graduation. He’s there, wondering what will happen next. I filmed it at the Minneapolis airport. I brought it to my professor, and she kept asking me what the film was about. She said, “It’s obviously a metaphor, but what is it a metaphor for?” At the time, I had not really fully articulated my gender identity; I was just always feeling bad, and feeling sad, and not knowing what was going on. So I locked myself in an edit room, and I was like, “Okay, maybe this is a film about what I’m experiencing. Perhaps this is a film about me.”
I ended up dissecting that film, then mixing it with phone conversations I had had with my mom and some home videos. I realized I was trans while making this movie. That became my senior thesis and proved to me the power of nonfiction. That film and process became the root of my filmmaking process.
I make films to examine a question and hope that viewers can get the tools they need to work through their own personal questions by watching them. That’s always been what I’m chasing in my work; nonfiction form has been really clarifying for me. If we're making films for a better world, the only thing I can offer as an artist is to show that this process has helped me think of other ways of being. It has helped me work through uncomfortable issues and barriers that block our way towards a better future.
Anisa Hosseinnezhad is an Iranian filmmaker, educator, and amateur sewist living and working in Los Angeles. At IDA, they are the membership and individual giving program manager, where they have the privilege of serving IDA’s global membership community.